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Vivian Xie
5 Aug 2022

Consumer health trends: What we can learn from the gut microbiome

In our latest webinar, ‘Consumer Health Trends – Listening to the Gut’, experts from around the globe came together to cover developments in gut microbiome research, solutions for a healthier gut and how consumers can be more conscious of these issues.  

What is the importance of gut health and the role it plays in our overall health? This question was at the centre of focus in our webinar ‘Consumer Health Trends – Listening to the Gut’. As consumers become increasingly conscious about their diet, supplements, and medication, a variety of consumer health products and solutions have been developed in an effort to meet campaigns around healthier living, with particular focus on the gut microbiome.  

Speakers Rajiv Khatau, Founder and Managing Director of pharmaceutical company LODAAT LLC. in, Jeanne Hendricks, Founder of blog This InspiRD Life and Hugo Ferriera, Associate Professor at the University of Lisbon came together for the latest instalment of the CPHI Webinar Series, to cover developments in gut microbiome research, solutions for a healthier gut and how consumers can be more conscious of these issues.  

Understanding the Gut Microbiome 

Khatau began the presentation with an overview of the gut microbiome and the importance of butyrate concentrations in this system. As a short fatty acid chain that regulates gut inflammation and transepithelial fluid transport, concentrations of butyrate can become restricted if there is a deficiency of fibre in the diet for the gut bacteria to ferment into butyrate.  

Khatau provided an overview of bacteria that ferments resistant polysaccharides into butyrate, emphasizing the need for the gut microbiome to evolve with age – what is considered a healthy microbiome for a 20-year-old is not necessarily healthy for 60-year-old. The Gut–Brain axis was also briefly introduced, covering the potential impact of mental health on the gut microbiome, which found a link between increased probiotic concentrations and decreased stress/chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease.  

One particular concept Khatau emphasized throughout his presentation was personalized and precision medicine as opposed to a one-size-fits-all answer. When questioned about what specific probiotics for the gut microbiome could be used with immunotherapies, he reiterated his running theme of considering a multitude of factors for an individual diagnosis and treatment plan. He concluded with a call for better consumer education and the continued evolution for precision medicine to develop a personalized understanding of bacteria and intestinal microbes. 

The Gut–Brain Axis 

Ferriera continued Khatau’s introduction of the Gut–Brain axis and the communication between the gut and brain. In addition to neural signalling between the two, other important communication pathways include the endocrine and immune system, an important aspect to consider when developing treatment plans for patients. Ferriera presented various studies indicating the impact of brain and mental health on the gut’s microbiome, with a number of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and GABA demonstrating such impacts on the gut as reduced inflammatory responses and the production of neurotransmitters within the GI tract.  

With this in mind, Ferriera delved into factors impacting the Gut–Brain axis, which, as with many issues related to health, is multifactorial, depending on genetics, lifestyle and environment. Thus, the question posed was: how do we assess and diagnose/monitor the Gut–Brain axis? After all, assessing the problem is the first step towards treating the problem. Ferriera offered various solutions, from patient self-monitoring and reporting through apps to novel technology including ingestible sensors and synthetic biology derived from other bacterium to provide information in a continuous manner. Electrogastrography was introduced as a way of monitoring the gut’s electrical messages in tandem with brain electrical activity. In one experiment, water ingestion was demonstrated to increase the frequency of both brain activity and gut activity, indicating a potential link.  

When questioned on whether the future of mental health treatment would focus on the gut microbiome and Gut–Brain axis, Ferriera was hesitant to give a definitive ‘yes’. While he believed the future of mental health treatment would not be solely focused on the microbiome, he did believe that the psychiatric realm would be more biologically driven and incorporate such paradigm as the Gut– Brain axis. 

Ferriera’s take-home message was that we are still at the beginning of trying to understand this system, a range of gut health devices and solutions are expected to grow in diversity and adoption. 

Consumer Health Purchasing Trends and Plant-based Diets 

Finally, Hendricks wrapped up the discussion by bringing it back home towards a practitioner perspective with a focus on consumer education built on the research presented by the previous speakers. Through the lens of consumer purchasing trends and interest, Hendricks made the case for optimizing gut health through plant-based diets and how to educate consumers on the adoption of such a diet. Noncommunicable diseases and chronic conditions are the #1 cause of death and disability worldwide, with 80% of such diseases being preventable.  

As a result, consumers are turning towards whole-food plant-based diets, which are already recognized as a treatment modality by various healthcare institutions worldwide. Hendricks presented such studies as the comparison of different modes of vegetarianism (ovo-lactarian, pescatarian etc.) through to veganism, and demonstrated how BMI and the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes goes down as an individual’s diet becomes more plant-based.  

Regarding the actual approach towards encouraging plant-based diets for patients, Hendricks emphasized the need for healthcare providers to listen not only to a patient’s gut, but to the patient themselves. She stated that the successful approach for offering plant-based diets to individuals was meeting them where they already were in their knowledge and lifestyle, and really listening to the patient. 

Consumer education and knowledge was at the forefront of Hendricks’ practice – she listed various factors influencing consumers including transparency of food sources, dietary impact on overall health and environmental sustainability of different diets. To conclude, Hendricks emphasized the need for healthcare providers to offer information and education to support consumer interest in science-based interventions for lifestyle diseases. 

How Do We Really Listen to the Gut? Final Thoughts 

As consumer trends exert a greater influence on healthcare, the need for healthcare providers to offer a variety of information and solutions to patients while also listening to their needs is essential. ‘Listening to the Gut’ offers a wealth of science-based information for both consumers and providers on the importance of gut health through the regulation of the gut microbiome, the Gut–Brain axis and the consumer inclination towards plant-based diets. 

Interested in learning more about Consumer Health? Why not watch the webinar in full, on-demand now -  

Vivian Xie
Editor - Custom Content

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