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By Dr. Nathan Price, Chief Scientific Officer, Thorne HealthTech, Inc.
In an age where we unlock our phones with facial recognition software and wear smart watches that meticulously track everything from our heart rate to our sleep quality, it’s clear that the intersection of biometrics and technology has opened a new realm of possibilities. What if innovation in gut health testing could enable this same level of personalization – and even prevent chronic disease in the process?
The gut microbiome – the microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses) and their genetic material that live in the intestinal tract – is as unique as fingerprints. Indeed, an individual’s microbiome actually looks less and less like everyone else’s microbiome as the individual ages assuming the individual remains comparatively healthy. When paired with cutting-edge technology, microbiome testing offers the potential to reveal an abundance of data and personalized insights into the state of overall health that might not have otherwise been discovered until many year later – or potentially ever.
With an ever-growing wave of scientific research in this field, it’s now clear that our gut microorganisms are key players in a variety of health problems, including chronic diseases such as heart disease, asthma, obesity, celiac disease, eczema, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, colitis, several cancers, and autism.
But these discoveries can only go so far in optimizing one’s health if we aren’t also addressing the pharmaceutical drug-microbiome interface. One current estimate is that 13 percent of drugs now on the market are metabolized away and deactivated by the microbiome – and which drugs are deactivated differ based on the individual microbiome. This means that because of microbiome diversity, a medication being taken daily might not be working – presenting a black box that has largely gone unexplored across the industry.
Thus, at both the individual and industry-wide level, we have an unparalleled opportunity to adopt data-driven microbiome testing to obtain a broader and more accurate picture of our health and identify personalized treatment (and prevention) options sooner, so we can live a longer – and healthier – life.
The Microbiome Paves the Way for Personalized Medicine
The human microbiome contains as many as 45 million genes. This level of genetic complexity means everyone’s microbiome is unique to them. As a person ages, the composition of their microbiome tends to change and become increasingly distinct over time as – and if – they age healthily. Given these factors, it’s critical to take a personalized approach to gut health treatment.
Microbiome testing offers the opportunity to uncover a broad range of individual health factors that influence gut health, such as digestion, inflammation, nervous system, immune readiness, and pathogens. This sets a foundation for health-care companies to leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities to map and analyze these test results – and in turn, provide comprehensive, tailored, and evidence-based treatment recommendations regarding diet, supplements, prebiotics and probiotics, lifestyle, and more.
This innovative approach toward gut health analysis has the potential to transform the patient treatment experience by reducing chances of human error in testing, preventing potential misdiagnoses, better targeting specific disease sub-types, and addressing unique health needs. It could also potentially save patients from countless doctor’s visits and exams by more quickly identifying the root(s) of one’s health issues and their best-suited treatment options.
Gut Health Is a Gateway to Holistic Wellness
In the pursuit of healthy living and healthy aging, microbiome research is emerging as a new frontier for knowledge-seeking and innovation. Substantial scientific research now supports the concept that the microbiome and gut health are foundational to overall health, including mental, emotional, and physical health. A healthy microbiome is associated with increased nutrient absorption and better immune function, while imbalances can contribute to gastrointestinal disorders and chronic disease. Compositional and functional changes of gut microbiota have been reported in various chronic diseases, suggesting that disturbed gut microbiota contributes to their immunopathogenesis. What’s more, researchers have found that enzymes produced by some gut bacteria contribute to drug resistance, preventing some medications from working; thus, a healthier gut microbiome could increase the efficacy of some medications.
By taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, data-driven microbiome testing can help patients understand the interconnected factors at play in their holistic health and identify the most effective and sustainable treatment solutions that work for them.
Preventative Care: Poised to Drive the Future of Health
Perhaps most importantly, a data-driven approach to microbiome testing illuminates a larger, industry-wide opportunity to revolutionize patient care – moving beyond mere treatment and prioritizing prevention every step of the way.
Throughout the history of modern medicine, we have traditionally taken a backward approach to health, starting with symptoms and then landing on diagnosis and treatment. Of course, at a point in time, this circumvented health model made sense. In the 20th century, when the foundations of modern medicine in the United States were established, people were largely dying of infectious diseases. But the public health landscape has experienced a dramatic transformation since then. In the 21st century, chronic diseases are now the leading causes of death. So, although we are living longer lives than ever before, we aren’t nearly as healthy as we could be. In an age where scientific research and cutting-edge technology and intelligence has exploded, why are we still taking a symptom-first approach – and waiting until it’s too late – to address our long-term health?
In the next frontier of health care, we must radically shift our approach to one that focuses on prevention, harnessing the incredible scientific advances at our fingertips to proactively detect and prevent chronic disease – reversing it at its earliest stages. This is the essence of scientific wellness.
The Promise in the Microbiome Mindset
So how do we embrace and reap the benefits of microbiome testing on a tactical level? Individuals should consult with their physicians and explore the microbiome testing options available to them. Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies and private health companies must work in tandem to prioritize precision medicine trials that focus on the individual response to treatment. When using this type of clinical approach to better understand the diversity of each person’s microbiome, we can uncover new classes of medicines and treatment options that are much more efficacious for many more segments of the population. We know the gut microbiome serves as a barrier to everything that enters the body – including food, drugs, and supplements. So, let’s turn our collective focus to the 100 trillion microbial cells within us – after all, to unlock the future of health, we should look in the right place.
About the Author:
Dr. Nathan Price is the Chief Scientific Officer of Thorne HealthTech (NASDAQ: THRN).