In conversation with Dr Emily Leeming
Dr Leeming is a Registered Dietitian, Postdoctoral Researcher at King’s College London and self-confessed ‘gut microbiome nerd’. Formerly a Senior Scientist for the personalised health tech company ZOE, she now heads up Nutrition Science at The Gut Stuff, the UK’s foremost gut health educators.
As a leading expert in the field of microbiome science, Dr Leeming regularly features on leading media outlets including BBC Radio 4, The Telegraph, The Sun and The Daily Mail. She has also consulted for The Guardian and BBC.
We posed six key questions on the microbiome and gut health to Dr Leeming. Without further ado, let’s jump in and take a look at her responses:
Gut health is quite a broad term, how would you define this?
Gut health traditionally refers to the health of your entire digestive tract, however more recently it’s shifted to refer to the health of your gut microbiome, the collection of bacteria, yeast and viruses that predominantly live in your lower intestine.
What are some of the main research gaps in our knowledge about the gut microbiome?
It’s really only in the last 20 years that we’ve had a tidal wave of research on the gut microbiome, so while we know a lot already there’s still so much more for us to know.
“One of the main research gaps we have is the function of each bacterial strain, and understanding the full influence of the thousands of metabolites produced on the rest of our body. ”
The microbiome is a complex area of research, particularly as each person’s microbiome is as individual as a fingerprint. With diet being the biggest modifiable contributor to microbiome composition, I think we’ll have more focus in the future on understanding which food groups and what types of diet can therapeutically prevent and beneficially influence different diseases.
Which areas of research within gut microbiome science are you most excited about right now?
I’m particularly interested in the gut-microbiota-brain axis. Our gut bacteria are involved in nearly every stage of our brain development and there are hints that they play a part in our mood and emotions too with interesting research developing in this area.
Do you feel that gut microbiome products have outpaced the research?
For the most part yes. While we know the broad brush strokes of the relationship between diet and the microbiome there’s still a lot that we don’t know that much about yet.
Research shows that a ‘healthy’ microbiome comes in many different shapes and sizes, but what are some broad markers of health?
Generally we consider having a diverse microbiome with lots of different types of gut bacteria to be a sign of good health. It’s not a perfect measure though, as it also depends on what types of bacteria you have too.
“Some (types of bacteria) have been shown to be good in certain situations, but bad in others, which makes it hard to classify them as healthy or unhealthy types. ”
Dysbiosis is observed in numerous health conditions, from depression and obesity to Parkinson’s and certain cancers, but how can we begin to understand whether it’s a symptom or a cause?
We need more mechanistic studies to understand if there is a causal link rather than an association. Most of the evidence in these areas is from observational studies which while useful, don’t tell us if this is a cause-and-effect.
Join the discussion at Inspiring Nutrition this November
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