Learn About Your Microbiome

November 27, 2017

New technologies for treating gastroenteric diseases have been given a huge boost in recent years as scientists have investigated the microbiome, defined as the sum total of the diverse populations of bacteria, viruses and fungi spread over every surface of the human body. It is now recognized that the microbiome is unique to the individual, and its makeup can profoundly affect bodily functions. Its composition varies tremendously from individual to individual, and it is now known that its disturbance can have serious health implications.  These include increased risk of various cancers, Type II diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and obesity. The gut microbiome interacts with the body to facilitate digestion, absorption of nutrients, synthesis of vitamins, and blockage of the transit of pathogenic bacteria and other virulent organisms across the intestinal mucosal barrier. In addition to their function in the digestive process, microbes also are intimately involved in regulating immune function, metabolism, and reproduction.

With such  a critical component of our physical makeup available for analysis, can its exploitation be far behind? Of course not! For a modest fee, you can satisfy your curiosity and learn what critters live in your gut, and how they compare with other peoples’ critters. The firm UBIOME will sell you a kit that will give you information on your gut ($89), your gut plus two other sites ($159) or a total of five sites for $399.

It’s not clear what good this information is. Our knowledge of the microbiome and its relationship to health and illness is still in its infancy, nor is there any indication of an action plan, beyond admonitions to live a healthy lifestyle. How do you take the ratios and numbers they provide and use them to improve your health? A chat room on the internet (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/crux/2015/10/07/poop-sample-ubiome/#.) carries a lot of complaints from people who order the kits and did not receive an analysis or found that their insurance companies had been billed for the services.

Ubiome has a long list of university and company logos displaying partnerships, and touts many publications. However, 4 out of the 15 publications they list on their website are from  bioRxiv, which is a pre-publication repository run by ColdSpring Harbor Laboratories, not a peer-reviewed journal.

The ability of modern medicine of measure molecular properties of bodies is useless if is there is no understanding of the meaning of these data. We are years away from a thorough understanding of the microbiome and its role in health and disease. It may be time to put a curb on these companies’ “irrational exuberance”.


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