The science of the gut microbiome is a fast-growing area of research, but the majority of the current data likely only applies to people of European descent living in industrialized countries, said UBCO masters student Leah D’Aloisio.
Her work is trying to change that.
Gut microbiology is the study of the tiny organisms that colonize the digestive system. The microbiota or bacteria, fungi and viruses living in our digestive tract help to break down food, maintain gut health and provide protection from pathogens. The microbiome will change depending on a person’s age, diet, country of birth, and use of medications, like antibiotics.
While gut microbiology has been a hot topic of research for the past decade, the majority of these studies have been done in westernized people, often with European ancestry. As a result, many of the current “gut health” products available on the market today do not represent the global population, said D’Aloisio.
Her research is helping to address this issue by increasing the representation of Indian populations in gut microbiome research. Particularly, she is investigating the impact of immigration on the gut microbiome in Indians living in Canada. There is a worrisome trend of young Indian immigrants and Indo-Canadians developing inflammatory bowel disease at a much higher rate once living in Canada, and there is very little research into the ‘why’.
Her research is helping to solve the “first piece” in the puzzle, said D’Aloisio.
“First, we need to know what microbes are their gut, and what, if any, changes occur upon immigration to Canada.”
Her research team has gathered fecal samples from five different groups of people; Indians living in India, Indian immigrants, Canadians with Indian ancestry (i.e. Indo-Canadians), Euro-Canadians and ‘westernized’ immigrants.
So far, D’Aloisio has analyzed the samples from Indians living in India and Euro-Canadians.
“We have seen significant differences in the gut microbiomes of those living in India versus Euro-Canadians.”
Euro-Canadians have what is called an ‘industrialized microbiome,’ which refers to the loss of species commonly found in our early ancestors’ microbiome. D’Aloisio explained that industrialized guts are very predictable and contain the same standard profile of microorganisms.
However, when analyzing the microbiomes of Indian people, D’Aloisio saw large amounts of variation between people. D’Aloisio explained that this may be due to the diverse cultures, diet and lifestyles found within the subcontinent.
One finding that was ubiquitous among Indians, is a high prevalence of a bacteria called Prevotella, which helps to digest plants.
Next, D’Aloisio will be analyzing fecal samples from the remaining three cohorts. She hopes that her work provides a stepping stone for future research that can help to understand the impact that immigration to Canada has on people’s guts, and why Indian immigrants are at an increased risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease.
She hopes that her findings will raise awareness about the influence of westernization on the gut microbiome and health outcomes of immigrant populations.
D’Aloisio explained that the concept of optimal gut flora is not a “one size fits all” approach.
“When looking on a global scale, our gut microbiome differs substantially based on where you were born, your lifestyle, dietary patterns, and several other factors.”