Could Personalized Diets Prevent Diabetes And Heart Disease?
Could personalized nutrition reduce the rising tide of diabetes and heart disease? A team of researchers at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel are trying to answer the question.
Led by Prof Eran Segal and Dr Eran Elinav, a group of computational biologists are investigating why some people respond to so-called healthy diets, while others don’t. Their hypothesis is that bacteria, or the microbiome, in our intestinal tract varies between individuals, and therefore people digest food differently. In fact, there are over 100 trillion bacteria–about three pounds worth–that line our intestinal tract, and none of us have the same bacterial composition.
Public health bodies recommend eating a diet low in sugar to prevent the onset of diabetes. However, Segal believes that personalized diets could be more effective in controlling blood sugar levels. “We see tremendous variability in people’s responses to foods,” said Segal. “So if you want to prescribe diets, they have to be personally tailored.”
Testing Their Hypothesis
To put their theory to the test, the team analyzed different stomach bacteria and developed computer algorithms based on their data which can accurately predict how different individuals will respond to meals. They then tested their algorithms in a small trial, in which prediabetic patients kept two different diets. In the first week, their diets were designed to minimize spikes in blood sugar levels; the following week, their diets had the same calorie content, but no control on blood sugar levels.
“In all these cases, there was a big difference between the good diet and the bad diet, even though they contained the same calories,” said Segal. “By personalizing these diets, on the good week, in some people, blood glucose fell to healthy levels, whereas in the bad diet week, they had glucose spikes that would be considered as glucose intolerant.
Though still in the early stages of their research, the team has made further progress, the results of which were published last month in Science Magazine. Tal Korem and David Zeevi, research students in Segal’s lab, led a study to assess bacteria growth rates. The speed at which bacteria grows, they have found, also correlates to conditions such as type II diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease.
“Now we can finally say something about how the dynamics of our microbiome are associated with a propensity to disease,” said Elinav. “Microbial growth rate reveals things about our health that cannot be seen with any other analysis method.”
The team’s investigations are ongoing, but they are one step closer to personalized diets that could accurately predict digestive responses and ultimately prevent diabetes, heart disease and cancers.