You are what you eat: diet, health and the gut microbiota

Abstract

Since the renaissance of microbiome research in the past decade, much insight has accumulated in comprehending forces shaping the architecture and functionality of resident microorganisms in the human gut. Of the multiple host-endogenous and host-exogenous factors involved, diet emerges as a pivotal determinant of gut microbiota community structure and function. By introducing dietary signals into the nexus between the host and its microbiota, nutrition sustains homeostasis or contributes to disease susceptibility. Herein, we summarize major concepts related to the effect of dietary constituents on the gut microbiota, highlighting chief principles in the diet–microbiota crosstalk. We then discuss the health benefits and detrimental consequences that the interactions between dietary and microbial factors elicit in the host. Finally, we present the promises and challenges that arise when seeking to incorporate microbiome data in dietary planning and portray the anticipated revolution that the field of nutrition is facing upon adopting these novel concepts.

Key points

  • Common multifactorial diseases in both industrialized and developing countries are often related to diet, yet current nutritional approaches aimed at their treatment and prevention are of limited efficacy.

  • Diet contents and quantity have a major role in shaping the human microbiota composition and function.

  • Complex interactions between nutrients and microorganisms dictate beneficial or detrimental outcomes to host health.

  • Conflicting reports highlight several nutrients, metabolites and microorganisms as both beneficial and detrimental to host health, which could stem from methodological differences between studies and interindividual variations.

  • Personalized nutrition is an emerging data-driven approach, potentially enabling diets tailored to the individual in various clinical contexts.

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Fig. 1: Temporal dietary modulation of the gut microbiota.
Fig. 2: Microbiota–diet interactions in the metabolic syndrome.
Fig. 3: Therapeutic principles in utilizing the food–microbiota axis.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank the members of the Elinav laboratory for discussions and apologize to authors whose work was not cited because of space constraints. N.Z. is supported by the Gilead Sciences International Research Scholars Program in Liver Disease. J.S. is the recipient of the Strauss Institute Research Fellowship. E.E. is supported by Y. and R. Ungar, the Abisch Frenkel Foundation for the Promotion of Life Sciences, the Gurwin Family Fund for Scientific Research, the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, the Crown Endowment Fund for Immunological Research, the estate of J. Gitlitz, the estate of L. Hershkovich, the Benoziyo Endowment Fund for the Advancement of Science, the Adelis Foundation, J. L. and V. Schwartz, A. and G. Markovitz, A. and C. Adelson, the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), D. L. Schwarz, the V. R. Schwartz Research Fellow Chair, L. Steinberg, J. N. Halpern, A. Edelheit, grants funded by the European Research Council, a Marie Curie Integration grant, the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development, the Israel Science Foundation, the Minerva Foundation, the Rising Tide Foundation, the Helmholtz Foundation, and the European Foundation for the Study of Diabetes. E.E. is the incumbent of the Rina Gudinski Career Development Chair, a senior fellow of the Canadian Institute For Advanced Research (CIFAR) and a research scholar. E. E. is supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

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Zmora, N., Suez, J. & Elinav, E. You are what you eat: diet, health and the gut microbiota. Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol 16, 35–56 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41575-018-0061-2

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