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The gut microbiome modulates the protective association between a Mediterranean diet and cardiometabolic disease risk

Abstract

To address how the microbiome might modify the interaction between diet and cardiometabolic health, we analyzed longitudinal microbiome data from 307 male participants in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, together with long-term dietary information and measurements of biomarkers of glucose homeostasis, lipid metabolism and inflammation from blood samples. Here, we demonstrate that a healthy Mediterranean-style dietary pattern is associated with specific functional and taxonomic components of the gut microbiome, and that its protective associations with cardiometabolic health vary depending on microbial composition. In particular, the protective association between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and cardiometabolic disease risk was significantly stronger among participants with decreased abundance of Prevotella copri. Our findings advance the concept of precision nutrition and have the potential to inform more effective and precise dietary approaches for the prevention of cardiometabolic disease mediated through alterations in the gut microbiome.

Main

Cardiometabolic disease, including both cardiovascular disease (CVD) and type 2 diabetes (T2D), are top contributors to the burden of disease in the United States1 and globally2. Recent studies in humans have linked personalized microbial metabolism and immune interactions of the gut microbiome with risk of cardiometabolic disease3,4,5,6,7. This leads to the hypothesis that specific diets can have highly variable effects on individual cardiometabolic disease risk as a result of the individualized nature of the gut microbiome8,9,10. However, few studies have formally tested not only whether gut microbial profiles respond to dietary interventions, but whether the gut microbiome can in turn modulate the association between diet and cardiometabolic disease risk.

Testing these hypotheses in an integrated manner is key for improving human health via dietary modification, because the gut microbiome explicitly engages in a bidirectional relationship with diet. On the one hand, gut microbial composition and biosynthetic capacity are responsive to host diet11,12; on the other, microbes in turn influence nutrients reaching the host through the metabolism of food13. In general, most short-term dietary changes tend to have very large effects in animal models14,15, while only extreme dietary changes induce modest effects in typical adult humans11,16. Dietary patterns can have larger effects on the early life, developing infant microbiome17,18 or in highly variable, traditional diet populations12,19, but these are unusual relative to the much smaller role that typical long-term dietary patterns play in shaping an individual’s gut microbial makeup16,20,21. Additionally, long-term diet is often of greatest interest in the study of chronic disease given the long induction periods for CVD and T2D. However, the lack of long-term dietary measurements in current diet–microbiome studies is a major impediment to well-conducted studies exploring their two-way relationship.

Relatedly, the Mediterranean diet (MedDiet), characterized by the higher intakes of fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes and olive oil, fewer red meats and refined grains, and low-to-moderate wine consumption22, has been recommended for the prevention of CVD and T2D23,24. The randomized PREDIMED trial provided causal evidence that the MedDiet, compared to a low-fat diet, lowers risk of CVD by 30% at five years25. Several studies suggest that the MedDiet differs from typical western dietary patterns in their associations with gut microbial taxonomy8,26,27. More recently, two intervention studies have linked MedDiet to a number of taxonomic features, such as increased abundance of Faecalibacterium prausnitzii and Roseburia and decreased abundance of Ruminococcus gnavus, Collinsella aerofaciens and Ruminococcus torques26,27. However, a majority of existing studies are limited by the use of 16S ribosomal RNA gene sequencing processed to yield only very general taxonomic profiling (for example, phyla or genera) and, consequently, omit the strain-specific diet-related biochemical functionality of microbes.

In this Article, we analyze the interplay of a MedDiet, the gut microbiome and cardiometabolic disease risk in a subpopulation of over 300 men from the long-running Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS)28. The primary goal of this study is to understand whether the association between the adherence to the MedDiet and cardiometabolic disease risk varies in individuals with different gut microbial profiles, with a secondary goal of understanding the MedDiet’s influence on the gut microbiome. We first quantified each participant’s adherence to the MedDiet based on dietary information collected every four years across nearly three decades. Second, we combined this with taxonomic and functional profiling from stool metagenomes and metatranscriptomes collected longitudinally from up to four time points per individual. Third, we identified gut microbial species and functions, that is, the enzymes and pathways encoded and transcribed by gut bacteria, differentially abundant among participants with varying degrees of adherence to the MedDiet. Finally, we assessed each participant’s cardiometabolic disease risk using biomarkers of glucose homeostasis, lipid metabolism and inflammation measured on blood samples. We found that the protective association of the MedDiet with cardiometabolic disease risk was significantly stronger in participants with gut microbiomes depleted of Prevotella copri. This study thus provides demonstrations in human participants of not only long-term diet’s influence on the gut microbiome, but also of diet-driven chronic disease risk being modulated by the gut microbiome.

Results

Diet, the gut microbiome and cardiometabolic disease risk assayed in an epidemiological study with prolonged follow-up

To study the potential role of the gut microbiome in modulating the protective association of a MedDiet with cardiometabolic disease risk, we assessed a cohort of 307 generally healthy men from the Men’s Lifestyle Validation Study (MLVS) with detailed dietary assessments and stool and blood samples (Fig. 1 and Methods). The MLVS is a sub-study of the long-running HPFS (https://sites.sph.harvard.edu/hpfs/).

Fig. 1: Experimental strategy for linking diet, the gut microbiome and cardiometabolic disease risk in the MLVS.
figure1

To associate the gut microbiome with diet and cardiometabolic disease risk, we profiled stool metagenomes, metatranscriptomes and blood biomarkers of cardiometabolic disease from the MLVS. The MLVS is a sub-study of the HPFS, an ongoing prospective cohort totaling 51,529 men. The HPFS has repeatedly collected dietary information using validated food-frequency questionnaires (FFQs) and health-related information since 1986. In the period 2011–2013, the MLVS collected stool samples at up to four time points per individual, blood samples at up to two time points, and additional dietary information using FFQs from 307 participants. We applied MetaPhlAn 2 and HUMAnN 2 to perform taxonomic and functional profiling from stool shotgun metagenomes and metatranscriptomes. Plasma biomarkers of lipid metabolism, inflammation and glucose homeostasis were measured using standard methods. We employed linear mixed models to account for within-subject correlation due to repeated sampling and occasional missing data (Methods). BMI, body mass index.

To profile the gut microbiome in this population, 307 MLVS participants provided stool samples from up to two paired collections six months apart from 2011 to 2013. This yielded 925 shotgun metagenomes and 340 shotgun metatranscriptomes (Fig. 1 and Methods)28. Taxonomic profiling using MetaPhlAn 229 quantified a total of 468 microbial species across all participants (prior to quality control, Methods). Functional profiling using HUMAnN 230 assigned 75.3% of all DNA reads and 64.1% of all RNA reads to UniRef90 gene families, 54.8% and 58.1% of which possessed functional characterization, respectively, and 10.7% and 13.2% of characterized gene families were assigned to MetaCyc pathways as previously described28.

We repeatedly administered up to nine validated semi-quantitative food-frequency questionnaires (SFFQs) to collect dietary information for our study participants during the preceding one year from 1986 through 2013. From 1986 to 2010, dietary information was collected every four years. From 2011 to 2013, two SFFQs were each administered three months before and after the biospecimen collections in the MLVS. A vast majority of the participants provided dietary information all nine times (n = 271; Supplementary Table 1). To best represent long-term habitual diet, we calculated the cumulative average intake by summing the intake levels from all available SFFQs and then dividing the sum by the number of SFFQs.

The MLVS also collected blood samples at up to two time points and measured hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) and plasma triglyceride, total cholesterol, high-density-lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP, Methods). This study included 304 participants who provided 468 blood samples in the analyses that involve blood biomarkers (Supplementary Table 1).

Adherence to a healthy Mediterranean-style dietary pattern covaries with composition and function of the gut microbiome

Each participant’s adherence to the MedDiet was evaluated by a nine-dimensional MedDiet index with a possible range from 0 (non-adherence) to 9 (perfect adherence, Methods, Supplementary Table 2 and Extended Data Fig. 1a)22,31. As expected, participants who had a higher adherence to MedDiet consumed more beneficial components of the MedDiet, including whole grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts, legumes, fish and monounsaturated fats (at the expense of saturated fats); they correspondingly consumed less red and processed meat, a detrimental component of the MedDiet index (Fig. 2a and Supplementary Table 3). The food and nutrient components of the MedDiet index were correlated with each other at weak to moderate magnitudes (Spearman correlation coefficient ranging from −0.44 to 0.45, Extended Data Fig. 1b). All participants were included in the subsequent analyses, regardless of their MedDiet index.

Fig. 2: Mediterranean dietary pattern and taxonomic and functional profiles of the gut microbiome.
figure2

a, Distributions of adherence to the Mediterranean dietary pattern (MedDiet) and intake levels of constituent foods and nutrients among study participants (n = 307; data are provided in Supplementary Table 3). b, Distributions of the 10 microbial species most abundant on average in the analyzed metagenomes (based on 925 metagenomes; data are provided in Supplementary Table 4). c, Distributions of the five most metagenomically abundant DNA pathways (top) and enzymes (bottom), as well as the top five species contributing to each enzyme or pathway (right, also based on 925 metagenomes; data are provided in Supplementary Tables 4 and 5). d, Distributions of DNA-normalized transcript abundance for the five most metatranscriptomically abundant pathways (top) and enzymes (bottom), as well as the top three species contributing to each enzyme or pathway (right, based on 340 metatranscriptome and metagenome pairs; data are provided in Supplementary Tables 4 and 5). Samples are ordered by the MedDiet index (from lowest to highest). A white column indicates that a metagenome or metatranscriptome was not available for the sample.

Source data

Overall, the 10 most abundant species together accounted for an average of 46% of community abundance (Fig. 2b and Supplementary Table 4). The most prominent patterns of gut microbial taxonomic variation in the population included the expected tradeoff between Bacteroidetes (for example, Bacteroides uniformis) and Firmicutes (for example, Subdoligranulum unclassified)32, as well as the expected P. copri-enriched subpopulation (Extended Data Fig. 2). Prevotella copri has been observed previously to follow unusual ecological distribution patterns in western populations, with the clade completely or near-absent in most individuals, but highly abundant in the remaining minority of carriers33,34,35. Here, this pattern was detected and proved to interact with the MedDiet and cardiometabolic disease risk in our study (see below). The most abundantly encoded and transcribed functions generally represented common housekeeping processes, such as the metabolisms of carbohydrates, nucleic acids and nucleotides, vitamin biosynthesis and genetic information processing (Fig. 2c,d and Supplementary Table 4). In general, the species encoding and transcribing these abundant pathways and enzymes were themselves highly prevalent and/or abundant, including F. prausnitzii, P. copri, B. uniformis and Eubacterium rectale (Supplementary Table 5).

Mediterranean diet adherence has modest but significant effects on overall microbiome configuration and specific microbial species

Although the MedDiet index was not a major driver of overall structural variation of the gut microbiome (Fig. 3a), permutational multivariate analysis of variance (PERMANOVA) (n = 999 permutations) revealed that its association was significant with respect to both taxonomic (q (false discovery rate adjusted P value) < 0.005, Fig. 3b) and enzymatic structure (P = 0.001), but not enzymatic transcription (P = 0.16). This is concordant with long-term dietary intake exerting a gradual selective pressure on the adult gut microbiome, with transcriptional regulatory responses instead influenced by more localized stimuli. The small overall percentage of variation explained by the dietary pattern (0.7%) was comparable in magnitude with other large-scale investigations16,21. Among the dietary factors, covariables and cardiometabolic biomarkers considered in this analysis, the MedDiet index accounted for the third largest proportion of variation in taxonomy (Fig. 3b). Furthermore, the MedDiet adherence was associated with a higher percentage of variation in taxonomy than several covariables previously reported to have strong influences on the gut microbial communities, such as antibiotic use36 (0.4%) and the Bristol stool scale16 (0.5%), although neither of these were commonly present or variable in this generally healthy population. In a secondary analysis, we found that no medications explained more than 1%, with most <0.5%, of overall variation of the gut microbiome (Supplementary Fig. 1). We found no association between the adherence to the MedDiet and the diversity of the gut microbiome (P = 0.21; Extended Data Fig. 3).

Fig. 3: Associations of the Mediterranean dietary pattern with overall gut microbiome configuration and with individual gut microbial species abundances.
figure3

a, Principal coordinate analysis of all samples using species-level Bray–Curtis dissimilarity. b, Proportion of variation in taxonomy explained by the Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) index, dietary factors, plasma biomarkers and covariables as quantified by two-sided permutational multivariate analysis of variance (based on species-level Bray–Curtis dissimilarity). The q values (false discovery rate adjusted P value) were calculated using the Benjamini–Hochberg method with a target rate of 0.25. c, Significant associations of the MedDiet index and its constituent foods and nutrients with microbial species (q ≤ 0.25). This plot shows associations of dietary factors with specific microbial species overlaid onto their taxonomy. The blue-to-orange gradient in the outer rings represents the magnitude and direction of the associations between dietary factors and species’ abundances. The colors of the innermost ring and phylogenetic trees differentiate major phyla. Heights of the outmost bars are in proportion to the mean relative abundance of each microbial species. All models included each participant’s identifier as random effects and simultaneously adjusted for total energy intake, age, physical activity level, smoking, probiotic use, medication use (including antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors, aspirin, statins and metformin) and the Bristol stool scale. d, A subset of significant associations of plant-based foods and red/processed meat intake with microbial species (full results are provided in Supplementary Table 6). The q values in c and d were derived from multivariable-adjusted linear mixed models as above, with multiple comparison adjustment also as above (Methods, exact q values are provided as Source data). All the analyses in these panels were conducted based on all 925 metagenomes collected from 307 participants. All the statistical tests were two-sided.

Source data

We performed per-feature testing in MaAsLin 2 using linear mixed models to identify microbial species associated with the MedDiet. These models accounted for within-individual correlation from the study’s repeated sampling design, as well as occasional missing observations at some time points (Methods). All models included each participant’s identifier as random effects and simultaneously adjusted for potential confounders including total energy intake, age, physical activity level, smoking, probiotics use, medication use (including antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors, aspirin, statins and metformin) and the Bristol stool scale as fixed effects. A total of 40 species-level features from four phyla were significantly associated with the MedDiet index or one of its components (q ≤ 0.25; Fig. 3c and Extended Data Fig. 4). Generally, the associations for plant-based foods were in the opposite direction to associations for red/processed meat intake (Fig. 3d and Supplementary Table 6). The MedDiet index was positively associated with several abundant dietary fiber metabolizers and short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) producers, including F. prausnitzii, Eubacterium eligens and Bacteroides cellulosilyticus37. We observed inverse associations of the MedDiet index with species such as R. torques, Clostridium leptum and C. aerofaciens. Previous efforts have linked R. torques and select Collinsella and Clostridium species with western-style diets and red meat intake, respectively38,39,40,41. We did not find that the MedDiet index or its components were significantly directly associated with the abundance of P. copri. Among the components of the MedDiet, whole grains, vegetables, fruits and red/processed meat were the major driving forces of the associations between the overall dietary pattern and the microbial features (Fig. 3c).

Mediterranean diet adherence particularly influences microbial plant polysaccharide degradation potential, short-chain fatty acid production and pectin metabolism

We next investigated the MedDiet in relation to the functional potentials of the gut microbial communities, that is, enzymes and metabolic pathways quantified from metagenomes. We found that the MedDiet and its components were significantly associated with 36 pathways (Extended Data Fig. 5) and 188 enzymes (Extended Data Fig. 6). Concordant with the fact that the MedDiet is a predominantly plant-based diet, the most prominent findings were enrichments of microbial functions for the degradation of specific dietary fibers and SCFA fermentation in individuals with greater MedDiet adherence. The MedDiet index was positively associated with the abundance of d-fructuronate degradation (PWY-7242, Fig. 4a), a mechanism for degrading pectin (a group of soluble fibers that are rich in fruits and some vegetables). This was also true for some individual constituent enzymes of the pathway, such as 2-dehydro-3-deoxygluconokinase (Enzyme Commission (EC) 2.7.1.45, Fig. 4b and Supplementary Table 6). Similarly, the mannan degradation pathway (PWY-7456) and an enzyme (EC 5.4.2.8, phosphomannomutase) within the pathway were more abundant in individuals with greater MedDiet adherence; this is a component of hemicellulose degradation, an insoluble fiber embedded in almost all plant cell walls. Lignin is a group of non-carbohydrate phenolic polymers that is ubiquitously embedded in the plant cell wall and crosslinks pectin, cellulose and hemicellulose42. We identified a strong positive association between the MedDiet index and the abundance of a key enzyme in the breakdown of lignin-derived aromatics (EC 5.5.1.1, muconate cycloisomerase), further supporting that the influence of the MedDiet on microbial functions could be attributed to its high-fiber content. Gut microbiomes in participants with a greater MedDiet adherence were also enriched for metabolic processes that yield SCFAs, end-products of fiber fermentation that act as signaling molecules and play important roles in regulating host metabolism, immunity and cell proliferation43 (for example, pyruvate fermentation to acetate and lactate II, PWY-5100). As expected, these pathways and their constituent enzymes were largely contributed by diverse anaerobic fiber metabolizers that differed among participants, such as F. prausnitzii and E. rectale, with several exceptions such as the pyruvate:ferredoxin oxidoreductase (EC 1.2.7.1), which was contributed by a multitude of organisms due to the fact that it is also involved in numerous other basic biochemical processes (Fig. 4b). Conversely, we found that a lower adherence to the MedDiet was associated with enrichment of the secondary bile acid biosynthesis potential. The bile-acid 7α-dehydroxylase (EC 1.17.98.1), which carries out the removal of the 7α-hydroxy group from primary bile acids44, encoded mainly by C. aerofaciens, was enriched in participants with low MedDiet adherence, especially those with high red/processed meat intake (Fig. 4b). The products of the enzyme, deoxycholate and lithocholate, are among the most well-studied secondary bile acids and can be hepatotoxic at elevated levels45,46. Interestingly, the lactose and galactose degradation pathway I (LACTOSECAT-PWY) and a constituent enzyme of the pathway (EC 3.2.1.85: 6-phospho-β-galactosidase) showed lower abundance in individuals with a higher MedDiet index (Fig. 4b), consistent with low dairy food consumption being a key feature of the MedDiet22 (Extended Data Fig. 1b).

Fig. 4: The Mediterranean dietary pattern is associated with microbial processes involved in plant polysaccharide degradation and short-chain fatty acid production.
figure4

a, Associations of the Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) index and its constituent foods and nutrients with microbial functions (as MetaCyc pathways) involved in plant-derived polysaccharide degradation, short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) production and lactose degradation. Beta coefficients were derived from multivariable-adjusted linear mixed models (Methods), which included the MedDiet index or a dietary factor as independent variables and the abundance of the microbial pathway as the dependent variable (exact q values are provided as Source data). b, A subset of associations of the MedDiet with enzymes (as EC numbers) encoded in microbial genomes that are involved in plant-derived polysaccharide degradation, SCFA production, lignin degradation, secondary bile acid production and lactose degradation (full results are provided in Supplementary Table 6). The q values (false discovery rate adjusted P value) in a and b were derived from multivariable-adjusted linear mixed models, with multiple comparison adjustment using the Benjamini–Hochberg method with a target rate of 0.25 (Methods). Analyses in a and b used all 925 metagenomes. c, Associations of the MedDiet with the transcription of enzymes within the pathways of l-rhamnose and pectin degradation, using 340 metatranscriptome and metagenome pairs from 96 participants. The plots in c are schematic representations of several pathways containing key enzymes for l-rhamnose and pectin degradation. Solid rectangles indicate those quantified from both metagenomes and metatranscriptomes. We used EC numbers in the rectangles to represent these enzymes. The scatter plots in b and c show the associations of the MedDiet index with relative abundance or transcription levels of microbial enzymes. The bar plots in b and c show the microbial species with the greatest contributions to each microbial enzyme, with metagenomic or metatranscriptomic samples along the x axes ordered by the MedDiet index (from the lowest to the highest). All statistical tests were two-sided.

Source data

As above, long-term adherence to the MedDiet was generally associated with more substantial shifts in metagenomic functions than in metatranscriptomic responses, concordant with the latter typically regulating more short-term effects. Thus, only a few microbial enzymes (n = 46) were differentially transcribed relative to their genomic abundances with varying degrees of adherence to the MedDiet (Extended Data Fig. 7). This is also possibly attributable to decreased power, given our smaller subset of metatranscriptomic profiles. Nevertheless, the MedDiet adherence was associated with the transcription of several additional enzymes involved in the degradation of pectin (Fig. 4c). The positive associations were largely driven by the strong associations of higher intake of fruits, major food sources of pectin, with higher expression levels of the enzymes (Supplementary Table 6). Consistent with previous reports that dietary pectin was degraded by the coordinated enzymic activities in Bacteroides spp.47, the pectinolytic enzymes were mainly encoded and transcribed by B. dorei, B. ovatus, B. uniformis and B. vulgatus, with similar species compositions between metagenomes and metatranscriptomes. F. prausnitzii was also among the major contributors to the DNA profiles of l-rhamnose isomerase (EC 5.3.1.14) and 5-dehydro-4-deoxy-d-glucuronate isomerase (EC 5.3.1.17), but this species, compared to the Bacteroides spp., was less active in transcribing the two enzymes.

Prevotella copri carriage modulates the protective association between the Mediterranean dietary pattern and cardiometabolic health

To evaluate each participant’s cardiometabolic disease risk, we derived a composite score that summarized levels of biomarkers of three well-established mechanisms underlying the pathogenesis of CVD and T2D: dyslipidemia, hyperglycemia and inflammation. In a prospectively designed case–control study of 396 myocardial infarction (MI) cases and 843 healthy controls from the HPFS (10 years of follow-up; Methods), we showed significant and strong associations of all the biomarkers with the risk of incident MI, a clinical endpoint of CVD (Supplementary Table 7). We first categorized participants into quintiles of each blood biomarker level, ranking HbA1c and plasma levels of total cholesterol, triglyceride and hs-CRP from lowest to highest with scores from 1 to 5. For HDL-C (‘good’ cholesterol), we reversed the scoring. A cardiometabolic disease risk score was then calculated by summing these components, with a higher score indicating a higher risk of cardiometabolic disease. As expected, the cardiometabolic disease risk score was a strong predictor of incident MI in the case–control study described above. Participants in the highest quintile of the score had more than four times the risk of incident MI compared to those in the lowest quintile (risk ratio (RR) = 4.05, 95% confidence interval (CI) 2.51–6.52, Ptrend = 9.3 × 10−9; Supplementary Table 7) during 10 years of follow-up. In addition, the adherence to the MedDiet was inversely associated with the cardiometabolic disease risk score, as expected (Ptrend = 0.04; Fig. 5a and Extended Data Fig. 8).

Fig. 5: Prevotella copri carriage modulates the protective association between the Mediterranean dietary pattern and cardiometabolic disease risk.
figure5

a, The interaction between Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) adherence and the first principal coordinates axis (PCo1) in relation to the score of cardiometabolic disease risk. The interactions between the MedDiet index and both PCo1 score and P. copri carriage (above 20th percentile) are significant (Pinteraction = 0.001 and 0.046, respectively). Pinteraction was calculated from multivariable-adjusted linear mixed models (Methods). We performed two-sided likelihood ratio tests by comparing models with and without an interaction term to calculate P values for interaction (degree of freedom = 1, Methods). The score of cardiometabolic disease risk was derived based on biomarkers of lipid metabolism, including total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglyceride, glucose homeostasis (that is, hemoglobin A1c) and inflammation (that is, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein). This analysis was based on 468 blood samples from 304 participants. Box plot centers show medians of the MedDiet index with boxes indicating their inter-quartile ranges (IQRs), upper and lower whiskers indicating 1.5 times the IQR from above the upper quartile and below the lower quartile, respectively. b, Distributions of P. copri, Bacteroides, the MedDiet index and cardiometabolic disease risk score against PCo1 score. c, Associations between the MedDiet adherence and the risk of MI in P. copri non-carriers and carriers. The dots in the plot indicate percent changes in the predicted risk of MI associated with a four-unit increment in the MedDiet index, with error bars indicating upper and lower limits of their 95% confidence intervals. This analysis was based on 304 participants who donated 468 blood samples in the current study and an additional prospectively designed case–control study in 396 MI cases and 843 healthy controls from the HPFS (Methods).

Source data

We then followed a statistical framework for testing interaction/effect modification, as widely used in population-based studies48,49, to examine whether the known association between the MedDiet and cardiometabolic disease risk differs in individuals with different gut microbial profiles. We initially carried out hypothesis generation by summarizing overall gut community structure using principal component loading scores and testing their potential interactions with the MedDiet index in a linear mixed model with the cardiometabolic disease risk score as outcome. We found that the inverse association of the MedDiet index with the cardiometabolic disease risk was more pronounced in participants with a lower PCo1, weaker in participants with a higher PCo1 (Pinteraction = 0.001, Fig. 5a and Supplementary Table 8). On investigating this result more specifically, PCo1 loading was accounted for predominantly by P. copri abundance (Spearman correlation between PCo1 loading and P. copri abundance, 0.61; Fig. 5b), and the interaction between MedDiet index and the carriage of P. copri in particular was independently significant (Pinteraction = 0.046), whereas we did not find significant interactions between the MedDiet index and other highly abundant species (Extended Data Fig. 9). Because P. copri is known to have distinct subspecies genetic architectures, primarily in non-westernized populations33,34, we next tested whether this was a potential contributor to its interaction with the MedDiet index in our study population. Notably, because this population consists uniformly of adult white males, we would expect a preponderance of P. copri Clade A (in addition to more subtle between-subject strain variability). Based on a comparison of pangenome carriage between P. copri in this study population and that from controls in the Integrative Human Microbiome Project (Methods)50, both consisted entirely of Clade A, as expected (Supplementary Fig. 2)33.

Notably, we also found similar patterns of interactions between the MedDiet index and P. copri abundance in relation to several individual cardiometabolic biomarkers (Extended Data Fig. 10, Pinteraction = 0.03 for hs-CRP, 0.02 for total cholesterol, 0.25 for triglyceride, 0.009 for HbA1c and 0.69 for HDL-C). To understand the clinical relevance of our findings, we quantified the predicted risk of MI associated with the MedDiet index in P. copri carriers versus non-carriers by combining the association of the MedDiet index with the cardiometabolic disease risk score with the RR of MI associated with the cardiometabolic disease risk score estimated from the prospective case–control study of MI (Methods). A four-unit increment in the MedDiet index was associated with an 18% lower risk of MI (RR = 0.82, 95% CI 0.69–0.95, P = 0.02) in P. copri non-carriers, but a non-significant 30% increase in MI risk (RR = 1.30, 95% CI 0.83–2.07, P = 0.26) in P. copri carriers (Fig. 5c). This finding provides evidence that gut microbial functions and taxa may not only respond to dietary intake, but specifically interact with it to modulate resilience to diet-induced cardiometabolic disease risk, supporting the promise of tailoring dietary interventions on the basis of the individualized nature of the gut microbiome to achieve more effective prevention of cardiometabolic disease.

Discussion

Here, we demonstrate that long-term adherence to a healthy Mediterranean-style dietary pattern was associated with small but significant effects on overall gut microbiome profiles composed of phylogenetically diverse organisms carrying pathways including plant-derived polysaccharide degradation, SCFA production and secondary bile acid production. Several major dietary fiber metabolizers, such as F. prausnitzii and B. cellulosilyticus, as well as their functions that break down specific dietary fibers (particularly pectin), were enriched in the gut microbiomes of participants with greater adherence to the MedDiet. Our study also linked high MedDiet adherence (particularly in association with low red/processed meat intake) to the depletions of several niche- and subject-specific biochemical specialists such as C. leptum and C. aerofaciens, and functions including secondary bile acid biosynthesis. Notably, our study identified a significant interaction between a healthy dietary pattern and the gut microbiome in relation to cardiometabolic disease risk. A particularly strong protective association between the MedDiet and risk of cardiometabolic disease among a subgroup of the participants could be explained by the absence of P. copri in their gut microbiomes. This finding supports the premise that dietary interventions or recommendations for cardiometabolic disease prevention could be tailored to an individual’s gut microbial profile. Future prevention approaches, for example, might emphasize healthy eating for individuals lacking substantial P. copri carriage, while physical activity or pharmaceuticals (for example, statins) may be more effective for P. copri carriers.

Although it is not possible to determine whether the MedDiet causally selected for gut microbial features from this observational study, our data indirectly permit fairly specific speculation and hypothesis generation. For example, our findings support that the MedDiet plays a role in regulating conversion of primary to secondary bile acids39,51 and bile acid pool composition through negative selection of taxa including C. aerofaciens. Given the hormone-like functions of bile acids through activation of nuclear and G protein-coupled receptors, a dysregulated bile acid pool can lead to perturbations in multiple pathological processes underlying cardiometabolic disease, such as lipoprotein metabolism and glucose homeostasis52. In addition, we find that high pectin content, particularly fruit-derived, may partially explain the MedDiet’s role in shaping gut microbial function53, as indicated by the enrichment of pathways for pectin degradation and transcription of pectinolytic enzymes in individuals with greater MedDiet adherence. The broadly microbiome-produced and immunomodulatory SCFAs are a prominent end-product of pectin fermentation43,54.

Importantly, the study also sheds important light on the emerging, unique role of Prevotella spp. in the human gut, particularly the ability of the MedDiet to mitigate cardiometabolic disease risk in the absence of P. copri. Prevotella copri has been of particular interest in the human gut microbiome for several reasons. First, it is among the discrete gut community ‘enterotypes’ consistently identified in the human population55. Second, P. copri may either confer health benefits or associate with disease risk in different populations9,56. Related to our findings, the causal association of P. copri with upregulated biosynthesis of branched-chain amino acids in the gut and subsequent host insulin resistance identified by Pedersen et al.6 may partially explain the null association of the MedDiet adherence with the risk of cardiometabolic disease in P. copri carriers, because they have already developed insulin resistance and were less sensitive to a healthy diet pattern. Third, P. copri possesses a unique global distribution of subspecies, with different clades identified primarily by ethnogeographic backgrounds33 and each clade carrying distinct enzymes for degradation of dietary fiber and amino acids33,34. It is not clear whether the interaction between diet and P. copri carriage was caused by the microbe itself, for example, due to an enhanced capacity for polysaccharide fermentation9. Alternately, it could be attributable to jointly causal external dietary factors (for example, an unhealthy dietary pattern that might simultaneously increase cardiometabolic disease risk and select for P. copri) or possibly completely independent factors (for example, populations with culturally reduced cardiometabolic risk and P. copri exposure). Furthermore, because of the observational nature of our study, we cannot distinguish between two alternate hypotheses: (1) in individuals who do not carry P. copri, the gut microbiome may metabolize components of the MedDiet more efficiently and effectively, leading to higher yields of cardioprotective chemical products, or (2) individuals who adhere to the MedDiet are less likely to acquire or retain P. copri, which is then itself independently cardioprotective.

Notably, our analysis did not identify a significant association between the MedDiet and the abundance or carriage of P. copri, only the interaction between diet and P. copri carriage with cardiometabolic disease risk. This is concordant with, for example, pre-existing P. copri carriage (not necessarily itself influenced by recent diet) changing the metabolites produced in the gut from components of the MedDiet, which may in turn have cardioprotective roles. Simple carriage of P. copri in the gut microbiome has, on the other hand, been identified as enriched during adherence to a traditional Asian diet35, and its presence and exact genetic composition varies widely around the globe with respect to geographic origins and lifestyles33. Other subclades of P. copri may thus not interact with components of the MedDiet as do those in this population’s Clade A, for example, and there may be additional subclade genetic variation in enzymatic potential for polysaccharide degradation that further modifies this behavior within individuals33,34. Importantly, our finding of the interaction between a dietary pattern and P. copri has the potential to explain conflicting previous results regarding its ability to improve glucose homeostasis6,9,56 and inflammation status57, given that these properties now appear to be diet-dependent6.

Nevertheless, we again stress that this study is observational in nature, a limitation shared by many such molecular epidemiological investigations. As with similar microbiome epidemiology profiles, even though we adjusted for many potential confounders in our statistical models, we were unable to assess covariates such as specific prebiotic usage, and, even when these covariates are included, most inter-individual variation in microbiome is not taken into account16,21,58. Additionally, our study focused on biomarkers of cardiometabolic disease rather than ‘hard’ clinical endpoints of T2D and CVD, which might limit the directly translational potential of our findings, although these biomarkers are among the best available predictors of the diseases and sometimes included in diagnosis criteria (for example, HbA1c). Our study also provided empirical data to show the strong predictive ability of these biomarkers for incident MI and the translational potential of these findings. Even if the resulting microbial biomarkers are not used directly in the clinic, however, they provide valuable insights into the mechanisms underlying host–microbiome interaction and disease severity and progression.

These limitations could be addressed by following this work with a combination of ‘top-down’ human interventional studies and ‘bottom-up’ model system experiments. The former could assess both changes in the risk of cardiometabolic disease in individuals with diverse baseline microbiomes (with and without P. copri) after a MedDiet intervention, as well as microbiome changes after such an intervention. The latter could include perturbing multiple different subtypes of P. copri in culture with alternate plant-derived polysaccharide sources (for example, pectin, cellulose, lignin, resistant versus regular starches versus monosaccharides) to assess growth or metabolism, or doing the same in monocolonized or humanized gnotobiotic mice. Together, such work would characterize both the specific microbial biochemistry responsible for P. copri-linked diet-driven cardiometabolic risk and its in vivo health relevance. Furthermore, it is likely that this diet–microbe–phenotype interaction is only one instance of a pattern that may recur between many microbial functions, dietary elements and health outcomes, enabling a clearer overall paradigm for personalized microbially mediated health maintenance and, eventually, disease therapy.

Methods

Study population and stool sample collection

The MLVS consisted of 914 men aged 45–80 years and free from coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer or major neurological disease at recruitment in 2011. The MLVS study population was randomly sampled from the HPFS, an ongoing prospective cohort study of 51,529 US male health professionals, initiated in 1986 (https://sites.sph.harvard.edu/hpfs/). From 2011 to 2013, 307 participants in the MLVS provided up to two pairs of self-collected stool samples. Each pair of stool samples were collected from two consecutive bowel movements 24 to 72 h apart. The second pair of samples were collected approximately six months after the first collection. Details on stool sample collection and immediate ex situ conservation of metagenomic and metatranscriptomic components, laboratory handling and paired-end shotgun sequencing of RNA and DNA are provided in our previous publications28,59,60. Briefly, each participant placed each bowel movement into a container with RNAlater and completed a questionnaire detailing the date and time of evacuation and other relevant exposures. The study participants classified the form of their bowel movements according to the Bristol stool scale at the time of fecal sample collection. The stool samples were shipped overnight to the sequencing center at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and stored in −80 °C freezers until nucleic acid extraction. Metagenomes and metatranscriptomes were obtained using the Illumina HiSeq paired-end (2 × 101 nucleotides) shotgun sequencing platform. DNA was extracted from all 929 resulting samples, in addition to RNA from a subset of 372 samples spanning 96 participants who provided samples during both sampling periods and did not report the use of antibiotics within the past year. Our study included data from 307 participants in the analysis on diet and gut microbiome. Among the 307 participants, 152, 14, 134 and 7 participants provided four, three, two and one stool samples, respectively. Additional details on study design are provided in the Life Sciences Reporting Summary. The study protocol was approved by the Institutional Review Boards of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (IRB protocol no. HSPH 22067-102). The MLVS obtained written informed consent from all participants.

Dietary assessment and covariate measurement

In the HPFS, dietary information was collected at the baseline of 1986 and updated every four years thereafter with validated SFFQs developed by Willett and others61. From 2011 to 2013, two SFFQs were each administered three months before and after the biospecimen collection in the MLVS. Among the 307 study participants, 271 and 35 individuals provided nine and eight SFFQs, respectively, and one participant provided five SFFQs (Supplementary Table 1). Participants reported their usual dietary intake (from never to ≥6 times per day) of a standard portion size (for example, 0.5 cup of strawberries, one banana and 0.5 cup of cooked spinach) during the preceding one year on each SFFQ. Frequencies and portions of each individual food item were converted to average daily intake for each participant. The reproducibility and validity of these SFFQs in measuring dietary intake have been documented in detail in refs. 61,62,63. Nutrient values were calculated based on the Harvard University Food Composition Database, which is updated every four years (https://regepi.bwh.harvard.edu/health/nutrition/). We calculated average daily nutrient and total energy intakes by multiplying the frequency of consumption of each food item by its nutrient content and summing across all foods. For this analysis, we calculated cumulative average dietary intake for each participant by summing the intake levels from all available SFFQs and then dividing the sum by the number of SFFQs. We applied a validated standard questionnaire64 to collect detailed information on physical activity level, and a questionnaire about each participant’s medication use in the past year. Smoking status and prebiotic use were self-reported by the participants.

Measurement of adherence to a Mediterranean dietary pattern

We applied a MedDiet index to measure the degree of adherence to the traditional dietary pattern consumed in the Mediterranean region. The MedDiet index was created based on the Mediterranean diet pyramid that captures food patterns typical of Crete, much of the rest of Greece and southern Italy in the early 1960s, where adult life expectancy was among the highest in the world and rates of coronary heart disease, certain cancers and other diet-related chronic diseases were among the lowest22.The MedDiet index was initially developed by Willett et al.22 and Trichopoulou et al.65 and then modified by Fung and others31. The index was based on nine items: vegetables, legumes, fruit, nuts, whole grains, red/processed meat, fish, alcohol and the ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fat. For beneficial components (vegetables, legumes, fruit, nuts, whole grains, fish and the ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fat), individuals whose consumption was below the median were assigned a value of 0, and those whose consumption was at or above the median were assigned a value of 1. For red/processed meat intake, participants whose consumption was below the median were assigned a value of 1, and those whose consumption was at or above the median were assigned a value of 0. For alcohol consumption, a value of 1 was assigned to men who consumed between 10 and 25 g per day, and those whose consumption was in other ranges were assigned a value of 0. The MedDiet index opted to use the ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fat, rather than the polyunsaturated to saturated fat ratio, to measure quality of fat intake because monounsaturated fats, primarily from olive oils, are consumed in much higher quantities than polyunsaturated fats (major sources include soybean and canola oils) in the Mediterranean region. The total MedDiet index ranged from 0 (minimal adherence) to 9 (perfect adherence).

Taxonomic and functional profiling of metagenomic and metatranscriptomic samples

Taxonomic and functional profiles were generated by applying the bioBakery meta’omics workflow66. All the microbiome measurements were taken from distinct stool samples. Sequence reads were passed through the KneadData 0.3 quality control pipeline (http://huttenhower.sph.harvard.edu/kneaddata) with default parameters to filter out low-quality read bases and reads of human origin. Taxonomic profiling was performed using MetaPhlAn 2.6.029 (http://huttenhower.sph.harvard.edu/metaphlan). MetaPhlAn classifies metagenomic reads to taxa and yields their relative abundances in each sample based on ~1 million clade-specific marker genes derived from 17,000 microbial genomes (corresponding to >7,500 bacterial, viral, archaeal and eukaryotic species).

We performed functional profiling for both metagenomes and metatranscriptomes by applying HUMAnN 2.8.030 (http://huttenhower.sph.harvard.edu/humann). Briefly, for each sample, taxonomic profiling was used to identify detectable organisms. Reads were recruited to sample-specific pangenomes including all gene families in any detected microbes using Bowtie 267. Unmapped reads were aligned against UniRef9068 using the DIAMOND translated search69. Hits were counted per gene family and normalized for length and alignment quality. For the calculation of abundances from reads that were mapped to more than one reference sequence, search hits were weighted by significance (alignment quality, gene length and gene coverage). UniRef90 abundances from both nucleotide and protein levels were then (1) mapped to level 4 EC nomenclature and (2) combined into structured pathways from MetaCyc70. We used the MinPath71 and gap filling options in HUMAnN 2.8.0. More details about functional profiling in the MLVS are provided in our previous publications28,60.

Blood sample collection and cardiometabolic disease biomarker measurements

MLVS participants donated fasting blood samples twice, six months apart, during the same period as fecal sample collection. The blood samples were collected by nurse practitioners at a clinical laboratory. Participants were cannulated in the forearm (antecubital vein) to collect a blood sample after fasting for 12 h. The first blood collection was 30 ml, consisting of three 10-ml heparin tubes, and the second blood collection was 40 ml, consisting of four 10-ml heparin blood tubes. For each blood sample, information on fasting status, blood collection time and date, smoking status, physical activity and body weight was recorded. After collection, blood samples were placed on ice packs, stored in Styrofoam containers, returned to the laboratory via overnight courier, and centrifuged and aliquoted for storage in liquid-nitrogen freezers (−130 °C or colder). HbA1c was measured by turbidimetric immunoinhibition using packed red cells (Roche Diagnostics), which is a standard approved by the US National Glycohemoglobin Standardization Program and Food and Drug Administration for clinical use. hs-CRP concentrations were determined in plasma using an immunoturbidimetric high-sensitivity assay using reagents and calibrators from Denka Seiken with assay day-to-day variability between 1 and 2%. Total and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and triglycerides were measured using standard methods with reagents from Roche Diagnostics and Genzyme. Our study included 304 participants in the analyses on blood biomarkers. Among 304 participants, 164 and 140 participants provided two and one blood sample, respectively. All biomarker measurements were taken from distinct blood samples.

Nested case–control study of myocardial infarction

We conducted a prospectively designed nested case–control study in 396 MI cases and 843 healthy controls from the HPFS to quantify the associations of the cardiometabolic disease risk score and individual biomarkers with the risk of incident MI. Between 1993 and 1995, 18,225 participants in the HPFS donated blood samples. Blood samples were collected in EDTA tubes, placed on ice packs, stored in Styrofoam containers, returned to the laboratory via overnight courier, and centrifuged and aliquoted for storage in liquid-nitrogen freezers (−130 °C or colder). Participants who provided blood samples were similar to those who did not. Both this case–control study and the gut microbiome study in the MLVS recruited subpopulations of the HPFS. The two studies were largely independent: among the healthy controls of the nested case–control study, 11 were also participants in the MLVS.

We identified participants with incident non-fatal MI or fatal coronary heart disease (CHD) between the date of blood draw and the return of the 2004 questionnaire (10 years of follow-up). Using the risk-set sampling method, we randomly selected controls (in a roughly 2:1 ratio) who were matched for age, smoking status and date of blood sampling from the subgroup of participants who were free of CVD at the time of diagnosis of a case. MI was confirmed by study physicians blinded to participants’ exposure status based on the World Health Organization’s criteria (symptoms plus either diagnostic electrocardiographic changes or elevated levels of cardiac enzymes). Deaths were identified from state vital records and the National Death Index or reported by the participants’ next of kin or the postal system. Fatal CHD was confirmed by hospital records or autopsy, or if CHD was listed as the cause of death on the death certificate, if it was the underlying and most plausible cause, and if evidence of previous CHD was available. We used the same tools and methods to collect lifestyle and dietary information and similar methods to measure blood cardiometabolic disease biomarkers as we described above.

Statistical analysis

Using the raw functional profiling abundances calculated for metagenomes and metatranscriptomes above, we quantified functional activity of gut microbial transcripts by calculating the RNA/DNA ratio of microbial enzymes, which provides an index of over/under-transcription (relative to DNA copy number) within each individual microbiome sample30. Pathways and enzymes that had <1 read per kilobase of either RNA or DNA were treated as not detected in this calculation. To determine variability in the relative abundance of taxonomy and functional potential (DNA enzyme and pathway), as well as functional activity (RNA/DNA ratio), we calculated the Bray–Curtis dissimilarity metric for each sample. We applied the PERMANOVA to quantify the percentage of variance in each data type of microbial communities explained by dietary variables, plasma biomarkers and covariables based on the Bray–Curtis dissimilarity metric using the adonis function in the R package vegan 2.5–6. All P values from the PERMANOVA were corrected for multiple comparisons using the Benjamini–Hochberg procedure. All the PERMANOVA tests were two-sided with the degree of freedom of 1.

For per-feature tests, we first performed quality control filtering for taxonomic and functional features before including them in the subsequent analyses. To be qualified for downstream analyses, a taxonomic feature or a pathway needed to be detected at a minimum relative abundance of 0.01% in at least 10% of samples. Similarly, we filtered out all enzymes with a relative abundance of <0.001% in more than 10% of all samples. This analysis yielded 139 microbial species that met the criteria. In addition to the filters of minimum abundance and prevalence, functional features with high correlations with others were removed by taking the most abundant feature from each such cluster as its representative. We employed the R package MaAsLin 2 1.0.0 to perform per-feature tests7 (https://huttenhower.sph.harvard.edu/maaslin2). We log-transformed relative abundances of microbial features and standardized the dietary data into Z-scores of intake level before including them in the MaAsLin models. In the per-feature tests, unless otherwise noted, all high-dimensional tests were corrected for multiple comparison by controlling the false discovery rate using the Benjamini–Hochberg method with a target rate of 0.25 for q values.

We used linear mixed models for all the association analyses; these provide a convenient way to account both for repeated measures (multiple time points per participant) and a small amount of missingness. These incorporated data measured from all available blood and fecal samples from each participant. All linear mixed models included identifiers of participants as random effects to account for within-subject correlation due to repeated sampling, plus dietary exposure variables and covariables as fixed effects. Specifically, with the covariates as listed below, the model takes the form

$$Y_{ij} = \left( {\beta _1 + b_i} \right) + \beta _2X_{ij2} + \cdots + \beta _pX_{ijp} + {\it{\epsilon }}_{ij}$$

In such a model with p covariates, the response for the ith subject at the jth measurement is assumed to differ from the population mean

$$\mu _{ij} = E\left( {Y_{ij}} \right) = \beta _1 + \beta _2X_{ij2} + \cdots + \beta _pX_{ijp}$$

by a subject effect, bi, and a within-subject measurement error, \({\it{\epsilon }}_{ij}\). Furthermore, it is assumed that

$$b_i \sim {{N}}(0,\delta _b^2);{\it{\epsilon }}_{ij} \sim {{N}}(0,\delta ^2)$$

and that bi and \({\it{\epsilon }}_{ij}\) are mutually independent.

To test for a statistical interaction (that is, effect modification) between the MedDiet index and gut microbiome with respect to cardiometabolic risk score, we followed the standard statistical framework to test the interaction between two exposures. This methodology is widely used in population-based studies, such as genome-wide association studies and other molecular epidemiology, which apply this approach to test effect modifications such as gene–environment and gene–gene interactions48,49. To test for a diet–microbiome interaction in cardiometabolic risk, we built up a linear mixed model that simultaneously includes the main effects of the MedDiet index and the PCo1 score or abundance of a microbial species, as well as the product term of the two main effects, in addition to confounding variables (fixed effects) and per-subject random effects. When used with a potential interactor such as P. copri abundance, this becomes

$${\rm{Score}}_{ij} = \left( {\beta _1 + b_i} \right) + \beta _2{\rm{MedDiet}}_i + \beta _3{\rm{Pcopri}}_{ij} + \beta _4{\rm{MedDiet}}_i \times {\rm{Pcopri}}_{ij} + \cdots + \beta _pX_{ijp} + {\it{\epsilon }}_{ij}$$

We then tested the significance level of the beta coefficient of the product term (β4 in this example) using a two-sided likelihood ratio test by comparing models with and without an interaction term to calculate Pinteraction (degree of freedom = 1). A significant P value of the product term can be interpreted as a significant interaction between diet and the gut microbiome or an individual microbial species, referred to as a modification. In addition, we performed stratified analysis to quantify the associations of the MedDiet index with the cardiometabolic disease risk score and biomarker levels in subgroups defined by different levels of PCo loadings and microbe abundances separately. The linear mixed models included the participant’s identifier as random effect and simultaneously adjusting for total energy intake, age, physical activity level, smoking, probiotics use, Bristol stool scale and medication use (including antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors, aspirin, statins and metformin). To compare the genetic architecture of P. copri in this study population and that of controls from the Integrative Human Microbiome Project50, we first joined HUMAnN gene family profiles within P. copri from the two populations and then performed PCoA analysis of gene family dissimilarity (as quantified by the Bray–Curtis dissimilarity) using the R package vegan 2.5–6.

We quantified the associations of the cardiometabolic disease risk score and biomarkers with the risk of MI in the nested case–control study. We first categorized all the participants into quartiles of the cardiometabolic disease risk score and biomarker levels. We then applied logistic regression models to estimate odds ratios and their 95% CIs of MI comparing participants in each quartile to the lowest quartile. To quantify a linear trend, we assigned the median value of each quartile and modeled this variable continuously and calculated the P for linear trend using the two-sided Wald test (degree of freedom = 1). With the risk-set sampling method, the odds ratios derived from the logistic regression directly estimated the RRs. We also calculated RRs and 95% CIs of MI associated with a one-standard-deviation increment in the cardiometabolic disease risk score and biomarker levels. For the cardiometabolic disease risk score, we additionally calculated RRs and 95% CIs of MI associated with a one-unit increment in the score. All multivariable models were simultaneously adjusted for matching factors including age, smoking status and month of blood sampling, family history of MI before the age of 60 years, alcohol intake, physical activity level and body mass index. The RRs of MI associated with a four-unit increment in the MedDiet index were calculated by multiplying multivariable-adjusted changes in the cardiometabolic disease risk score associated with a four-unit increment in the MedDiet index by the multivariable-adjusted RR of MI associated with one-unit increment in the cardiometabolic disease risk score. The calculations were conducted in P. copri carriers and non-carriers separately. To estimate the uncertainty of the RRs, we used Monte Carlo simulations to take 1,000 draws from the distribution of changes in the MedDiet index and the RRs of the MI simultaneously, propagating the uncertainty in the dietary index and estimated biological effects (RRs) of the MedDiet index into the final estimates. All the statistical tests were two-sided.

Reporting Summary

Further information on research design is available in the Nature Research Reporting Summary linked to this article.

Data availability

All the microbiome data have been published previously28,60 and are publicly available (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41564-017-0084-4#Sec22). All the metadata from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study are available through a request for external collaboration and upon approvals of a letter of intent and a research proposal. Details for how to request an external collaboration with the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study can be found at https://sites.sph.harvard.edu/hpfs/for-collaborators/. The Harvard University Food Composition Database is publicly available at https://regepi.bwh.harvard.edu/health/nutrition/. Figures 25, Extended Data Figs. 110, Supplementary Tables 1 and 38 and Supplementary Figs. 1 and 2 are associated with the microbiome and metadata. Source data are provided with this paper.

Code availability

This study mainly relies on open-source bioBakery tools, particularly MetaPhlAn 2, HUMAnN 2 and MaAsLin 2, which are available at https://huttenhower.sph.harvard.edu/tools/. The analysis-specific programs are available through http://huttenhower.sph.harvard.edu/meddiet2020.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by R00DK119412 (D.D.W.), R01HL060712 (F.B.H.), P30DK046200 (F.B.H.), R01CA202704 (A.T.C. and C.H.), K24DK098311 (A.T.C.) and U54DE023798 (C.H.) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), STARR Cancer Consortium award no. #I7-A714 to C.H., and a Pilot and Feasibility award to D.D.W. from the Boston Nutrition and Obesity Research Center funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (P30DK046200). The Men’s Lifestyle Validation Study was supported by U01CA152904 from the National Cancer Institute. The Health Professionals Follow-Up Study is supported by research grants nos. U01CA167552 and R01HL035464 from the NIH. The funding source had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis and interpretation of the data; preparation, review or approval of the manuscript the decision to submit the manuscript for publication. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH. We are indebted to the participants in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study for their continuing outstanding level of cooperation and to the staff of the Health Professionals Follow-up Study for their valuable contributions. The authors assume full responsibility for analyses and interpretation of these data.

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Contributions

Study conception, manuscript preparation and data analysis were provided by D.D.W. and C.H. All authors interpretated data and critically revised the manuscript for important intellectual content. Data and specimen collections were carried out by E.B.R., M.J.S., A.T.C. and C.H.; W.C.W., E.B.R., M.J.S., A.T.C. and C.H. obtained funding.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Curtis Huttenhower.

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C.H. is a scientific advisor for Seres Therapeutics, Empress Therapeutics and ZOE Nutrition. Y.L. has received research support from the California Walnut Commission and SwissRe Management Ltd. The other authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Michael Basson was the primary editor on this article and managed its editorial process and peer review in collaboration with the rest of the editorial team.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Mediterranean diet index and its individual components.

(a) Distribution of the Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) index in the study population. Each participant’s adherence to the MedDiet was evaluated by a 9-dimensional MedDiet index (Supplementary Table 2 and Methods) as previously described22,31. The total MedDiet index ranged from 0 (non-adherence) to 9 (perfect adherence). The index was calculated based on the intake levels of 9 items: vegetables, legumes, fruit, nuts, whole grains, red/processed meat (R/P meat), fish, alcohol, and the ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fat (M/S ratio). Participants who had a higher adherence to MedDiet consumed more beneficial components of the dietary pattern, including whole grains, vegetables, fruit, nuts, legumes, fish, monounsaturated fats (at the expense of saturated fats) and moderate alcohol drinking, but less red and processed meat, a detrimental component of the MedDiet index. (b) Correlations between the MedDiet index, its individual constituent food and nutrient contributors, and dairy food. Values in the figure are partial Spearman correlation coefficients with adjustment for total energy intake. As expected, the composite MedDiet score was positively correlated with ‘healthy’ contributing factors, negatively correlated with ‘unhealthy’ factors, and, importantly, not dominated by any one component.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 2 Principal coordinate analysis of species-level Bray-Curtis dissimilarity colored by the relative abundance of major taxonomic features.

(a) Principal coordinate analysis of species-level Bray-Curtis dissimilarity colored in correspondence to the relative abundance of Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes phyla. As expected, a majority of variation in the species-level compositional structure of the gut microbiome was driven by a tradeoff between Bacteroidetes versus Firmicutes phyla. (b) Principal coordinate analysis of species-level Bray-Curtis dissimilarity colored in correspondence to the relative abundance of 9 most abundant species-level features. The most prominent patterns of gut microbial taxonomic variation in the population included tradeoffs between the abundances of Eubacterium rectale and Bacteroides uniformis vs. Subdoligranulum unclassified and P. copri.

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Extended Data Fig. 3 Association between the adherence to a Mediterranean dietary pattern and microbiome taxonomic diversity.

The diversity of gut microbiome was quantified by Shannon diversity index. P for linear trend was derived from a general linear model with the Shannon diversity index as the dependent variable and the quartiles of the Mediterranean diet index as independent variables. The significance test was two-sided. Box plot centers show medians of the Shannon diversity index with boxes indicating their inter-quartile ranges (IQRs); upper and lower whiskers indicate 1.5 times the IQR from above the upper quartile and below the lower quartile, respectively. This analysis was conducted based on 925 metagenomes from 307 participants.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 4 Associations of the Mediterranean diet index and its components with species-level features.

Colors of the heatmap are in correspondence to the beta coefficient for dietary variables from linear mixed models in MaAsLin 2 with species-level feature as outcomes. All models included each participant’s identifier as random effects and simultaneously adjusted for total energy intake, age, physical activity level, smoking, probiotic use, medication use (including antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors, aspirin, statins and metformin), and the Bristol stool scale. Statistical significance is from the linear mixed model with multiple comparison adjustment using the Benjamini-Hochberg method to calculate q values (false discovery rate adjusted P value, exact q values in Source Data). These analyses were based on 925 metagenomes collected from 307 participants. All the statistical tests were two-sided.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 5 Associations of the Mediterranean diet index and its components with metagenomic pathways.

Colors of the heatmap are in correspondence to the beta coefficient for dietary variables from linear mixed models in MaAsLin 2 with metagenomic pathways as outcomes. All models included each participant’s identifier as random effects and simultaneously adjusted for total energy intake, age, physical activity level, smoking, probiotic use, medication use (including antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors, statins, aspirin and metformin), and the Bristol stool scale. Statistical significance is from the linear mixed model with multiple comparison adjustment using the Benjamini-Hochberg method to calculate q values (false discovery rate adjusted P value, exact q values in Source Data). These analyses were based on 925 metagenomes collected from 307 participants. All the statistical tests were two-sided.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 6 Associations of the Mediterranean diet index and its components with metagenomic enzymes.

Colors of the heatmap are in correspondence to the beta coefficient for dietary variables from linear mixed models in MaAsLin 2 with metagenomic enzymes as outcomes. All models included each participant’s identifier as random effects and simultaneously adjusted for total energy intake, age, physical activity level, smoking, probiotic use, medication use (including antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors, statins, aspirin and metformin), and the Bristol stool scale. Statistical significance is from the linear mixed model with multiple comparison adjustment using the Benjamini-Hochberg method to calculate q values (false discovery rate adjusted P value, exact q values in Source Data). These analyses were based on 925 metagenomes collected from 307 participants. All the statistical tests were two-sided.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 7 Associations of the Mediterranean diet index and its components with transcription levels of microbial enzymes.

Colors of the heatmap are in correspondence to the beta coefficient for dietary variables from linear mixed models in MaAsLin 2 with transcription levels of microbial enzymes (RNA/DNA ratio) as outcomes. All models included each participant’s identifier as random effects and simultaneously adjusted for total energy intake, age, physical activity level, smoking, probiotic use, and the Bristol stool scale. Statistical significance is from the linear mixed model with multiple comparison adjustment using the Benjamini-Hochberg method to calculate q values (false discovery rate adjusted P value, exact q values in Source Data). These analyses were based on 340 metatranscriptome and metagenome pairs from 96 participants. All the statistical tests were two-sided.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 8 Associations of the Mediterranean diet index with the cardiometabolic disease risk score and biomarkers.

P values were estimated from linear mixed model that included each participant’s identifier as random effects and simultaneously adjusted for total energy intake, age, physical activity level, smoking, probiotic use, Bristol stool scale, medication use (including antibiotics, statins, aspirin, proton pump inhibitors, statins, aspirin and metformin) and the first principal coordinates axis (PCo1) as fixed effects. This analysis was based on 468 blood samples from 304 participants. The shaded areas indicate 95% confidence intervals of values on the fitted linear trend lines. All the statistical tests were two-sided.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 9 Interaction between adherence to the Mediterranean diet and the abundance of highly abundant microbial species in relation to the cardiometabolic disease risk score.

P for interaction was derived from linear mixed models that included participant’s identifier as random effects, the Mediterranean diet index, individual microbial species and their product term, and simultaneously adjusted for total energy intake, age, physical activity level, smoking, probiotic use, the Bristol stool scale, and medication use (including antibiotics, statins, aspirin, proton pump inhibitors and metformin) as fixed effects. We performed two-sided likelihood ratio tests by comparing models with and without an interaction term to calculate P value for interaction (degree of freedom =1). This analysis was based on 468 blood samples from 304 participants. The shaded areas indicate 95% confidence intervals of values on the fitted linear trend lines.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 10 The gut microbial profile modifies associations of the MedDiet with individual biomarkers of cardiometabolic disease risk.

P for interaction was derived from a linear mixed model that included participant’s identifier as random effects, the MedDiet index, individual microbial species and their product term, and simultaneously adjusted for total energy intake, age, physical activity level, smoking, probiotic use, Bristol stool scale, and medication use (including antibiotics, statins, aspirin, proton pump inhibitors and metformin) as fixed effects. We performed two-sided likelihood ratio tests by comparing models with and without an interaction term to calculate P value for interaction (degree of freedom =1). This analysis was based on 468 blood samples from 304 participants.

Source data

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Wang, D.D., Nguyen, L.H., Li, Y. et al. The gut microbiome modulates the protective association between a Mediterranean diet and cardiometabolic disease risk. Nat Med 27, 333–343 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-020-01223-3

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