A new study published in Science Translational Medicine adds evidence to the usefulness of gut microbiome analysis by demonstrating the association between its composition and Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) risk. The authors, led by experts from the Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology – Hans Knöll Institute (Jena, Germany), developed a model to predict the risk and the progression of the disease based on gut flora composition.
Gut microbiome and NAFLD
“Gut microbiome” stands for the genomes of the population of microbes that inhabit the intestine. These microbes influence human health in several ways; among others, they can modulate factors linked to the host’s cardiometabolic risk.
In NAFLD, fat cells accumulate in the liver, contributing to the most common chronic disease of the liver in industrialized countries. Type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and altered blood lipids are among the most important risk factors. If undetected or unmanaged, NAFLD can lead to liver scarring, cancer, or failure.
Evidence of a gut microbiome-NAFLD link was already known; in this new study, researchers demonstrated that the microbiome composition of a healthy person can predict the risk of developing the disease and its progression.
A proof-of-concept study
The researchers started this new study by collecting participants’ blood and stool samples; in particular, stool samples are needed for gut microbiome analysis. At the follow-up visit (4.6 years after) 90 individuals developed NAFLD; samples from these people were compared to samples from 90 participants who did not develop NAFLD. Collected data enabled the development of a sophisticated computer model that can predict NAFLD based on gut flora features, and showed that microbiome features outperform other prognostic clinical models for NAFLD status and liver fat accumulation.
«We confirmed the biological relevance of the microbiome features by testing their diagnostic ability in four external NAFLD case-control cohorts (…) from Asia, Europe, and the United States», the authors explain, concluding: «Our findings raise the possibility of using gut microbiota for early clinical warning of NAFLD development».
The microbiome analysis: a tool for tailored prevention strategies
As highlighted by Gianni Panagiotou, leader of the study, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a silent pathology – that is, in most patients it is asymptomatic. Usually, it is only detected by chance, increasing the risk of serious complications. «This study provides us with evidence that gut microbiome analysis can help counteract the disease and its complications», Armando Castiello, Branch Manager at Bioscience Institute, explains. The company offers a test for gut microbiome analysis, MICROBALANCE, providing with a detailed report on intestinal flora composition that includes its functional profiling.
«Early detection is fundamental to counteract several diseases, but only intercepting the risk enables real prevention», Castiello adds. «This holds true not only for NAFLD, but also for other cardiometabolic conditions and for several serious diseases, like cancer. Tools allowing intercepting the factors and conditions who predict the risk enable clinicians to take action even before the diagnosis, when we are healthy, increasing our chance to avoid the problem. Also, the analysis of the factors and conditions that predict the potential course of progression of a disease can help inform its management to reduce complication risk».
Specific gut microbiome features were associated with specific raised health risks. «Based on these and other findings, we can say that gut microbiome analysis is a valuable tool in both disease prevention and management. Besides evaluating NAFLD risk and progression, it can be used to test for the presence of microbes associated, for instance, to increased cardiovascular or colon cancer risk».
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