Establishing What Constitutes a Healthy Human Gut Microbiome: State of the Science, Regulatory Considerations, and Future Directions
Abstract, The Journal of Nutrition, 2019
On December 17, 2018, the North American branch of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI North America) convened a workshop “Can We Begin to Define a Healthy Gut Microbiome Through Quantifiable Characteristics?” with >40 invited academic, government, and industry experts in Washington, DC. The workshop objectives were to 1) develop a collective expert assessment of the state of the evidence on the human gut microbiome and associated human health benefits, 2) see if there was sufficient evidence to establish measurable gut microbiome characteristics that could serve as indicators of “health,” 3) identify short- and long-term research needs to fully characterize healthy gut microbiome–host relationships, and 4) publish the findings. Conclusions were as follows: 1) mechanistic links of specific changes in gut microbiome structure with function or markers of human health are not yet established; 2) it is not established if dysbiosis is a cause, consequence, or both of changes in human gut epithelial function and disease; 3) microbiome communities are highly individualized, show a high degree of interindividual variation to perturbation, and tend to be stable over years; 4) the complexity of microbiome-host interactions requires a comprehensive, multidisciplinary research agenda to elucidate relationships between gut microbiome and host health; 5) biomarkers and/or surrogate indicators of host function and pathogenic processes based on the microbiome need to be determined and validated, along with normal ranges, using approaches similar to those used to establish biomarkers and/or surrogate indicators based on host metabolic phenotypes; 6) future studies measuring responses to an exposure or intervention need to combine validated microbiome-related biomarkers and/or surrogate indicators with multiomics characterization of the microbiome; and 7) because static genetic sampling misses important short- and long-term microbiome-related dynamic changes to host health, future studies must be powered to account for inter- and intraindividual variation and should use repeated measures within individuals.