The Institute for the Advancement of Food and Nutrition Sciences aims to make the topic of gut microbiome health friendlier to the public even as research advances.
The Institute for the Advancement of Food and Nutrition Sciences (IAFNS) grapples with nutrition and food safety science. Its 12 committees support research projects to advance our understanding of critical food and nutrition issues such as those related to digestion. This encompasses science on nutrition and the gut, which plays major roles in immunity, extraction of nutrients from foods, the gut-brain axis, and other physiological processes.
This month marks the evolution of one of IAFNS’s committees, previously named the “Gut Microbiome Committee,” to the newly re-christened “Nutrition for Gut Health Committee.”
The Nutrition for Gut Health Committee advances and communicates the scientific understanding of the impact of diet and dietary constituents on gut and host health.
We found that the previous committee name—gut microbiome—may have been a bit too technical or distant from the interest in tangible effects of the diet on health. In fact, although much progress has been made, the parameters of a “healthy gut microbiome” remain elusive. The public is more likely to refer to gut health in conversation than microbiome. Our emerging focus areas reflect current terminology and new evidence, warranting a name change and refocus toward more accessible language and evidence.
New Strategic Focus Areas
With its new moniker, the committee now seeks to advance shared definitions and approaches to the measurement of gut health across investigators and stakeholders. Shared understanding and definitions entrench rigor and specificity in studies, guiding researchers toward more robust measures and findings that can be examined collectively to address questions.
In addition, we are seeking to evaluate and advance the evidence for nutrition support of optimal gut and host health. Instead of a focus on disease, optimal gut health prioritizes healthy functioning. A focus on maintaining optimal gut health in all its dimensions has broad public health value over a disease focus alone. The gut influences not only digestion. Rather, research links what happens in the gut to cognitive function, immune responses, and other physical processes that are associated with long-term health. The gut health area remains a challenging and fascinating area to explore with the potential of substantial benefits to follow advancements in science.
Finally, the committee has a mandate to communicate the evidence that underpins how diets and dietary constituents impact measures of gut health and other systems influenced by gut physiology. One of IAFNS’s core principles is “knowledge mobilization” and highlighting findings about optimal gut health to multiple audiences and organizations through media outreach. This will be a mainstay of the new committee’s activities going forward.
The panel supports five ongoing projects, a webinar series, and other events and publications. These efforts encompass the impact of beneficial live dietary microbes on health (which was the subject of a recent September 28 webinar) and other topics like gut metabolites, best practices for research, recommended intakes, and the value of gut microbiome resilience, to name just a few.
IAFNS has a tripartite, cross-sector operating model, so government, industry, and academic advisers all contribute and guide the committee. This ensures that the value of the research can be extracted by different sectors for more confident decision-making by all.
Research has shown that the consumption of some live microbes, including probiotics, is associated with health benefits. Fermented foods, such as yogurt and kimchi, are rich in live bacteria and may help to promote a healthy gut and support overall well-being. Consuming fermented foods may be associated with a range of health benefits, including improved digestive health, increased nutrient absorption, and a strengthened immune system.
One of the unique projects the committee is pursuing is studying the South Korean population for health status given the relatively high consumption of fermented foods in that country. For this work, it is hypothesized that a) microbe intake from foods, including fermented foods, is related to systemic health indicators in an age- and gender-dependent manner in the South Korean population, and b) effects of live dietary microbe intake on systemic health in South Korean adults vary depending on individual dietary factors such as the Korean Healthy Eating Index score. This project leverages a natural experiment of dietary microbe consumption over generations in South Korea to advance our understanding of its impacts on health.
The committee also supports a project to develop a set of reference materials that are certified by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for clinically relevant metabolites. The set will be derived from a small cohort of donors who are selected based on their health or disease state (e.g., obesity vs. healthy, diet controlled, etc.). IAFNS collaborated with NIST to develop a list of metabolites with likely relevance for health that would be useful to include and measure in the material.
With its new focus, we urge everyone to explore getting involved with IAFNS’s Nutrition for Gut Health Committee as it evolves to generate major new insights on gut health and functioning. With a focus on nutrition for gut health, the panel’s current projects promise to advance understanding and communication in this critical area.
The committee collaborates with experts from the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP), the American Society for Nutrition (ASN), and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) on gut health research questions of common interest and to further mobilize and get media exposure of the work jointly produced.
About the Author
Marie Latulippe, MS, MBA, RDN, is director of science programs at the Institute for the Advancement of Food and Nutrition Sciences (iafns.org), managing the programs of several Nutrition Science Committees. She has more than 20 years of experience addressing emerging nutrition issues and application of evidence to policy development.