Faecalibacterium prausnitzii bacteria, illustration

More than biology matters when it comes to the human gut microbiome. That’s what Northwestern University biological anthropologist Katherine Amato, Ph.D., and her colleagues reported in what she calls “the first explicit framework that integrates the gut microbiome into our understanding of health inequities”.When asked about the most common connection between the microbiome and inequities in health, Amato says that it’s “likely to be social or environmental factors associated with structural racism and other forms of discrimination that alter the microbiome and subsequently affect people’s biology.” She adds, “Microbiome research consistently demonstrates that human environments can alter the microbiome, which then feeds back to affect almost every aspect of human biology and health.”

Katherine Amato, Ph.D.
Katherine Amato, Ph.D.
Northwestern University

As one example, Amato points out that some people have more access to fresh produce than others, which impacts the intake of fiber and the microbiome in a person’s gut. She adds, “Chronic stress or reduced access to green space and the associated microbial communities will also result in differences in the microbiomes of minoritized populations.” These inequities can drive increases in asthma, diabetes, and more in some communities.

In thinking about the most impactful aspect of this work, Amato notes that “while the environmental disparities that result from racism and other forms of discrimination are extremely likely to affect health outcomes via the microbiome, the microbiome has not been explicitly integrated as a pathway of interest in most studies of health inequities.” She hopes that more researchers, medical professionals, and policymakers will begin to consider these links. Amato suggests that “demonstrating the potential importance of these therapies in combatting health inequities could lead to transformative policy interventions that strive for universal access to emerging microbiome health technologies, and to microbially-informed healthcare more generally.”

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