- The gastrointestinal microbiota is emerging as a central factor in the pathogenesis of a range of gastrointestinal and hepatic disorders. Epidemiological studies, and experimental studies in animals and humans, have highlighted a likely causative role of this microbial community in the modern global epidemics of inflammatory bowel disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, non-alcoholic steato-hepatitis, obesity and metabolic syndrome.
- New techniques for microbial culture and gene sequencing are enabling the identification of specific pathogens and protective organisms in these conditions.
- Factors that change the microbiota are being defined: dietary pattern, specific foods, food additives in processed food and drinks, such as emulsifiers and non-sugar sweeteners, and antibiotics. Microbiota changes in early life appear critical to the later development of a range of inflammatory disorders.
- For many of these conditions, the treatment paradigm will change, at least in part, from immune suppression and drug therapy to treatments that reshape the microbiota or restore its integrity. These treatments include dietary changes, specific microbial manipulation and faecal microbiota transplantation.
- A dialogue is needed regarding population strategies that target disease prevention. This will include how food is produced, what additives it contains, and how it is processed. Widespread use of antibiotics, from agricultural and veterinary to medicinal settings, needs more attention.
- At the individual level, microbial profiles may be able to predict who is at risk of disease when subjected to particular environmental influences, and what microbial restoration is needed to minimise risk.
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