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Lets Make Sure the Gut Microbiome is Represented in the Next Dietary Guidelines for Americans

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SHORT SUMMARY  Researchers with expertise in the gut microbiome have never been included as part of the expert committee tasked with making recommendations for Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Given the extraordinary insight into human health and disease microbiome research is revealing, it’s imperative that experts in the gut microbiome play a prominent role in the soon-to-be-updated Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In short, a new paradigm for health is emerging which suggests that many diseases and ailments represent an imbalance with the microbial world and food and lifestyle choices have a significant impact on our relationship with the microbes that live on and in our bodies. The upcoming Dietary Guidelines for Americans represents an opportunity to make that document matter – a teaching moment – by inserting biology and ecology into our national discussion on food and health.


This petition will be delivered to the heads of the United States Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services the day they announce the nomination process for the next expert committee.

  In a little less than a year from now, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will do what they have mandated to do every five years by Congress, and begin soliciting nominations for and appoint a new Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee to make recommendations that will result in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Let’s make sure that gut microbiome researchers are included in the next expert committee that recommends what Americans should eat to achieve and maintain optimal health!

In 2008, the expert committee included 13 outstanding researchers, who were tasked by the USDA and DHHS to:

“. . .review the scientific and medical knowledge current at the time and to recommend to the Secretaries any revisions to the Dietary Guidelines that the Committee determines are warranted for the next edition (the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, think MyPlate).”

And so they did. And this is the problem. Taking nothing away from the expert panel, it was glaring that not one of the committee members was an expert on the gut microbiome – and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines and graphical MyPlate reflect this shortcoming. Granted, the USDA and DHHS only  consider the recommendations of the expert committee (in closed-door meetings by the way), the lack of panel members who study the role of the trillions of bacteria in human health was unfortunate. We CANNOT afford this to happen again.

Though hardly a fringe scientific and nutrition issue in 2008 and 2009 when the committee was amassing its recommendations, today, advances in modern genomic techniques is revolutionizing our understanding of Why We Get Sick and requiring that modern medicine and nutrition rethink the role of microbes in nearly every ailment known – including autism, obesity, IBS, many cancers, type 1 and 2 diabetes and “all” autoimmune diseases, heart disease, and this list goes on and on and on.

It is for the reason that the next expert committee appointed by the USDA and HHS to produce Dietary Guidelines for Americans (process begins in a year), MUST include scientists who are leaders in gut microbiome research. If these researchers can be nominated, agree to serve, and actually be selected by the USDA and HHS to serve on the expert panel to generate recommendations for the next Dietary Guidelines for Americans, we have for the first time, an opportunity to insert biology and ecology into our national discussion on what constitutes a healthy diet and lifestyle.

By inserting the gut microbiome into the conversation, we can explain to the American people that we don’t need is another set of dietary recommendations for us, but rather need a set of dietary recommendations that understands humans are super organisms made up of human and microbial cells.. In fact, the bacterial cells outnumber our own 10 to 1 (and at the gene level the bacterial genes outnumber our own 100 to 1). We are more microbe than mammal.

What we need are dietary recommendations that understand foods need to not only nourish us, but our gut microbiome as well. By placing humans and nutrition in an ecological perspective, one that gives our human-microbe coevolution its day in nutritional conversation sunlight, we can begin to move beyond the “exercise more, eat less” message to one that actually teaches people about their bodies, our shared biological past with microbes and the foods needed to fully nourish our super organism to prevent disease.

The upcoming 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans represents a teaching moment if we can get biology and ecology inserted into the conversation via microbiome research. After all, nothing in nutrition and health makes sense except in the light of the gut microbiome.

The most recent guidelines in 2010 (myPlate) were more or less ignored by the press and the general public (minus a bump in interest provided by the First Lady, Michelle Obama). People have concluded the recommendations are useless in their everyday life and the process is controlled more or less by special interests anyway. But the guidelines matter – a lot – as they determine the nutritional make up of tens of millions of school lunches served everyday. They also inform countless government nutrition and feeding programs – including the military – and influence food manufacturers and the tens of thousands of registered dietitians and other health practitioners.

The upcoming Dietary Guidelines is an opportunity to make a set of recommendations more interesting and more relevant to what needs to be explained and understood – that humans are more microbe than mammal and that relationship between “us and them” was selected on a nutritional landscape that looks very different than the one we find ourselves today. We will never achieve optimal health by ignoring our biological past. It begins with an expert panel that represents our biological past.


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