The Study of Gut Health: A Conversation with Dr. Elaine Hsiao
Renew Life recently spoke with Dr. Elaine Hsiao, Assistant Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology & Physiology at UCLA, about the importance of maintaining a healthy microbiome. Here is what Dr. Hsiao had to say.
How did you get into the science field and how did you become interested in the microbiome, specifically?
While I was in high school, we learned about molecular biology and techniques to edit genes in bacteria. I thought it was absolutely wild that scientists could use “cut and paste” methods to alter the genes in organisms. This began my career love affair with the microbiome. I chose microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics as my undergraduate major at UCLA, where this learning sparked my deep appreciation for how microbes can impact health and disease. Today, scientists are on the brink of uncovering new and understudied roles of the microbiome, and our culture is eager to embrace this research. I’m lucky and intrigued by being on the front lines of this new frontier.
What is the microbiome and why is it so important for your overall health?
The intestinal microbiome refers to the communities of trillions of microorganisms that are indigenous to the gut. Researchers are finding that the gut microbes are important for health because they impact many fundamental biological processes, such as digestion, nutrition, gut function, immunity and metabolism.
How does the microbiome affect gut health? What other parts of your health does the microbiome affect?
There are more than 100 trillion live cultures of many diverse strains inside your digestive tract that can be easily disrupted by stress, diet, aging, certain medications and even the environment. Gut microbes are important for regulating digestion and nutrition, and are also beginning to be studied for their influences on immunity, metabolism and even behavior.
What do you do to maintain a healthy microbiome?
I try to eat a variety of different food sources and dietary fiber to increase the diversity of the gut microbiome.
What is most exciting to you in your current research?
I am most excited about the promise of uncovering ways that the microbiome interacts with our biological systems and identifying how gut microbes can impact health and disease so that we can, in time, develop new solutions to pressing health issues.
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