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Healthy living game plan: the microbiome

Our health is like a game of chess. Winning a chess match requires understanding of the value of each chess piece, making good opening moves, and having a robust game plan. Similarly, the secret to good health starts with understanding our biological system i.e. the chess pieces, making informed decisions in the first 1,000 days of life i.e. the opening moves, and developing a personalised nutritional plan i.e. a game plan that works best for our bodies.

We are born and built differently, and this isn’t just limited to our DNA, fingerprints, personalities and appearances. Our body functions differently and there is no one-size-fits all approach to managing health. A large part of this has got to do with our microbiome, a community of over 100 trillion microbes that live in and on our bodies. About 95% of our microbiome are gut bacteria located in the gastrointestinal tract. This concoction of microbes is as unique as our fingerprints, and they not only influence how our body responds to certain foods, but also our overall health and well-being.

The microbiome is an important chess piece in our biological system. Inherited from one generation to the next, they follow us from birth to adulthood. Microbiome inheritance happens in early life and they help set up our immature immune, metabolic, and brain systems for the future.

However, our microbiome is a fragile asset. Several epidemiological studies have found that caesarean section births and antibiotics exposure at prenatal, birth and postnatal stages impact early life microbiome. A compromised microbiome is tightly linked to allergy development and obesity, and is a risk factor for non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which accounts for roughly 76% of total deaths in Singapore.

In chess, our opening moves could determine our general strategy for the entire match. Similarly, the state of our microbiome in the first 1,000 days of life has lifelong impact on our future health and well-being. Minimising antibiotics use pre- and postnatal, opting for natural birth over caesarean birth where possible, breastfeeding and maintaining good nutrition through a balanced diet will boost the development of a healthy microbiome, giving our next generation the best start in life.

But try as we might, life sometimes throws us a curveball. Circumstances may hinder the execution of our perfectly planned opening moves. The beautiful thing about our microbiome is that it can be nurtured and modulated through nutritional interventions at every stage of life, from childhood to adulthood. With increasing public investments into healthy living, and more digital health startups entering the food and nutrition space, it is important to consider that our unique microbiome requires a personalised nutrition game plan. Modulating our gut microbiome through nutrition is one of the secrets to NCD prevention, allowing us to enjoy good quality of life for as many years as possible.

To be attributed to: A/Prof. Christophe Lay, PhD, Senior Scientist Gut Microbiome, Danone Nutricia Research

1 https://www.who.int/nmh/countries/2014/sgp_en.pdf