Holobiont nutrition: considering the role of the gastrointestinal microbiota in the health benefits of whole grains

Gut Microbes. Jul-Aug 2013;4(4):340-6. doi: 10.4161/gmic.24707. Epub 2013 Apr 15.


Intake of whole grains and other food products high in dietary fiber have long been linked to the prevention of chronic diseases associated with inflammation. A contribution of the gastrointestinal microbiota to these effects has been suggested, but little is known on how whole grains interact with gut bacteria. We have recently published the first human trial that made use of next-generation sequencing to determine the effect of whole grains (whole grain barley, brown rice or a mixture of the two) on fecal microbiota structure and tested for associations between the gut microbiota and blood markers of inflammation, glucose and lipid metabolism. Our study revealed that whole grains impacted gut microbial ecology by increasing microbial diversity and inducing compositional alterations, some of which are considered to have beneficial effects on the host. Interestingly, whole grains, and in particular the combination of whole grain barley and brown rice, caused a reduction in plasma interleukin-6 (IL-6), which was linked to compositional features of the gut microbiota. Therefore, the study provided evidence that a short-term increased intake of whole grains led to compositional alterations of the gut microbiota that coincided with improvements in systemic inflammation. In this addendum, we summarize the findings of the study and provide a perspective on the importance of regarding humans as holobionts when considering the health effects of dietary strategies.

Keywords: gut microbiota; inflammation; metabolic disorders; whole grains.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Comment

MeSH terms

  • Diet*
  • Edible Grain*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metagenome*