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The Human Microbiome and Health Inequities (WP-20-44)

Katherine Amato, Gregory Miller, Christopher Kuzawa, et al.

Individuals that are minoritized as a result of race, sexual identity, gender, or  socioeconomic status experience a higher prevalence of most human diseases. Understanding the biological processes that cause and maintain these socially driven health inequities is essential for addressing them. The gut microbiome is strongly shaped by host environments and affects host metabolic, immune, and neuroendocrine functions. Therefore, the gut microbiome represents an important pathway via which environmental differences caused by social, political, and economic structures can be translated into inequities in health. Nevertheless, few studies have directly integrated the microbiome into investigations of health inequities. This review explores how taking into account host-gut microbe interactions can improve our understanding and management of health inequities. The authors start by outlining environmental influences on the gut microbiome and its development. They then explore microbial roles in health through the lenses of host metabolism, the immune system, and the nervous system. Finally, they emphasize the importance of changes in policy at multiple levels of government that account for the microbial role in health inequities. Overall, the researchers argue that studying the gut microbiome in minoritized populations will provide important insights into the biological mechanisms of health inequities and that health policy must shift to incorporate microbiome dynamics moving forward.

This paper is now published in PNAS.

Katherine Amato, Assistant Professor of Anthropology and IPR Associate, Northwestern University

Gregory Miller, Louis W. Menk Professor of Psychology and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

Christopher Kuzawa, Professor of Anthropology and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

et alia

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