Microbes and Inflammatory Disease Justin L. Sonnenburg PhD

Defeating Asthma Series uncovers New Hope for Asthma Management

In this interview with Justin L. Sonnenburg PhD, Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University, we learn diseases largely driven by inflammation and an altered immune system may benefit from taking our microbiome into account.

Our understanding of Asthma and the way we treat it may soon be radically different from what currently exists, due to new research on the human microbiome and how the microbiome affects asthma.

“Diseases largely driven by inflammation and an altered immune system. If we start to take our gut microbiota into account, as we live our life, as we make medical decisions, eat different foods and potentially even eventually reintroduce some of these lost microbes, how profound can the impact be on our health?” Justin L. Sonnenburg Ph.D


World Asthma Foundation: Can you talk about the link between microbes and Western inflammatory diseases? We know there are billions of microbes good and bad in our body and research links some to wellness and some to disease. The big question is can we test for whether we are populated with these microbes or not?

Video: Microbes and Inflammatory Disease Justin L. Sonnenburg PhD

Dr. Justin L. Sonnenburg:  On a population level, it’s very clear that some of the microbes that have been associated with humans over the course of our evolution for probably hundreds of thousands of years.

The reason that we know that is if we go to different traditional populations like Hunter-gatherers in different parts of the planet, like Africa, South America, Papua new Guinea all over the place.

We see microbes associated with these populations and many of these populations are completely healthy except for maybe increased incidents of infectious disease. They certainly don’t have many chronic inflammatory diseases.

These microbes are present in all of these populations but missing from industrialized populations were incredibly rare or reduced abundance. At a population level, we can see that for instance, all Americans are missing specific groups of bacteria that we know were- we harbored for hundreds of thousands of years as we migrated around the planets in our past around the planet to different parts of the world.

On an individual level, there still is a lot of variability. The microbiome is highly individualized. That means some people’s microbiome appears to be more westernized, maybe more deteriorated, maybe more lower diversity.

Quite often that more deteriorated state of the gut microbiome is associated with chronic diseases, with obesity, with metabolic syndrome and things like that. On an individual level, there are companies that offer testing for the different species to give you the composition of what’s in your microbiome.

I can’t speak to the validity of any of these companies, but there are commercial entities out there that will provide a profile for individuals.

World Asthma Foundation: Thank you everything that you do on a daily basis for the gut microbiome, certainly for your teachings and your writings and for your time today. Appreciate it.

Dr. Justin L. Sonnenburg: Wonderful being with you. Thanks so much.