Scientists ask Health Secretary to evaluate role of gut microbiome in coronavirus

By | May 15, 2020

More than 120 leading scientists ask Health Secretary to evaluate role of gut microbiome in coronavirus amid ‘compelling evidence’ healthier diets could protect millions of Britons

  • The academics say there is a growing body of ‘convincing research’ 
  • An unhealthy gut is often linked with inflammation and lower immunity 
  • The experts urged ministers to look into it because a vaccine is a while off
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

More than 120 leading British scientists have penned a letter to the Health Secretary urging officials to investigate a link between coronavirus and a bad diet.

The experts say there is a growing body of ‘compelling’ research suggesting people with poor gut health are at higher risk of suffering severe COVID-19.  

An unhealthy gut has repeatedly been linked with inflammation and lower immunity – both of which generally play a role in disease severity. 

The academics noted a vaccine or cure for the coronavirus could be a long way away and already the pandemic has killed more than 293,000 globally. 

In the meantime, they urged ministers to probe the gut link and consider promoting a balanced diet to protect against COVID-19.

More than 120 leading British scientists have penned a letter to the Health Secretary calling for him to investigate a link between coronavirus and a bad diet (stock, varied food)

More than 120 leading British scientists have penned a letter to the Health Secretary calling for him to investigate a link between coronavirus and a bad diet (stock, varied food)

One of the statement's authors, Professor Glenn R Gibson, Professor of Food Microbiology at University of Reading said: 'The research is compelling' linking the gut with COVID-19

One of the statement’s authors, Professor Glenn R Gibson, Professor of Food Microbiology at University of Reading said: ‘The research is compelling’ linking the gut with COVID-19 

COVID-19 is particularly dangerous for people with weakened immune systems that are unable to fight back against the vicious virus.

The gut microbiome and diet are linked to immune system function, as well as heart health and lowering the risk of developing diabetes – both of which are risk factors for COVID-19. 

There is also growing evidence people with risk factors linked to inflammation – also linked with an unhealthy gut microbiome – may have worse outcomes if they contract COVID-19.

A healthy gut is achieved through eating a balanced and varied diet rich in leafy vegetables and fruit, and eating enough probiotics and prebiotics – which stimulate ‘good’ gut bacteria that keep the digestive system healthy, according to the scientists.

The letter was sent on behalf of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Human Microbiome today.

It said: ‘It has been suggested that gut microbiome status can influence health outcomes in patients with COVID-19.’


Researchers now estimate that a typical human body is made up of about 30 trillion human cells and 39 trillion bacteria.

These are key in harvesting energy from our food, regulating our immune function, and keeping the lining of our gut healthy.

Interest in, and knowledge about, the microbiota has recently exploded as we now recognise just how essential they are to our health.

A healthy, balanced microbiome helps us break down foods, protects us from infection, trains our immune system and manufactures vitamins, such as K and B12.

It also sends signals to our brain that can affect mood, anxiety and appetite.

Imbalances in the gut are increasingly being linked to a range of conditions. Last year, scientists at California Institute of Technology found the first ever link between the gut and Parkinson’s symptoms.

The composition of our gut microbiota is partly determined by our genes but can also be influenced by lifestyle factors such as our diet, alcohol intake and exercise, as well as medications.


This theory is based on three ‘compelling’ peer-reviewed papers from China and Switzerland.  

One paper from China discussed evidence which suggests the virus can attack cells in the gut.

ACE-2, proteins expressed in the body which are used by the virus to bind to cells, are known to be in abundance in the intestines – as well as the lungs, which is where the virus initiates. 

They noted that patients who suffer respiratory infections ‘generally have gut dysfunction’ which may drive a more severe course of the disease.

‘This phenomenon can also be observed in the patients with COVID-19,’ the authors claim.   

The Swiss paper said that pills containing probiotic strains could be used as a treatment by both preventing and reducing severity of viral respiratory tract infections.

Indeed some research has shown specific probiotics and prebiotics can reduce the incidence and duration of common upper respiratory tract infections.  

But, at the present time, no probiotics nor prebiotics have been shown to better manage the symptoms associated with COVID-19, and research is still ongoing.  

Some Chinese papers also suggested that the virus has been detected in faeces, vomit and urine, which further suggests a gastrointestinal link. 

Labour MP Julie Elliot, who spearheaded the letter, said: ‘There appears to be a strong case emerging of the role of gastrointestinal health in relation to COVID-19 (as well as in wider public health going forward).

‘I hope that this statement, drawing attention as it does to relevant research, much of it published in recent days and weeks and which is growing all the time, is of help to the Secretary of State in leading the country’s response to this dreadful pandemic.’

One of the statement’s authors, Professor Glenn R Gibson, Professor of Food Microbiology at University of Reading said: ‘The research is compelling. 

‘Earlier this year, we started seeing papers coming out of China suggesting a link between human response to COVID-19 in our lung/respiratory tract and the state of the gut microbiome (which in turn can be modulated by diet and improved by probiotic and prebiotic approaches).

‘The evidence has since grown, with more research ongoing, which is why we strongly recommend that the Government and their scientific advisers evaluate this further.’


1 Dr. Phillip Allsopp Lecturer (Nutrition) Ulster University, Coleraine

2 Professor Simon Andrews Professor of Molecular Microbiology University of Reading

3 Professor Qasim Aziz Professor of Neurogastroenterology, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry Queen Mary University of London UK

4 Dr. Rita Baiao Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Psychiatry University of Oxford

5 Professor Jonathan Barratt Professor of Renal Medicine University of Leicester

6 Dr. Andrea Bertocco Director of Scientific Affairs EMEA, Herbalife Nutrition

7 Mrs. Michelle Beswick Commercial Director The Gut Stuff, London

8 Dr. Ruth Boat Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology Nottingham Trent University

9 Dr. Simon Branch Senior Director, Head of R&D and Scientific Affairs EMEA, Herbalife Nutrition

10 Dr. Philip WJ Burnet Associate Professor University of Oxford

11 Professor Philip Calder Professor of Nutritional Immunology, Head Human Development & Health, Faculty of Medicine University of Southampton

12 Professor Bhismadev Chakrabarti Professor of Neuroscience and Mental Health University of Reading

13 Professor Dimitris Charalampopoulos Professor of Biotechnology University of Reading

14 Mrs. Kristy Coleman Head of Nutrition The Gut Stuff, London

15 Dr. Daniel Commane Senior Lecturer – Nutritional Sciences Northumbria University

16 Dr. Simon Cooper Associate Professor in Exercise, Cognition and Health. Nottingham Trent University

17 Dr. Adele Costabile Reader in Nutrition, Health Sciences Research Centre, Life Sciences Department University of Roehampton, London

18 Dr. Annette Creedon Head of Food Technology & Innovation Dept. Harper Adams University

19 Professor Alan Crozier Honorary Senior Research Fellow, School of Medicine, Dentistry and Nursing and Research Associate, Department of Nutrition University of Glasgow and University of California, Davis. California, USA

20 Ms. Sasha Dahl PhD Student University of Reading

21 Ms. Choshani Dalukdeniya Arachchilage PhD Student University of Reading

22 Dr. F Lyndon Davies Retired Assistant Director Institute of Food Research (BBSRC)

23 Dr. Tom Davies Research Manager Cultech Ltd.

24 Dr. Richard Day Senior Medical Advisor, Medical Affairs ADM

25 Dr. Emma Derbyshire Director, Nutritional Insight, Registered Public Health Nutritionist

26 Dr. Fiona Dodd Research Fellow, Department of Psychology Northumbria University

27 Mr. Paul Dodsley University Health Development Officer Nottingham Trent University

28 Dr. Karah Dring Lecturer in Exercise and Health Nottingham Trent University

29 Professor Peter R. Ellis Professor of Carbohydrate Biochemistry King’s College London

30 Dr. Nasim Farahmand Senior Scientific Officer (and Visiting Lecturer, University of Westminster) Biotech Consultants Ltd

31 Professor Dianne Ford Professor of Molecular Nutrition and Pro-Vice Chancellor for the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences Northumbria University

32 Professor Gary Frost Head of the Nutrition Research Section Imperial College, Hammersmith Campus, London

33 Professor Simon Gaisford Professor of Pharmaceutics UCL School of Pharmacy

34 Ms. María-Paz García TwinsUK, Department of Twin Research & Genetic Epidemiology King’s College London

35 Dr. Iveta Geraiova Information Scientist Cultech Ltd.

36 Dr. Hamid Ghoddusi Senior Lecturer. Head of Microbiology Research Unit, Director of PG program in food science London Metropolitan University

37 Dr. Chris Gill Senior Lecturer (Nutrition) Ulster University, Coleraine

38 Dr. Samantha Gill Registered Dietitian, Scientific Research and Development Manager Symprove Ltd.

39 Professor Ian Givens Professor of Food Chain Nutrition and Director, Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health University of Reading

40 Dr. Javier Gonzalez Reader (Associate Professor) in Nutrition and Metabolism University of Bath

41 Dr. Luis Gosalbez Business Development Director Clasado Biosciences, Reading

42 Professor Jeremy Hamilton-Miller Emeritus Professor of Medical Microbiology University College Medical School London

43 Dr. Bryan Hanley FRSC FRSB FIUPAC Norwich

44 Dr. Laurence S. Harbige Deputy Director Lipidomics and Nutrition Research Centre and Senior Lecturer London Metropolitan University

45 Dr. Ashton Harper Medical Director ADM

46 Dr. Tanja Harrison Lecturer in Public Health Nutrition, Department of Clinical Sciences & Nutrition University of Chester

47 Dr. Deborah Hart Executive Director of TwinsUK, Department of Twin Research & Genetic Epidemiology King’s College London

48 Dr. Lucien Harthoorn R&D Director Clasado Biosciences, Reading

49 Mr. Dean Haspey Principal Lead – Clinical Therapist Sports Clinical, Lincoln

50 Ms. Lorna Hatch PhD student and Hourly Paid Lecturer in Sport and Health Science Nottingham Trent University

51 Dr. Colin Hayward Medical Director Symprove Ltd.

52 Dr. Liam Heaney Lecturer in Bioanalytical Science Loughborough University

53 Dr. Nadja Heym Senior Lecturer in Psychology and Psychopathology, Department of Psychology, School of Social Sciences Nottingham Trent University

54 Mrs. Evelyn M. Hill Microbiology Scientist (Retd.)

55 Dr. Ian R. Hill Microbiology Scientist (Retd.)

56 Mr. Graham Holloway Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon (Retd.); Past President British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine

57 Professor Glyn Howatson Professor, Human and Applied Physiology Northumbria University

58 Dr. Lesley Hoyles Associate Professor (Reader) in Microbiology Nottingham Trent University

59 Dr. Tim Hughes Research Fellow Systems Immunity Research Institute, Cardiff University

60 Mr. Raymon Hunte PhD Student in Sport and Exercise Science Nottingham Trent University

61 Dr. Philippa Jackson Senior Lecturer Northumbria University

62 Dr. Michael Johnson Senior Lecturer in Respiratory Physiology and Health Nottingham Trent University

63 Dr. Kimon Andreas Karatzas Associate Professor in Food Microbiology University of Reading

64 Professor Kiltie Anne Professor of Experimental Clinical Oncology University of Oxford

65 Dr. Kinross James Senior Lecturer, Surgery Imperial College London

66 Dr. Athanasios Koutsos Postdoctoral Research Associate University of Reading

67 Professor Gunter Kuhnle Professor of Nutrition and Food Science University of Reading

68 Mr. Paul Lester PhD Student – The Gut Microbiome, Prebiotics & Asthma Nottingham Trent University

69 Dr. Jia Li Senior Lecturer in Human Development and Microbial Signalling Imperial College, London

70 Dr. John K. Lodge Associate Professor of Metabolic Nutrition Northumbria University

71 Dr. Celeste A. Loots Research Fellow/Senior Coordinator, Ageing Epidemiology (AGE) Research Unit Imperial College, London

72 Miss Lisa Macfarlane CEO The Gut Stuff, London

73 Mrs. Alana Macfarlane Kempner CEO The Gut Stuff, London

74 Professor Julian R. Marchesi Chair in Human Microbiome Research, Imperial College, London

75 Professor John C. Mathers Director, Human Nutrition Research Centre; Director, Centre for Healthier Lives Newcastle University

76 Dr. Emeir Mc Sorley Senior Lecturer (Nutrition) Ulster University, Coleraine

77 Dr. Stéphanie McArdle Senior Research Scientist in Tumour Immunology Nottingham Trent University

78 Dr. Lynn McIntyre Senior Lecturer in Food Safety Harper Adams University

79 Dr. Jill McKay Senior Lecturer in Biochemistry Northumbria University

80 Dr. Daryn Michael Senior Research Scientist Cultech Ltd.

81 Dr. Andrea Monteagudo Postdoctoral Researcher University of Reading

82 Dr. John Morris Associate Professor in Child and Adolescent Health Nottingham Trent University

83 Dr. Jose Munoz Senior VC Research Fellow Northumbria University

84 Dr. Sohail Mushtaq Associate Professor in Nutritional Biochemistry University of Chester

85 Professor Arjan Narbad Group Leader in Translational Microbiome Institute Quadram Institute Bioscience, Norwich

86 Dr. Elsabet Navarro Tapia Scientific Manager ADM

87 Ms. Grace Newland PhD Student University of Reading

88 Ms. Viktoriya Nikolova PhD Student King’s College London

89 Professor Cath O’Neill Professor of Translational Dermatology University of Manchester

90 Mr Connor Parker Academic Associate, Department of Sport and Exercise Science Nottingham Trent University

91 Professor John Parkes FRS Professor Emeritus, School of Earth and Ocean Sciences Cardiff University

92 Dr. Helen Pittson Senior Lecturer in Human Nutrition Harper Adams University

93 Dr. Sue Plummer Research Director Cultech Ltd.

94 Dr. Nigel Poole OBE Ambassador The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT)

95 Ms. Simone Pyle PhD Student University of Reading

96 Professor Dipak P. Ramji Professor of Cardiovascular Science Cardiff University

97 Professor Bob Rastall Professor of Food Biotechnology University of Reading

98 Mr. Per Rehne CEO Clasado Biosciences, Reading

99 Professor Ian Rowland Emeritus Professor of Human Nutrition University of Reading

100 Dr. Carrie Ruxton Freelance Dietitian

101 Dr. Karen Scott Senior Research Fellow Rowett Institute University of Aberdeen

102 Dr. Darren L. Smith Associate Professor in Phage Biology, Applied Sciences; Director of Nuomics DNA sequencing research facility Northumbria University

103 Professor Tim Spector Director of TwinsUK, Department of Twin Research & Genetic Epidemiology King’s College London

104 Mr. Gavin Stainton Senior Principal Scientist, Innovation lead EMEA, Herbalife Nutrition

105 Dr. Leo Stevenson BSc, MSc, PhD, CSci, RNutr, FIFST Senior Lecturer Food Technology & Innovation, School of Health Sciences Liverpool Hope University

106 Dr. Claire Steves Deputy (Clinical) Director of TwinsUK, Department of Twin Research & Genetic Epidemiology King’s College London

107 Dr. James Stone Clinical Senior Lecturer King’s College London

108 Dr. Caroline Sunderland Associate Professor in Environmental and Sport Physiology Nottingham Trent University

109 Professor Jonathan Swann Professor of Metabolism University of Southampton

110 Dr. Nigel Ternan Senior Lecturer in Microbiology Nutrition Innovation Centre for Food and Heath (NICHE) School of Biomedical Sciences Ulster University, Coleraine

111 Professor Stephen Todryk Chair of Immunology, Faculty of Health & Life Sciences Northumbria University

112 Professor Duolao Wang Professor of Biostatistics Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

113 Professor Martin Warren Head, Food, Innovation and Health Quadram Institute Bioscience, Norwich

114 Dr. Tamlyn Watermeyer Lecturer in Neurobiopsychology Northumbria University

115 Professor Kim Watson Professor of Biomedical Sciences University of Reading

116 Professor Kevin Whelan Professor of Dietetics. Head of Department of Nutritional Sciences King’s College London

117 Dr. Emma Wightman Vice Chancellors Senior Research Fellow Northumbria University

118 Dr. Anisha Wijeyesekera Lecturer in Human Microbiome, Diet & Health University of Reading

119 Dr. Catrin Williams Sêr Cymru II Research Fellow Cardiff University

120 Dr. Neil C. Williams Senior Lecturer in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology Nottingham Trent University

121 Dr. Claire Woodall Research Fellow Bristol Medical School

122 Dr. Xuedan Wang Postdoctoral research fellow, Department of Zoology, Department of Biochemistry University of Oxford

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