Al Gore on the Microbiome and Why He Became a Vegan

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Eric J. Topol, MD
Hello. I'm Eric Topol, Editor-in-Chief of Medscape, here for a One-on-One with former Vice President Al Gore. We're going to be talking about the microbiome and what it's like to be a vegan. Let's start with the microbiome, and then we'll talk about your vegan kick. Have you had your gut microbiome assessed?

Al Gore
I have not. Do you recommend it?

Dr. Topol
Well, some people are starting to do it. Obviously, it's having a bigger impact on medicine than we ever had anticipated. It's kind of interesting to think about whether that's going to become the norm in healthcare. In addition to having one's genome sequenced, will people with various conditions start to look at their microbiome?

Mr. Gore
Over a year ago I changed my diet to a vegan diet, really just to experiment to see what it was like. And I felt better, so I continued with it. For many people, that choice is connected to environmental ethics, health issues, and all of that stuff, but I just wanted to try it to see what it was like. In a visceral way, I felt better, so I've continued with it and I'm likely to continue it for the rest of my life.

Dr. Topol
If we had done your gut microbiome sample before and after, I bet it would be drastically different. It's really interesting.

Mr. Gore
Probably so. A friend of mine is now having his microbiome assessed all the time. But the thing that interests me most about this, and what's most startling to me, is that the number of cells that make up the microbiome, represented by bacteria mainly, but also to a smaller degree by viruses, yeast, and amoebas -- they are 10 times that of human cells. When people first encounter that statistic they think, "What? That's incredible." The fact that part of the gut flora is an active extension of the acquired immune system in humans, and that we are actually a cooperative life community-- only part of a life community -- is yet another humbling realization in line with those caused by Darwin and others along the way. Copernicus, even. We are part of the web of life and are more intricately interwoven with it than we have allowed ourselves to realize. If those cells are 10 times ours, we obviously need to spend a lot of time understanding what that relationship is and how we affect it. And, of course, there are lots of examples already where doctors are discovering that this is an amazing new dimension in medicine

Dr. Topol
No question about it, and we're still in the early stages of it. This has been a fantastic interview.