Q&A with Dr. Brett Finlay,
Co-Author of The Whole-Body Microbiome

Education and outreach

Q&A with Dr. Brett Finlay, Co-Author of The Whole-Body Microbiome

Reported by Laleh Solhi from the Brumer lab, Michael Smith Laboratories


Brett Finlay

Dr. B. Brett Finlay, Co-Author of The Whole-Body Microbiome

Everyone wants to know the secret to living a longer and better life. Dr. B. Brett Finlay, UBC Peter Wall Distinguished Professor at the Michael Smith Laboratories, teamed up with his daughter, Dr. Jessica Finlay, a recognized environmental gerontologist, to write a new book that explores the human microbiome and uses scientific fact to highlight the connection between microbes and quality of health. The Whole-Body Microbiome dispels common health myths—for example, airplane air isn’t filled with abundantly more germs and early signs for Parkinson’s disease start in the gut or nasal cavity, not the brain—and emphasizes the beneficial impact of seemingly simple lifestyle choices such as eating more kimchi, enjoying a glass of wine, or taking weekly walks outdoors.

In recent years, there has been an enormous interest with gut microbiota. Microbial communities extend further than just our guts and live on our skin and other parts of our body. Together, they affect our immune system, brain, digestive system, bones, hearts, and even our mental health. Additionally, the microbes that live in our environment such as everyday objects we use, and on our pets and plants, have an influence on our well-being. When we travel or move to a new place, the change in the dynamics of the microbial communities we are in contact with can potentially improve or worsen our well-being.

In this book, the Finlays point out that nine out of top ten causes of death in the United States are linked to microbes. Understanding microbial communities on a whole-body level can change our perception of what a healthy life entails and offers new scientific information on how we can all be healthier and live a longer life. 

Dr. B. Brett Finlay, the co-author of Let Them Eat Dirt, answered a few questions in an interview with the Michael Smith Laboratories communication team about his new book, The Whole-Body Microbiome:


Q1. What can a reader expect from reading this book? 

Finlay: An intelligent and accurate yet easily readable book on how the microbiome affects healthy living and aging. Although we certainly don’t know all the answers, it contains many helpful hints based on science, with some things that will really amaze the reader, such as the effect of the microbiome on the brain.


Q2. How is this book related to your previous book, Let Them Eat Dirt?

Finlay: Let Them Eat Dirt is centered on the early life microbiome, in babies and young children. It was written mainly for new or expecting parents, as well as, health care providers of young children. Our new book, The Whole-Body Microbiome, targets the other “bookend” of life-aging. It is written for a more sophisticated audience of people that care about healthy living and also healthy aging. Although the principles are the same, very different issues face adults as they age compared to newborns and young children. These two books do a great job in complementing each other.


Q3. In general, do you see a contrast between the modern norms around the concept of “cleanness” and other important concepts in human life such as health, longevity, and quality of life?

Finlay: Definitely. Many studies show that one of the main ways to maintain a healthy microbiome is not living extremely clean, but having a diverse diet and being exposed to microbes through children, pets, social contacts, etc.


Q4. To your mind how would the future of “microbiome” research look like and how will it change and reshape the everyday life in the future?

Finlay: I strongly believe it will have a major impact. Aging is thought to be 25% genetics and 75% environment (which is basically the microbiome). Of the top 10 reasons one dies, there is only one obvious microbial cause (pneumonia). However, 9 of those 10 now have strong microbial links. We will see a whole new generation of effective probiotics that contain microbes that we know have defined benefits. Even things like immune checkpoint cancer therapy are determined partly by the microbiome


Q5. How would you summarize the take-home message of this book?

Finlay: There are 4 main reasons one ages healthy and lives longer: diet, exercise, social contact with others, and decreased stress. Each of these has major impacts on the microbiome, and our bodies see the world through a veneer or filter of microbes, which profoundly affect both health and disease.


 The Whole-Body Microbiome: How to Harness Microbes—Inside and Out—for Lifelong Health is available for pre-orders on Amazon

Order the Whole-Body Microbiome