Sometimes a life-altering experience helps push you toward your destiny.
For Cara Jacob, it was the passing of her grandparents and young cousin from cancer that got her on the road to learning more about the human microbiome and gut health.
A senior at Illinois Math and Science Academy (IMSA) in Aurora, Illinois, Cara is no stranger to diving deep into a topic of interest. IMSA is known for igniting young scientific minds to be problem solvers in the modern world.
So after the death of her family members, Cara saw a need to help.
In search of answers, she set out to do her own research on the causes of early onset of diseases. Little did Cara know that this would open up a myriad of opportunities to speak to her peers about the microbiome and its influence on human health, write a book, host a podcast, and ultimately start a foundation that’s changing the lives of people in her community.
The path of discovery into the microbiome was eye-opening. As she learned more and more about gut health, Cara realized how important microbiomes were to human longevity, and how little we knew about it.
“I realized if I’m not aware of this many my age aren’t either,” Cara explained. “So I developed a workshop to educate teens about microbiomes.”
Sensing a lack of easily understandable literature around microbiome, Cara authored a book meant to be an easy read for teens and young adults about microbiome that explained complex concepts in simple terms. A natural researcher, Cara reached out to doctors to fact-check her work to establish a comprehensive but easy guide to understanding microbiomes and gut health.
Cara’s book "Microbiome – What’s In It For Me?” was officially published in April 2023.
“This book will educate readers on the trillion-strong army that lives within our body and how these microscopic organisms influence and impact both our physical and mental health,” explained Cara.
“It covers a wide range of topics, starting with an introduction to the microbiome, inquiry into the increase in the early onset of various diseases like irritable bowel disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, etc., and the role of the gut microbiome in the causation and progression of these diseases.”
Beyond understanding the microbiome profile and how it affects our bodies, Cara talks about the restoration of the gut microbiome and how taking care of your microbiome can have a positive impact on your health.
Many adults in Cara’s life saw the passion in her heart for health and helping others. Her parents are a constant light in Cara’s pursuit of knowledge. Cara wanted to share her newfound knowledge with others. She reached out to City of Aurora Youth Services Coordinator, Mr. Simon Rodriguez, who wholeheartedly supported and encouraged Cara to kickstart her program and share her knowledge with other students.
“I was nervous to start speaking in the community because I was a high school student and had no experience,” shared Cara. “But Mr. Rodriguez was very supportive. He encouraged me and helped me find my first speaking engagement on microbiome-based healthy living.” Since then, she worked with other non-profit organizations like Alive Center and Boys & Girls Club of America to spread her message through her workshop titled “Building a Healthier Tomorrow.”
Cara has reached over 1,000 students from elementary to high school through her speaking series.
Seeking to impact her community even more, Cara founded the HELM Foundation, a non-profit organization whose mission is “to build a healthier community by promoting healthy diet and lifestyle through a series of educational activities, community garden, cooking workshops, etc., primarily in underserved communities.”
Through the HELM Foundation, Cara helps build community gardens to cultivate organic vegetables and promote healthy living.
“The mission of HELM foundation is to donate the produce we harvest from the community garden to local food pantries and also share with individuals who are in need to ensure that people have access to healthy and organic food,” said Cara.
Beyond the community garden, Cara started to host a series of free cooking workshops led by professional chefs to educate community members on how to prepare well-balanced meals easily in a cost-effective way.
The cooking classes and community garden initiatives led to Cara and the HELM Foundation being awarded a $10,000 grant from Aurora Women Empowerment organization, a non-profit focused on elevating and empowering women engaged in meaningful, measurable work that helps other women over the hurdles of inequity and exclusion.
Adding to her list of accolades, Cara is participating in research at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, studying the pharmacological efficacy of cancer drug, and hosts her own podcast "Microbiome - An Army Within Us, " on Spotify.
Truly an inspiration for all people, Cara is one to watch in the medical field as she’s on the road to a profession in oncology. Her tenacity and compassionate approach to health is truly contagious and inspiring.
Cara’s book “Microbiome – What’s In It For Me?” can be found on Amazon and local libraries.