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Gut microbe

Gut microbe can improve metabolic health in the obese

Credit: National Institues of Health/Wikipedia
The findings may open the door to new treatments for diabetes and other metabolic conditions

French researchers have discovered a gut microbe that could be effective for improving leanness and metabolic health among people who are overweight or obese, published in the journal Gut, the study ‘Akkermansia muciniphila and improved metabolic health during a dietary intervention in obesity: relationship with gut microbiome richness and ecology’ shows that the greater abundance of a bacterium called Akkermansia muciniphila - which makes up around 3-5% of a healthy individual's gut microbiome - was associated with lower blood glucose and lipids, as well as healthier distribution of body fat.

The research team from the Institute of Cardiometabolism and Nutrition (ICAN), the INSERM/University of Paris and Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in France, claim their findings may open the door to new treatments for diabetes and other metabolic conditions.

Professor Karine Clément of ICAN and colleagues said that previous mouse studies have also linked A muciniphila with improved leanness and healthier glucose metabolism. However, it was unclear whether the microbe has a similar effect in humans.

To find out, the researchers enrolled 49 individuals to their study, of whom 11 were overweight and 38 were obese.  All participants were required to follow a low-calorie diet supplemented with extra protein and fibre for six weeks, followed by a stabilisation diet for a further six weeks. The team notes that calorie restriction is known to alter gut bacteria composition.

At study baseline and after the dietary intervention, blood samples were collected from participants in order to measure their blood glucose and lipid levels, including cholesterol (high- and low-density lipoprotein) and triglyceride levels.

The team also analysed faecal samples of participants in order to establish the presence of A muciniphila in their guts, and the body fat distribution of participants (determined by the presence of fat cells under the skin) was assessed using dual energy X-ray absorptiometry.

The researchers found participants who had greater abundance of A muciniphila in their guts at study baseline had lower blood glucose and insulin levels, as well as lower blood lipid levels and healthier body fat distribution, compared with those who had lower abundance of the bacterium. The healthiest metabolic profile was found among participants who had higher A muciniphila levels combined with greater diversity of gut bacteria.

After the dietary intervention , the team found that participants who had greater abundance of A muciniphila in their gut at study baseline showed greater improvement in body fat distribution and metabolic profile than those with lower A muciniphila levels at baseline.

The team says the low-calorie diet reduced A muciniphila levels among participants, though individuals who had higher levels of the bacterium at study baseline still possessed it at levels 100 times higher than participants with lower levels at study baseline.

"A muciniphila produces a variety of fermentation products. These may serve as energy sources for other bacteria and the host," they note. "It is possible that through this cross-feeding, A. muciniphila may contribute to the expansion of other beneficial species, while it may itself have a direct effect on host metabolism, consistent with rodent studies."

"In conclusion, we demonstrated a significant association between A muciniphila abundance and metabolic health and we provide a first view of A muciniphila association with the gut ecosystem,” they add. “Collectively, these observations demonstrate the importance of studying A muciniphila in the context of the gut environment, as it may drive a favourable or deleterious contribution of A muciniphila to health."

The team says future studies should investigate the mechanisms underlying the role of A muciniphila in metabolic health and fat distribution, noting that further studies may uncover new treatments for insulin resistance and other metabolic conditions. 

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