May 142013
 

It is becoming increasingly clear that the type of bacteria we have in our gut plays an important role in determining if we are healthy or not. Maintain a healthy gut flora, and you may live a long and healthy life. But if you develop an unhealthy composition of gut bacteria, you may become prey to heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

And how do we maintain a healthy gut flora? With a healthy diet, of course.

A recently published study titled “Cross-Talk Between Akkermansia muciniphila and Intestinal Epithelium Controls Diet-Induced Obesity” concludes that a complex interaction between the  bacteria A. muciniphila and our intestines plays an important role in obesity and type 2 diabetes. And diet plays a large role in determining if we have a healthy amount of A. muciniphila in our intestines.

In genetically and diet-induced obese mice, the levels of A. muciniphila decreased dramatically, according to the researchers.  But why is this important to our health?

A. muciniphila resides in a mucus layer that covers our intestinal wall. This study shows that this bacteria plays an important role in maintaining that mucus layer and controlling inflammation. The mucus layer where this bacteria lives is part of our intestinal barrier. The intestinal barrier is our first line of defense against unwanted intruders trying to invade our bodies. It provides nutrition to healthy bacteria, and has high concentrations of the antibody IgA. In obese mice, not only is the population of A. muciniphila low, but the thickness of the mucus layer where it resides is thinner than normal.

It is still unclear how a healthy population of A. muciniphila and a normal intestinal barrier thickness affects obesity and diabetes, but the correlation is strong. Obese mice have lower than normal numbers of A. muciniphila and a thin mucus layer, while non-obese mice have normal numbers of the bacteria and normal mucus thickness.

So how do we maintain a healthy population of A. muciniphila which in turn gives us a healthy and functional intestinal barrier?

The researchers found that a prebiotic called oligofructose restores the population of A. muciniphila, and improves the function of the intestinal barrier.

But what is oligofructose?

Oligofructose is a synonym for fructo-oligosacchariede or FOS. FOS is part of a dietary fiber complex with inulin. Both have been shown to increase levels of healthy gut bacteria. Even though FOS can be taken as a supplement, the best way to get FOS and inulin is with a healthy diet. High concentrations of inulin and FOS are found in chicory and Jerusalem artichokes. But more common food sources are asparagus, leeks, onions, bananas and garlic.

Once again, science is showing us that to maintain our health, we need a healthy composition of bacteria in our gut. Not only can gut flora determine if we have a high risk of heart disease or cancer, but the composition of gut bacteria can also affect our weight and our risk of developing diabetes. This recent study concludes that the bacteria A. muciniphila plays a vital role in maintaining a functional intestinal barrier. A complex interaction between this bacteria, the protective mucus layer and our intestinal wall determines our risk for obesity and diabetes.

And the best way to grow and maintain a healthy colony of A. muciniphila is to eat a healthy diet low in unhealthy fats, and high in chicory, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, leeks, onions, bananas and garlic.

Eat healthy, live long and prosper.

Sources:

Function of the Intestinal Barrier
Inulin and Oligofructose Are Part of the Dietary Fiber Complex
Prebiotic Canada – Inulin