June 11, 2014
Physical Exercise, Higher Protein Linked To Healthier Gut Microbiota
Rebekah Eliason for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
A new study has discovered that exercise and high dietary levels of protein increase the diversity of gut bacteria. According to the authors, these findings have important implications for overall long term health. Obesity and other health problems have been linked to low variation of gut microbes (microbiota). In contrast, diverse microbiota is associated with a healthy metabolic profile and immune system response.
For this study, researchers analyzed the fecal and blood samples of 40 professional rugby players who were participating in an intensive physical training program to determine and assess the range of microbiota the players were hosting in their guts.
Since extreme exercise is often associated with extreme dieting, the researchers chose elite athletes for this study.
As a control, the rugby player’s samples were compared with samples taken from 46 healthy men who were similar in size and age of the rugby players but were not professional athletes.
Of the control group, half of the men had a normal body mass index (BMI) of 25 or less and the other half had a high BMI of 28 and above.
All of the men in the study were asked to complete a food frequency questionnaire that detailed the amount and frequency that 187 specific foods had been consumed over the previous four weeks. In addition, all of the participants were asked to describe their normal physical activity level.
Although the elite athletes had much higher levels of creatine kinase, which is an enzyme that indicates muscle and tissue damage, they had less inflammatory markers than any of the men from the control group. Additionally, they had a better metabolic profile than the men who had a high BMI.
The rugby players had a much wider range of gut microbiota than any of the other men. There was particularly a noticeable difference between the athletes and the men with a high BMI.
The amount of microbial types (taxa) present was significantly higher in the rugby players. The athletes had higher proportions than men with a high BMI of 48 taxa and had more of 40 taxa than the men with a normal BMI.
Particularly noteworthy, the athletes had much higher proportions of Akkermansiaceae, which is a species of bacteria that is linked with lower obesity rates and metabolic disorders.
When the dietary habits of the participants were compared, it was discovered that the rugby players consumed more of all the food groups. Protein accounted for 22% of their energy intake while it only accounted for 15-16% of non-athletes energy intake.
The athlete’s protein intake mostly consisted of meat and meat products, but they also consumed a large amount of protein supplements. Additionally, the athletes consumed much more fruit and vegetables and less snacks than the control group.
"Our findings indicate that exercise is another important factor in the relationship between the microbiota, host immunity and host metabolism, with diet playing an important role," conclude the authors.
Dr. Georgina Hold of the Institute of Medical Sciences, Aberdeen University, pointed out in an accompanying editorial that our guts are colonized by trillions of bacteria, the composition of which has been implicated in many conditions and is known to determine how well we harvest the energy from the foods we eat.
"Understanding the complex relationship among what we choose to eat, activity levels and gut microbiota richness is essential," she writes. "As life expectancy continues to increase, it is important that we understand how best to maintain good health. Never has this been more important than in respect of our resident microbiota," she said.
This study was published in the journal Gut.