Could a human gut microbe make processed foods healthier?

Tuesday, 22 October, 2019

Could a human gut microbe make processed foods healthier?

Human gut microbial communities see foods as collections of chemicals. Some of these chemical compounds have beneficial effects, while some modern food processing can generate chemicals that may be detrimental to health. Such chemicals have been associated with inflammation linked to diabetes and heart disease.

A new study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis sheds light on how human gut microbes break down processed foods — especially those potentially harmful chemical changes. The findings could make it possible to use such knowledge of the gut microbiome to help develop healthier, more nutritious processed foods.

Published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, the scientists studied mice to identify a specific human gut bacterial strain that breaks down the chemical fructoselysine, and turns it into harmless by-products. Fructoselysine is in a class of chemicals called Maillard Reaction Products. The researchers showed that a specific bacterium called Collinsella intestinalis breaks down the chemical fructoselysine into components that are harmless.

"Fructoselysine is common in processed food, including ultra-pasteurised milk, pasta, chocolate and cereals," said first author Ashley R. Wolf, PhD. "High amounts of fructoselysine and similar chemicals in the blood have been linked to diseases of ageing, such as diabetes and atherosclerosis."

When fed a diet containing high amounts of fructoselysine, mice harbouring Collinsella intestinalis in their gut microbial communities showed an increase in the abundance of this bacteria as well as an increase in the gut microbial communities' ability to break down fructoselysine into harmless by-products.

"The new tools and knowledge gained from this initial study could be used to develop healthier, more nutritious foods as well as design potential strategies to identify and harness certain types of gut bacteria shown to process potentially harmful chemicals into innocuous ones. A corollary is that they may help us distinguish between consumers whose gut microbial communities are either vulnerable or resistant to the effects of certain products introduced during food processing," said Jeffrey I Gordon, MD, the Dr. Robert J. Glaser Distinguished University Professor and director of the Edison Family Center for Genome Sciences & Systems Biology.

Image credit: © Ryzhov

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