The gut microbiota is now believed to be a factor involved in the onset of cardiometabolic disorders such as obesity. In human and rat studies, the commensal* bacterium Akkermansia muciniphila– which is naturally present in large quantities in the gut microbiota of healthy people – has been gaining a lot of attention for its association with leanness and for producing several health benefits against obesity and type 2 diabetes.
The research team at the Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL) led by Dr. Patrice D. Cani conducted a pilot clinical study in volunteers with overweight and obesity displaying insulin resistance (pre-diabetes type 2) who were randomly selected to take a daily dose (1010 bacteria colony-forming units (CFU) of live bacteria per day) or the equivalent amount of pasteurized (heat inactivated) form of the beneficial bacteria A. muciniphila or a placebo for three months. All participants were asked not to change their eating habits or exercise regime throughout the duration of the study. The goal of the study was to analyze various metabolic parameters such as insulin resistance and body mass, gut microbiota function as well as the safety of its administration in humans.
Interestingly, the researchers found that daily oral supplementation of pasteurized A. muciniphila, that was treated with mild heat inactivation helped reduce various cardiovascular risk factors, such as insulin resistance, total blood cholesterol and fat tissue storage, in overweight participants compared to the placebo group. A. muciniphila also reduced levels of blood markers for liver dysfunction and inflammation compared to the placebo.
By contrast, metabolic parameters (especially insulin resistance) in placebo subjects continued to deteriorate over time.
Although the authors of this study currently cannot explain why the pasteurized form of A. muciniphila is more effective on the reduction of cardiovascular risk factors when compared with the live bacterium, they hypothesize that cell-wall components of bacteria could be involved in providing metabolic benefits.
Depommier and colleagues also observed that A. muciniphila was well tolerated across the study period of 3 months in participants that ingested live or pasteurized bacteria.
This is the first study of its kind that shows how a bacterium that is naturally found in the human gut microbiota may help reduce metabolic syndrome. Patrice Cani states, “Although diet and physical activity are the major cornerstones for managing cardiovascular disease, our findings pave the way for using next-generation beneficial microbes such as Akkermansia and/or specific bacterial components to play a role in improving metabolic health in obese and overweight human subjects.”
*commensal (bacteria): The term commensalism refers to a type of relationship between two different organisms that “eat from the same dish”. In this kind of relationship, neither benefits from the other or provokes any harm. It is therefore a neutral relationship.
Depommier C, Everard A, Druart C, et al. Supplementation with Akkermansia muciniphila in overweight and obese human volunteers: a proof-of-concept exploratory study. Nat Med. 2019. doi: 10.1038/s41591-019-0495-2.
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