Researchers reaffirm the enduring relationship between gut and exercise

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

©iStock/Pixel Away
©iStock/Pixel Away
The link between gut bacteria and exercise continues to be an area of extreme interest with Finnish researchers publishing results that show the positive influence of endurance training on gut microbiota composition.

A six-week period of exercise found a decrease in microbes linked to inflammation coupled with an increase in bacteria linked to enhanced metabolism in findings that closely correlate to similar studies.

Commenting on how the Akkermansia​ bacterium boosts the host’s metabolism, co-author and research fellow Satu Pekkala said, “A few other cross-sectional studies have shown that microbes belonging to the Akkermansia genus are more abundant among physically active subjects than they are among inactive ones.

“Akkermansia has been a target of intense research recently, and some researchers believe that it may prevent obesity and diabetes.

"However, more studies are needed to prove that Akkermansia might mediate some of the health benefits of exercise,"​ she added.

No significant weight loss

Interestingly the study, carried out at the University of Jyväskylä, did not observe any changes to metabolism such as significant weight loss amongst the subjects – a finding, which led the team to believe the gut microbiota effects were related to the exercise training.

NutraIngredients has reported on a spate of similar studies that establish a strong relationship. These include cross-sectional human studies that found professional rugby players differed from body mass index (BMI)-matched non-athletes in several bacterial phyla.

“What we have seen is trends,”​ said Dr O’Sullivan, a senior computational biologist at Ireland’s Teagasc Food Research Centre and APC Microbiome and co-author of the study involving rugby players.

“For example we demonstrated that elite rugby players had increased numbers of Akkermansia which has been associated with a lean phenotype.

“In general, any bacteria that’s beneficial to host health will be beneficial to athlete health.”​

Study details

The research team enrolled seventeen overweight women, who participated in three training sessions per week with a bicycle ergometer for six-weeks.

The team used participants’ heart rate to control training intensity. During the study, other lifestyle factors, including diet, remained changed in order to ensure that the effects of exercise could be observed.

As well as the taxonomic shifts that saw an increase in Akkermansia ​and a decrease in Proteobacteria ​the research team also noted a decrease in phospholipids and cholesterol in VLDL particles.

“These changes are beneficial for cardiometabolic health because VLDL transports lipids from the liver to peripheral tissues, converts into 'bad' LDL cholesterol in the circulation, and thus has detrimental cardiovascular effects,"​ said Pekkala.

Exercise training also decreased the activity of the vascular adhesion protein-1, which can have beneficial anti-inflammatory effects especially on vasculature, though the underlying mechanisms could not be determined in this study.

“Akkermansia​ has been found to be lower in several conditions, such as during obesity and diabetes,” the study said.  

“Therefore, if future studies are able to show that the low abundance is major contributor to these conditions and exercise increases the abundance, exercise would likely improve the diseases.”

Source: Frontiers in Microbiology

Published online: DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2018.02323

“Six-Week Endurance Exercise Alters Gut Metagenome That Is not Reflected in Systemic Metabolism in Over-weight Women.”

Authors: Eveliina Munukka et al.

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