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Elite Athletes Microbiomes Contain Performance Enhancing Bacteria

9 months, 1 week ago

2992  0
Posted on Jun 25, 2019, 3 p.m.

A gut bacteria has been identified by researchers from Joslin Diabetes Center and Harvard Medical School in the microbiome of marathon runners that is not found in sedentary people which is able to boost capacity for exercise, as published in Nature Medicine.

Mice were observed to be able to run longer on treadmills that were inoculated with the strain of bacterium Veillonella atypica which was isolated from athletes than control animals. Veillonella was found to preferentially metabolize lactate produced by the muscles during hard exercise and converted into short chain fatty acid propionate that the body can then utilize to improve exercise performance. 

“Having increased exercise capacity is a strong predictor of overall health and protection against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and overall longevity. What we envision is a probiotic supplement that people can take that will increase their ability to do meaningful exercise and therefore protect them against chronic diseases including diabetes.” says Aleksandar D. Kostic, PhD.

Exercise was previously linked with changes to athlete’s microbiomes, but the effects were not known. To investigate whether specific gut bacteria may be linked with athletic performance and ability daily stool samples from 15 athletes who ran in the Boston Marathon to analyze to see which bacteria were present, samples were collected and analyzed every day for a week before the marathon and daily for a week after, and the results were compared to those from sedentary individuals. 

Veillonealla was found to be more abundant in the samples from runners post marathon and to be more prevalent among the athletes than sedentary people; analysis of samples taken from an independent cohort of 87 Olympic trial rowers and ultramarathon runners before and after exercises confirmed the increase of abundance.

“One of the things that immediately caught our attention was this single organism, Veillonella, that was clearly enriched in abundance immediately after the marathon in the runners. Veillonella is also at higher abundance in the marathon runners [in general] than it is in sedentary individuals.”

Mice were given a strain of Veillonella atypica isolated from the runners, the treated animals were observed to be able to run for much longer than the controls by on average 13%. 

Veillonella was revealed to use lactic acid as primary food source, which is metabolized into SCFAs acetate and propionate; lactic acid is produced and accumulates in muscle during prolonged strenuous exercise, it seemed feasible that related improvements in exercise performance may be related to Veillonella’s ability to remove excess lactic acid. 

“As we dug into the details of Veillonella, what we found was that it is relatively unique in the human microbiome in that it uses lactate or lactic acid as its sole carbon source. Our immediate hypothesis was that it worked as a metabolic sink to remove lactate from the system, the idea being that lactate build-up in the muscles creates fatigue. But talking to people like Sarah Lessard, [a clinical researcher at Joslin] and other people in the exercise physiology field, apparently this idea that lactate build-up causes fatigue is not accepted to be true. So, it caused us to rethink the mechanism of how this is happening.” says Kostic.

“Across the entire ultramarathon and rower cohorts, there exists a group of gene families with differential relative abundance pre- and postexercise, representing every step of the enriched methylmalonyl-CoA pathway, degrading lactate into propionate …” “Then the question was maybe it’s not removal of lactic acid, but the generation of propionate...” “Propionate was introduced intrarectally rather than orally because colonic absorption provides a more direct route for propionate to reach the systemic circulation, mirroring the location of Veillonella-sourced propionate.”

Compared to control mice, those given propionate intrarectally were able to run longer on a treadmill; level of improvement was similar to that of those given oral V. atypica. 

“These data illustrate a model in which systemic lactate produced during exercise crosses to the gut lumen and is metabolized by Veillonella into propionate in the colon, which in turn serves to promote performance.” “Microbiome-derived SCFAs then augment performance directly and acutely, suggesting that lactate generated during sustained bouts of exercise could be accessible to the microbiome and converted to these SCFAs that improve athletic performance … We propose that the high-lactate environment of the athlete provides a selective advantage for colonization by lactate-metabolizing organisms such as Veillonella.”

“This is a really important example of how the microbiome has evolved ways to become this symbiotic presence in the human host … The microbiome is such a powerful metabolic engine. It’s very clear. It creates this positive feedback loop. The host is producing something that this particular microbe favors. Then in return, the microbe is creating something that benefits the host.”

Those with metabolic disorders may not be able to exercise at a level which has been shown to be an important part of a healthy lifestyle or that may have a positive effect on preventing type 2 diabetes; results suggest that probiotic supplements containing Veillonella may be able to provide this population with a boost for effective exercise. According to the researchers Veillonella may be formulated as a dietary supplement to help increase levels of health promoting exercise that may be undertaken by people who normally can’t exercise effectively. 

 “Future studies are needed to help explain why there is an apparent preference for Veillonella and not any of the many other lactate-metabolizing organisms”

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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.

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