Elite athletes house abundant performance-enhancing bacteria

June 28, 2019

Colonies of bacteria residing in our guts can likely ward off diseases such as type-2 diabetes. Upon closer inspection, researchers from Joslin Diabetes Center in Massachusetts, US, have ascertained that a species of bacteria metabolises lactic acid produced from exercise and converts it into a short-chain fatty acid (propionate), which is later used to improve exercise capacity.

Researcher Dr. Jonathan Scheiman, then at Harvard Medical School, collected fecal samples from runners a week prior and a week after the Boston Marathon in 2015. Fecal samples were also collected from sedentary individuals. Dr. Scheiman then brought the samples to Dr. Aleksandar Kostic who analysed them to determine the species of bacteria in both cohorts.

This particular bacterium, Veillonella, was clearly enriched in abundance immediately after the marathon in the runners and was observed to be in higher abundance in active runners than in sedentary individuals. In addition, the spike caused a dramatic increase in running ability in mouse models.

According to the researchers, the Veillonella bacteria use lactic acid as their main food source to generate propionate (lactic acid is produced by the muscles during strenuous exercise; buildup of the acid creates fatigue). This was noted after tracking the microbiome community to determine the trigger(s) for Veillonella’s metabolism of lactic acid – enzymes associated with conversion of lactic acid into propionate were at much higher concentrations after exercise.

The pioneering study directly shows a strong example of symbiosis between microbes and their human host. As increased exercise capacity is a strong predictor of overall health and offers protection against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and longevity, Dr. Kostic and his team envision a probiotic supplement containing Veillonella, which could increase a person’s ability to do meaningful exercise, thus protecting them against chronic diseases.


Category: Education, Features

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