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One pro of probiotic drinks: mitigating harm from overeating

Yakult is a widely-available probiotic drink. Might it have benefits for blood sugar control?

Study under review: Probiotic supplementation prevents high-fat, overfeeding-induced insulin resistance in human subjects

Introduction

Probiotics are microorganisms that can integrate into the microbiota of our gut in a beneficial way. They are living organisms that can colonize the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, and potentially crowd out some harmful microbiotic species.

Gut microbiota interact with their host in a number of ways. One is by contributing to intestinal metabolism through excretion of their own enzymes into the GI lumen, or through their own metabolism, particularly the fermentation of some types of fiber into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These SCFAs support uptake of positively charged ions, also known as cations (e.g., Ca, Mg, K, Na), and can be taken up and metabolized further in the body. Microbiota are also involved in folate and biotin biosynthesis.

Since our food contains hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of biochemical compounds, and since microbiota changes metabolism and uptake of nutrients, different microbiota can induce different changes in the host body. The purported effects range from changes in feeding efficiency (i.e., how much food is taken up in animals), levels of gastric upset[1], and immune function under stress to reducing antibiotic-induced diarrhea and improving resistance to opportunistic infections. Figure 1 shows some of the ways that an overly-permeable gut lining, influenced by microbiota balance, can impact conditions such as type II diabetes.

Figure 1: Mechanisms for gut bacteria influencing metabolic disorder

Adapted from: Gravitz, Nature Outlook, 2012.

Previous studies[2] have shown that distinctive microbiological profiles are associated with poor metabolic function in people and animals with chronic conditions. A couple examples are shown in Figure 2. Furthermore, probiotics may help ameliorate metabolic dysfunction in the host. However, whether probiotic administration can prevent the impairment of glucose homeostasis induced by overfeeding in humans has not been studied. The purpose of this study was to answer that question.

Figure 2: Gut dysbiosis and chronic disease
Gut microbiota play a large role in health, including potentially in metabolic disorders associated with diabetes and obesity. The goal of this study was to determine whether probiotics that influence the microbiota could help prevent glucose impairment induced by overfeeding in humans.

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Other Articles in Issue #06 (April 2015)