Gut microbiome more metabolically active in athletes

Reuters Health Information: Gut microbiome more metabolically active in athletes

Gut microbiome more metabolically active in athletes

Last Updated: 2017-04-06

By Will Boggs MD

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The gut microbiome is more metabolically active in athletes than in sedentary people, researchers report.

"We previously demonstrated that exercise/fitness is associated with beneficial changes in the composition of the microbiota and an anti-inflammatory state,” said Dr. Fergus Shanahan from University College Cork, National University of Ireland, in Ireland.

“In the present work, we have focused on the metabolic capacity of the microbiota by metagenomics and also on metabolomic profiles, and show that the separation between the athletes and controls is even greater than we had previously considered,” he told Reuters Health by email. “In other words, while compositional changes are noted, they are modest in comparison with the changes in metabolic behavior of the microbiota.”

Dr. Shanahan and colleagues performed metabolic phenotyping and functional metagenomic analysis of the gut microbiome of 40 professional international rugby union players and 46 controls and correlated results with lifestyle parameters and clinical measurements.

Compared with controls, athletes had relative increases in most metabolic categories, including carbohydrate biosynthesis, cofactor biosynthesis, and energy metabolism.

Athletes also showed significantly higher levels of butyrate, associated with dietary fiber intake, and propionate, strongly correlated to protein intake, the researchers report in Gut, online March 30.

Byproducts of dietary protein metabolism were all elevated in the athlete group, as were numerous metabolites associated with muscle turnover.

From a functional perspective, the microbiota of low-body mass index (BMI) controls, who were generally engaged in a modestly active lifestyle, were more similar to the athletes than to the high-BMI controls.

“Scientists are proving what we have always suspected regarding exercise - the benefits are a multitude,” Dr. Shanahan said. “Exercise can help everyone because of the metabolic, immunologic, and microbial effects. Thus, exercise physiology is transcending traditional boundaries of research. Professional athletes seeking to gain incremental advantage should consider gut microbial health as a parameter of fitness.”

“The arguments for the benefits of exercise are becoming stronger,” he said. “It is not just a matter of attaining cardiovascular fitness; there are benefits beyond what one had ever considered. With exercise, the first thing people notice is a sense of well-being almost immediately, and this is then followed by improvements in body composition (e.g., lean/body fat ratio), and then there are added metabolic advantages including microbial fitness (as shown here).”

Dr. David Pyne from the Australian Institute of Sport and the University of Canberra told Reuters Health by email, "Physical activity and related lifestyle choices appear to influence microbial diversity and other physiological factors regulating host defense and health. How group responses translate to the individual will require further investigation. The era of personalized medicine related to gut health, exercise, and physical activity and overall health will continue to evolve. It is worth physicians’ trying to stay abreast of research and eventually clinical developments.”

“Clinicians won’t be requesting tests of microbial diversity in the short term (this remains a research process), but the importance of diet, exercise, and gut health should be a consideration not only in the clinic, but also for framing of practical recommendations for the general community, exercise and recreation enthusiasts and elite athletes alike,” he concluded.

“Future investigations in sports medicine will identify genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors that influence the risk of illnesses across the spectrum of physical activity from sedentary to elite athletes,” Dr. Pyne added.


Gut 2017.

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