Nicolaus Czarnecki / Boston Herald about Getty Images
Competing runners (including myself, once upon a time) will try almost anything that could give them a natural advantage over their next 5km or 10km.
Concentrated beet juice before a race down? I did it.
Eating chia seeds from the handful? Yes.
Altitude tents that mimic life at 10,000 feet in height? If only I had the money.
But recent research suggests that perhaps one day I could add consuming bacteria to the list.
A new study Monday in the journal Nature Medicine identified a group of bacteria that are more common in athletes, especially after exercise, and may play a role in improving athletic performance. The researchers isolated this bacterial strain from elite runners, inserted it into the lab mouse colon, and found that these human-derived bacteria increased mouse performance by 13% on a treadmill exercise test.
"This is a truly impressive study," says Morgan Langille, a microbiome researcher at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia who was not involved in the research. "It's the first study that goes beyond correlation, as far as I know, and shows that certain microbes that gain training actually have an effect [on performance]."
Scientists already knew that exercise subtly changed the composition of our microbiome. Certain strains thrive in the intestines after exercise. However, the scientists had not established whether any of these motion-loving microbes actually affected our health or performance.
"If we could identify microbes that contribute to the health and performance of super-healthy people, we might be able to develop a probiotic." Jonathan Scheiman, currently co-founder and CEO of FitBiomics, led this study as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School. "[19659011FortheresearchScheimanneededagoodrecordofathletes'intestinalmicrobessoheaskedtheBostonmarathonersfortheirshit
"I spent a good two weeks of my life traveling through Boston in a Zipcar and getting stool samples from runners Scheiman said he wanted to compare their microbes before and after the marathon and weigh them against the microbiome of non-runners.
Scheiman presented the stool samples to his colleague Aleksandar Kostic, a microbiologist at the Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard Medical School (Kostic is also co-founder and scientific advisor to FitBiomics). Kostic sequenced the bacterial DNA in the stool samples and looked for differences between the groups – either in the type of bacteria present or in their relative numbers.
The differences were subtle. "It's not that the runner's microbiome looks completely different from non-runners," he says. "But a group of bacteria stood out among runners. Veillonella. "
Veillonella Bacteria seemed to be slightly more common among runners than runners' courage from runners after they ran the marathon were.
"We were intrigued, but I did not know anything about Veillonella ," says Scheiman. "So I googled."
Wyss Institute at Harvard University
He learned that Veillonella has a rather unusual way of subsistence – he eats lactate, a chemical byproduct of intense physical activity associated with fatigue (although, contrary to popular belief, it is not) , In fact caused [sic] soreness.
Scheiman's intrigues grew. "Is not it interesting that after running a race, the number of bacteria that eat a metabolic by-product while running a race increases? That was a big moment with a light bulb," he says.
At At this point, the researchers had only an interesting correlation. It was a good start, but not enough, according to Kostic: "We wanted to understand exactly what Veillonella does." In particular, the researchers wondered if the bacteria could increase endurance performance.
So they did an experiment.
Scheiman isolated Veillonella from the chair of one of the marathon runners and transferred him to the intestines of normal laboratory mice. As a control, he inoculated another group of mice with another strain of non-lactate-eating bacteria.
Then the two groups faced each other in a series of races to exhaustion on a treadmill of the mouse.
The Veillonella -treated mice were obtained. On average, they lasted 13% longer (~ 18 minutes versus ~ 16 minutes in all experiments) than the control mice.
"We were pretty surprised to see how big the effect of a [human-derived] bacterium was," says Scheiman. "Imagine telling a marathon runner that you could increase his performance by 13%, which would be huge."
Of course, a 13% increase in performance in mice does not directly affect humans. But researchers wanted to know how a gut-borne bacterium (not in muscles or lungs, but in tissues directly involved in training) significantly improves the performance of mice?
The research team suspected that this may have something to do with Veillonella reduces lactate.
Our liver converts excess lactate into glucose Veillonella does something different. It consumes lactate and turns it into a molecule called propionate, a short-chain fatty acid that has been shown to affect heart rate and oxygen uptake in mice.
Against this background, the researchers transferred pure propionate to the intestines of mice and performed the same treadmill test. "Look, Propionate produced the same endurance boost as Veillonella, ," says Scheiman. The researchers found the mechanism. Veillonella improves the performance of its host by converting lactate into propionate.
However, why the bacteria do this is harder to answer.
"Athletes who often do sports can simply create a gut with a higher lactate level that allows Veillonella to thrive," says Scheiman. Veillonella may even pump out propionate from to increase the performance of its host in a symbiotic contest, according to Scheiman although this is far from clear. In any case, Scheiman hopes athletes will one day benefit from the relationship with us.
Since he did this research, he left science to run FitBiomics. "Our mission is to break down the biology of the world's most fit and healthy people and translate that data into next-generation probiotics," he says. He hopes to test Veillonella on human volunteers to eventually develop a long-lived probiotic.
Langille is a bit more skeptical than you'll eventually be able to pop Veillonella pill to get a fitness boost. "This research certainly opens the door to this possibility, but it is often more difficult to reproduce an effect that you see in human studies on mice," he says.
Since Veillonella is more common among athletes, further supplementation may not lead to better performance.
Although scientists agree, there is evidence that certain probiotics can help people with digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, many scientists argue that there is still no convincing evidence that they help healthy people.
"Even before this study, no one would have said that the microbiome could enhance athletic performance," says Langille. "It's a fascinating concept."
Jonathan Lambert is a freelance science journalist based in Washington, DC. You can follow him on Twitter: @evolambert