Most Americans don’t get the daily recommended amount of fiber in their diet, though research has shown that dietary fiber can cause a shift in the gut toward beneficial bacteria, reducing the risk of colon cancer, type 2 diabetes, and other diseases. A new study from the University of Illinois shows that two specific functional fibers may also have the potential to assist in weight loss when made part of a long-term, daily diet.
Kelly Swanson, a U of I professor of nutrition, and his team had previously been able to see a “snapshot” of what bacteria were present in the gut after a diet had been supplemented with polydextrose and soluble corn fiber. Using the samples from the same trial, Swanson and his lab used whole-genome sequencing to explore the full range of bacterial genomic information in the gut after fiber supplementation.
The new information is helping the researchers to understand more about the functional capabilities of the bacteria in the gut when these fibers are consumed as part of a regular diet.
“In the gut, bacteria have the capacity to do a lot of different things, such as fermenting proteins, carbohydrates, or other substrates,” Swanson said. “We have already been able to identify what bacteria are there and the changes that occur with diet, and now we are asking if we can change the machinery or the capacity of what functions the bacteria have. Knowing what bacteria are there may matter, but it may not matter as much as identifying their function.”
Hannah Holscher, a U of I postdoctoral researcher and registered dietitian in animal sciences, said what was most surprising and novel in the recent study was a shift in the Bacteroidetes:Firmicutes ratio toward more Bacteroidetes, something the researchers had not seen previously.
“This was of particular interest to us because other research has shown that having more Bacteroidetes may be beneficial because the higher that proportion is, the individual tends to be leaner. With higher Firmicutes, that individual tends to be more obese,” Holscher said. “We don’t know if there is any causality for weight loss, but studies have shown that having a higher fiber diet is protective against obesity. It’s an exciting shift and helps to drive researchers to study these fibers as part of a weight loss diet.”
Holscher added that the whole-genome sequencing data also revealed shifts in the functional capacity of the microbiome including modifications in nutrient metabolism. “We saw that there was a decrease in genes associated with protein metabolism, which correlated with the reduced protein fermentation that occurred in the study participants’ guts when they consumed the fibers,” she said “The information from this study, in combination with the results from the previous study, has allowed us to put together a more complete picture of what the bacteria in our gut are doing.”
The samples sequenced for bacteria genomic information
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