Research conducted indicates that up to five different genera of bacteria are most abundant in the intestines of athletes. To try to find out more about the possible relationship between gut microbiota and physical exercise, researchers at Harvard Medical School studied a group of 15 elite athletes who were going to run the Boston Marathon, who compared with 10 sedentary people.
The researchers collected feces (containing the gut microbiota bacteria) from runners and controls five days before the athletes ran the marathon. After the marathon was over, they also collected feces from both groups for five more days. In this way, they wanted to find out if running the marathon affected the microbiota or not, that is, if it showed differences directly caused by physical exercise.
The researchers analyzed the individuals’ feces using a method called metagenomics, which consists of analyzing the genetic material present in samples obtained from the environment.
The analyzes revealed that a genus of bacteria, called Veillonella, had greatly increased in the athletes’ microbiota after running the marathon. Veillonella uses lactic acid as an energy source. Lactic acid, also called lactate, is generated from the metabolism of sugars, which are used as a source of energy by the muscle during physical exercise.
Scientists find that Veillonella transforms lactic acid into a very small fatty acid, propionic acid (from propane), just one carbon atom larger than the acetic acid in vinegar. It turns out that propionic acid is a very effective energy source for muscle. The researchers isolate Veillonella bacteria from the feces of athletes and infuse them into the intestines of laboratory mice that are made to run until they can no longer run. The presence of Veillonella in the intestine of the mice makes them run up to 13% more than those that have not been infused with the bacteria (control mice).
Impressive, but is propionic acid causing this increase in athletic ability in mice? To verify this, the scientists make small suppositories rich in propionic acid and introduce them through the anus into laboratory mice that have not been infused with Veillonella. The suppositories also increased the athletic ability of the mice to levels similar to those achieved by the Veillonella infusion, demonstrating that propionic acid is responsible for the increased athletic ability.
These studies reveal a new fact about the deep symbiotic relationship between the microbiota and our organism. This relationship could have been very important for the survival of our ancestors when they had to run long distances across the savannah to catch prey or escape from a predator.
Referencia: Jonathan Scheiman et al. (2019) Meta-omics analysis of elite athletes identifies a performance-enhancing microbe that functions via lactate metabolism. Nature Medicine.
Jorge Laborda, December 9, 2019.
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