An intestinal bacterium named Akkermansia muciniphila was discovered in 2007 by Patrice Cani, a FNRS-WELBIO researcher, and his team at the Louvain Drug Research Institute of University of Louvain. The researchers discovered that A. muciniphila could control the development of obesity in mice.
Ten years later, it was found that a pasteurized form of the A. muciniphila bacteria offers even better protection against cardiovascular disease (CVD), and now, a small study has found that supplements of the gut bacterium may help those with metabolic disorders.
“Metabolic syndrome is characterized by a constellation or comorbidities the predispose individuals to an increased risk of developing cardiovascular pathologies as well as type 2 diabetes mellitus,” the study, published in Nature Medicine, begins. “The gut microbiota is a new key contributor involved in the onset of obesity-related disorders.”
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Researchers carried out a randomized, placebo-controlled pilot study including 32 overweight, obese, or insulin-resistant men and women to investigate the safety, tolerability and changes in gut barrier function and gut microbiota composition in relation to A. muciniphila supplementation.
All of the participants had at least three of five conditions including high fasting blood sugar, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good” cholesterol), or excessive waist circumference, and as a result were at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
A probiotic for heart disease?
17.9 million people die every year from cardiovascular disease worldwide, according to statistics from the World Health Organization, putting 31 percent of all deaths worldwide down to diseases of the heart and blood vessels.
A lack of exercise, poor diet, high salt intake, and the use of tobacco are all linked to CVD incidence. With a potential A. muciniphila supplement, researchers predict that as one in two people is overweight in Western countries, the risks of CVD incidence could be reduced in half of the population if the medication is used properly.
Participants were asked to keep their diet and levels of physical activity the same during the study, and they were split into three different groups. The first group received placebos, the second, live bacteria, and the third, pasteurized bacteria.
Overall, it was deemed that supplementation was safe and well tolerated by the study participants and that several metabolic parameters were improved by the bacterium. After three months, the bacterium reduced the levels of the relevant blood markers for liver dysfunction and inflammation.
Additionally, there was a small decrease in the overall body weight of the participants and their cholesterol levels were also reduced as a result of supplementation. It was found that the placebo group continued to deteriorate throughout the study, in contrast to the other groups.
At the moment, this is not ‘a miracle cure’
A. muciniphila is found naturally in the human gut but is found in lower amounts in those with metabolic syndrome. However, the researchers warned that supplementation with the bacterium was not a cure-all for cardiovascular diseases.
I hope people will not see this as a miracle cure. The finding is significant, but it has to be confirmed in a larger cohort. Keep in mind that the first treatment for cardiometabolic disorders is a healthy diet and sufficient exercise.”
Patrice D. Cani, Senior Author
This small study may inspire a future, larger-scale study to definitively prove the benefits of supplementation with pasteurized A. muciniphila bacteria, as live bacteria were found to have very little effect. It is possible that by 2021, the bacteria could be sold as a food supplement.
Depommier, C., et al. (2019). Supplementation with Akkermansia muciniphila in overweight and obese human volunteers: a proof-of-concept exploratory study. Nature Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-019-0495-2