Dr Orla O’Sullivan, computational biologist at Teagasc Food Research Centre, Ireland, revealed research showing the link between the microbiome and protein during Nutraingredients’ Sports Nutrition Congress last week (25th September).
She explained that a healthy gut microbiome – one with a wide variety of good microbes - helps to avoid allergies, IBD and IBS as well as control hunger and regulate hormones. Research has even linked low gut microbial diversity with non–gut related illness including anxiety and asthma.
In order to test what influences gut health, Teagasc researchers undertook a study with a sample of 40 elite rugby athletes whose gut microbial diversity was remarkably higher than non-athletes.
Results showed that the athletes’ consumed higher amounts of fruit, veg and non-processed foods. But, more surprisingly, exercise and protein intake were shown to be the only correlating factors to impressive gut microbial diversity. When the researchers looked at the sample’s diets in more detail they found that the athletes were getting a lot of their protein through whey form.
In order to discover if it was the exercise or the protein intake that had the biggest impact on the microbiome, the researchers carried out an eight-week intervention study on a 3 groups of non-athletes (an exercise group, a whey protein group and a combined group). Those particpants in the exercising groups got fitter and leaner but there were only very subtle effects on the microbiome in all groups.
However the researchers did find differences in the viral populations in participants taking whey pre and post intervention - it was revealed viruses found in the whey protein were also found in the gut microbiome. The research group is now undertaking further studies to confirm what effect, if any, these viruses have on the host.