June 10, 2014
2 min read

Exercise, protein consumption increased gut microbiota diversity

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Exercise and protein consumption positively correlated with gut microbial diversity, according to recent study data.

Paul D. Cotter, PhD, and colleagues from Ireland evaluated 40 elite male rugby players (mean age, 29 years; mean BMI, 29.1 kg/m2), and healthy, age- and gender-matched control groups, one with lower relative BMI (n=23; mean BMI, 22.7 kg/m2), and one with higher relative BMI (n=23; mean BMI, 31.2 kg/m2). Food frequency questionnaires, and blood and stool samples were collected from each participant.

DNA was extracted from stool samples and analyzed for microbiota composition by 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing. Physical activity levels of the rugby group were documented in a training camp setting; control group levels were evaluated by questionnaire; and plasma creatine kinase (CK) levels were used to compare exercise levels between athletes and controls.

Paul D. Cotter

More than 1.2 million 16S rRNA reads were generated, with an average of 14,736 per athlete and 11,941 per control. Five different tests revealed greater microbiota diversity in the athlete group compared with controls (P<.0001; P=.0064; P=.0185; P=.0098; P=.0018). Athlete samples contained 22 phyla, 68 families and 113 genera, while low BMI controls had 11 phyla, 33 families and 65 genera, and high BMI controls had nine phyla, 33 families and 61 genera.

Notably, the athletes and low BMI controls had significantly greater levels of the genus Akkermansia — which has been shown to inversely correlate with obesity and metabolic disorders compared with the high BMI group.

Total dietary energy intake was significantly greater in athletes than controls, with protein accounting for 22% in athletes, 16% in low BMI and 15% in high BMI controls. CK levels also were higher in athletes compared with controls (P<.0001). There were significantly positive correlations between microbial diversity, protein intake and CK levels.

“In our study,” the researchers wrote, “microbiota diversity indices positively correlated with protein intake and CK, suggesting that diet and exercise are drivers of biodiversity in the gut.”

In a related editorial, Georgina L. Hold, MD, of the Institute of Medical Sciences at Aberdeen University, United Kingdom, commented that this “is the first report that exercise increases gut microbiota richness/diversity and highlights that exercise is another important factor in the complex relationship among the host, host immunity and the microbiota.”

For more information:

Clarke SF. Gut. 2014;doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2013-306541.

Hold GL. Gut. 2014;doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2014-307305.

Disclosure: See the study for a full list of relevant financial disclosures.