Yogurt Drinks Might Play a Key Role in Altering Metabolism

Author:  Neil Majithia

Institution:  Virginia Commonwealth University
Date:  January 2008

A recent study conducted by Imperial College London details for the first time a host of biochemical effects facilitated by probiotics, or dietary supplements made with live bacteria. The findings, published in a January issue of Molecular Systems Biology, suggest that yogurt drinks such as Dannon's Activia may alter metabolic trends and help with digestion.

In an elegant example of the natural phenomenon that is symbiosis, bacteria living in an organism's gut provide the host with a variety of digestive services, including vitamin production, gut development, and coordination of fat storage. The research conducted by Professor Jeremy Nicholson's team explores the world of these gut microbes, and is the first of its kind to trace the biochemical communication between gut microbes and bacteria in probiotics.

Previous research has shown that gut microbes are responsible for a good portion of an individual's metabolic makeup, with aberrations in strain and quantity being linked to common diseases such as obesity and diabetes. The challenge for the team at Imperial College London was to show how probiotics might make a significant difference in the way these microbes behave.

"Some argue that probiotics can't change your gut microflora," said Nicholson. "Whilst there are at least a billion bacteria in a pot of [yogurt], there are a hundred trillion in the gut, so you're just whistling in the wind. Our study shows that probiotics can have an effect and they interact with the local ecology and talk to other bacteria."

Using a mouse model, the investigative team established two separate groups for their experiment, with one set receiving a serving of probiotics and the other receiving a placebo. To arrive at their conclusions, the researchers obtained a sampling of metabolites from the blood, feces, urine, and liver of each group. The team noticed a marked difference between the two groups.

Adding "friendly" probiotics helped the function of gut microbes not only because the two species seemed to work together, but also because the probiotics communicated with the gut microbes, encouraging them to intensify their effects. What's more, different strains of probiotics produced unique results in subsequent trials, implying probiotics might be capable of targeting specific digestive functions in the future.

"We're still trying to understand what the changes they bring about might mean, in terms of overall health, but we have established that introducing friendly' bacteria can change the dynamics of the whole population of microbes in the gut," Nicholson explained.

The team hopes to understand probiotics well enough to formulate therapeutic drinks and eventually aid those with metabolic disorders.

Written by Neil Majithia

Reviewed by Falishia Sloan

Published by Pooja Ghatalia