What is Akkermansia Muciniphila—And How Can It Help Your Gut?

What is Akkermansia Muciniphila—And How Can It Help Your Gut? By The Pendulum Therapeutics Team Akkermansia (A) muciniphila is a species of human intestinal mucin-degrading bacteria (in this article, we refer to this species simply as Akkermansia). Extensive research is being undertaken to understand this microbial species’ association with several metabolic disorders. In healthy people, Akkermansia accounts for up to 4% of intestinal bacteria. Studies have shown that humans with a lower abundance of Akkermansia in the gut (compared to the guts of healthy people) tend to have higher body weight, higher body mass index (BMI), higher blood-cholesterol level, and higher fasting blood-glucose level. That’s a big deal for such a small microbe! The gut’s mucus layer “keeps a crucial distance between the gut microbes and sensors on immune cells that ring the alarm bells of the immune system…” The most important link Akkermansia has to our gut health is related to its role in optimizing the composition and function of our gut-mucus layer. This intestinal mucus layer is one major component of the gut barrier (the other component is the tightly linked layer of gut cells) between the microbial universe inside of us—containing both the good and the bad microbes—and the gut-associated immune system, just microns away. It keeps a crucial distance between these microbes and sensors on immune cells that ring the alarm bells of the immune system, whenever microbes get too close to the lining of the gut. Akkermansia muciniphila is a microbial species that feeds on mucin, a glycoprotein (a combination of a sugar and protein molecule) that regulates the thickness of the mucosal layer lining the intestinal wall. By munching on this mucin layer of the intestinal wall, the microorganism not only influences the thickness of the layer but at the same time produces beneficial short-chain fatty acids which play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem of beneficial bacteria. Restoring Akkermansia—along with other beneficial microbes—-can help your body manage the aforementioned issues. Akkermansia muciniphila levels in the gut can be increased by two basic strategies: Eating plant-based foods which contain a variety of fiber and polyphenol molecules encourage more Akkermansia to grow. Taking a probiotic that contains Akkermansia muciniphila. Diets, such as the Standard American Diet (SAD) with high amounts of saturated fats, sugar, fried foods, and alcohol have all been shown to decrease the amount of Akkermansia in our gut. Like many…

Gut Pain? There’s an App for That!

Gut Pain? There’s an App for That! By Luisa Scott, PhD Living with chronic pain is hard. Disorders characterized by chronic pain, like IBS, do not just affect us physically. Pain affects our emotions, our outlook, and how we interact with others. We change our behavioral patterns to try to guard against our symptoms occurring or worsening. It is common for those living with chronic pain to withdraw. But this isolation from others reduces our quality of life. It can feel like your symptoms control you. “Psychological stress influences gut function through the same gut-brain system of communication as physiological stress.” Our thoughts and responses to life events and our symptoms can influence how we feel. Our perceptions and actions can either exacerbate our symptoms and make us feel worse or help us cope with our symptoms and feel a bit better. Why do our thoughts have so much impact on our body, and particularly our gut? Our brain is responsible for regulating our body’s movement and functions so that our body can meet our needs. Usually, we are not even aware this communication is happening. If we need to run away from a predator, or just go on a jog around our neighborhood, it is not a good time for a bowel movement. Our brain regulates this response to physiological stress without us even thinking about it. It communicates the need to our gut through the gut-brain axis, a robust network of signaling pathways. Psychological stress influences gut function through this same gut-brain system of communication as physiological stress. The shared signaling pathways allows chronic stress, which is so common in our modern lives, to influence our bowel function. Our emotional and behavioral reactions to our symptoms can make things even worse by piling on the stress. Gastrointestinal symptom-related anxiety is quite common, and the stress response provoked by these feelings can increase bowel discomfort and exacerbate bowel dysfunction. But we can reverse this process by targeting how we respond to symptoms and take control. “By employing these techniques to reduce distress from internal and external factors, we can break the cycle of stress, reduce our symptom severity and increase our quality of life.” Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a goal-oriented, structured treatment that can be effective in treating or supporting a variety of health conditions (not just mental health!). It focuses on problem solving in the present and…

Microplastics and the Microbiome

Microplastics and the Microbiome By Markham Heid You’ve probably heard about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s the mass of plastic debris—now twice the size of Texas—that’s floating in the ocean between California and Hawaii. As if it that weren’t bad enough, four more large collections of plastic waste are spreading in the open waters of our blue planet. While these minor continents of floating trash are the most startling indicators of global plastic contamination, they’re only part of the story—and maybe not the most concerning part. “I’m at least as worried about plastic pollution in terrestrial environments as I am about pollution in water bodies,” says Roland Geyer, PhD, a professor of industrial ecology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. You can’t see them, but microscopic bits of plastic waste are gradually smothering our surfaces, suffusing our air, and saturating our ground soils. “Plastic doesn’t biodegrade like glass or paper into these more basic chemical elements, it just turns into smaller and smaller pieces of plastic,” Geyer explains. A 2017 study in the journal Science Advances estimated that of the 8300 million tons of plastic that humans have thus far produced, we’ve managed to reuse or recycle just 9 percent of it. Another 12 percent has been incinerated, while 79 percent is still with us—in some form or another. Geyer points out that the large-scale production and use of plastics only began in the 1950s, and the global ubiquity of cheap, disposable plastic packaging and goods is an even more recent phenomenon. “We’re just starting to look at how microplastics may adversely affect soil health or plant growth, for example,” he says. We’re similarly ignorant when it comes to the consequences of microplastic contamination in our bodies—though it seems like that contamination is widespread. For a study published in 2019, European researchers examined stool samples collected from eight healthy adults. All eight samples contained microplastics—mostly the type found in plastic water bottles and caps. Late last year, another study found microplastic particles in the placentas of four pregnant women. Earlier this month, researchers at Health Canada—the Canadian government’s version of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—published a study framework intended to help researchers around the globe assess the threat of microplastic exposures on human health. “There are three different ways that microplastics could cause toxicity,” says Sabina Halappanavar, PhD, first author of the study and a…

Flavonoids and Forgetfulness

Flavonoids and Forgetfulness By E. Dylan Mayer It is widely understood that a healthy diet consists of not only high-quality fruits and vegetables, but also a wide variety of them. Not only are they good for us because of their fiber content, but also because of their high flavonoid content. Flavonoids, otherwise known as phytochemicals or polyphenols are large, unabsorbable molecules, which require microbes in the distal small intestine and large intestine to break them down into smaller, absorbable metabolites. Flavonoids feed our microbes, increasing the relative abundance of health-promoting microbes and after metabolism contribute to the health of many organs, including the brain. A study done by investigators at the Harvard School of Public Health, under the leadership of Dr. Walter Willet, and published in the journal Neurology in July 2021 followed more than 77,000 healthy middle-aged men and women over the course of 20 years. Based on responses of the subjects to food frequency questionnaire, the researchers estimated how often participants ate various flavonoid-rich foods and whether they experienced changes in their cognitive function in their 70s. Cognitive function was assessed in terms of remembering recent events or a short list of items, remembering things from one second to the next, understanding instructions, following a group conversation or TV plot, and finding their way around familiar streets. The researchers calculated the participants’ intake of six classes of flavonoids: flavanols (such as quercetin in onions and kale), flavones (such as luteolin in green chile peppers and celery), flavanones (such as naringenin in grapefruit and oranges), flavan-3-ol monomers (such as catechins in red wine and strawberries), anthocyanins (such as cyanidin in blackberries and red cabbage), and polymers (such as theaflavins in black tea). The study found that study participants that reported the highest daily intake of flavonoids from fruits and vegetables were 19% less likely to report difficulties with memory and thinking, compared to those with the lowest daily intake. These results were found after accounting for other factors that may have affected cognition, such as age, overweight, lack of physical activity, alcohol intake, depression, and non-flavonoid nutrient intake. Some flavonoids which stood out in the study were flavones, which were associated with a 38% lower risk for self-reported cognitive decline, flavanones, which had a 36% lower risk for self-reported cognitive decline, and anthocyanins, which had a 24% lower risk for self-reported cognitive decline. It’s important to note that this…

The Good News About Italian Pasta

The Good News About Italian Pasta By Emeran Mayer, MD As mentioned in my previous post, we recently experienced first-hand the paradox of the modern Italian diet, when we spent some time in Parma, in the Emilia Romana region of Italy. Instead of the expected traditional health-promoting, largely plant-based Mediterranean diet, we discovered that most people in this city were thriving on a diet high in animal products and pasta. And even more surprising was the fact that on average, people were not obese, and had a similar high life expectancy as those living in other regions. In my last post, I focused on the high amounts of animal products (ham and cheese) in the diet of people living in Parma, which didn’t seem to fit with our general concepts of the Mediterranean diet of one high in plant-based foods, with small amounts of red meat. But what about the ubiquitous pasta dishes in the Italian cuisine? Based on the prevalent carbohydrate phobia in the United States, this unique Italian pasta preference should also not be consistent with current dietary recommendations. I decided to look into this question and was helped by a very recent publication by an international group of investigators from Italy, Finland and Canada, with lead author Francesca Scazzina from the Department of Food and Drug, University of Parma. “…the consumption of pasta elicits lower postprandial blood sugar and insulin responses compared to foods like bread and pizza…” It had previously been shown in the scientific literature, that the consumption of pasta elicits lower postprandial blood sugar and insulin responses compared to foods with similar ingredients (like bread and pizza), but different structures. Such postprandial glucose responses of foods are of importance since diets containing foods eliciting lower responses favorably affect the risk of common diseases that make up the modern chronic non-infectious disease epidemic. Earlier studies had shown that pasta has a lower impact on postprandial glycemia compared to many other carbohydrate-rich foods, such as couscous and bread. “…pasta consumption within the limits recommended for total carbohydrate intake has been found to be inversely associated with body mass index…” Equally unexpected, pasta consumption within the limits recommended for total carbohydrate intake has been found to be inversely associated with body mass index in several observational studies and was not associated with worsening of glucose control, measures of adiposity, and major cardiovascular risk. Finally, in a recent…