Protein-rich diets may impact your gut health and weight

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Recent research has explored the effects of protein-rich diets on the gut microbiome and overall health.

While Western diets increasingly include more protein, especially among athletes and people with obesity, the impact of undigested protein on health has been unclear.

A new study presented at ASM Microbe has examined how excess undigested protein in the colon can lead to either beneficial or harmful metabolites.

Beneficial metabolites include short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), while harmful ones include ammonia and sulfides, which are linked to gastrointestinal problems and other health issues.

The research team conducted experiments on mice and found that switching to a protein-rich diet resulted in significant weight loss, reduced body fat, and immediate changes in the gut microbiome. They compared different protein diets to see how individual amino acids affect the gut microbiome.

Notably, mice consuming proteins rich in aromatic amino acids experienced the greatest weight and fat loss compared to those on standard protein or branched-chain amino acid-rich diets.

Samson Adejumo, a doctoral candidate in biology at the University of Illinois Chicago, emphasized that these findings lay the groundwork for understanding how protein diets affect the gut microbiome and overall health.

To explore further, the researchers conducted a four-week experiment with 16 mice. The mice first ate a standard diet for two weeks, then switched to protein-rich diets enriched with either branched-chain or aromatic amino acids for the next two weeks.

They collected daily fecal samples and weekly body composition measurements to track changes in fat and fat-free mass. DNA from the feces was sequenced to analyze microbial composition and dynamics over the study period.

The researchers found significant differences in microbial taxa abundance and composition after protein enrichment. Using machine learning, they could predict protein diets based on gut microbial taxa with 97% accuracy, demonstrating the strong relationship between diet and microbiome changes.

The gut bacteria responded differently to dietary changes, from regular carbohydrate diets to protein diets, and especially to different amino acid groups. The most significant changes occurred in the group fed branched-chain amino acids.

While it is too early to conclusively state that protein diets caused all observed changes in body composition and gut bacteria, the consistent pattern of changes strongly suggests a connection between protein diets and alterations in the gut microbiome.

The research, led by Adejumo at Marcell Lab, University of Illinois Chicago, was presented at ASM Microbe 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia, on June 15, 2024.

This study highlights the potential of protein-rich diets to influence gut health and overall well-being, paving the way for further research into the role of diet in promoting a healthy gut.

If you care about gut health, please read studies about how junk food harms your gut health,  and how probiotics can protect gut health.

For more information about health, please see recent studies about how fiber affects weight loss and your overall health, and results showing why a glass of red wine is good for your gut.

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