Brain development/Law/Policy Medicine

Human gut microbes could make processed foods healthier

A new study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggests the gut microbiome has an impact on how the body breaks down processed foods, such as cereals, pastas, chocolate and soda. The new knowledge could help in the development of healthier, more nutritious processed foods. (Image: Mike Worful)

A new study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis sheds light on how human gut microbes break down processed foods — especially potentially harmful chemical changes often produced during modern food manufacturing processes.

Eating processed foods such as breads, cereals and sodas is associated with negative health effects, including insulin resistance and obesity.

Reporting Oct. 9 in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, scientists have identified a specific human gut bacterial strain that breaks down the chemical fructoselysine, and turns it into harmless byproducts. Fructoselysine is in a class of chemicals called Maillard Reaction Products, which are formed during food processing. Some of these chemicals have been linked to harmful health effects. These findings raise the prospect that it may be possible to use such knowledge of the gut microbiome to help develop healthier, more nutritious processed foods.

The study was conducted in mice that were raised under sterile conditions, given known collections of human gut microbes and fed diets containing processed food ingredients.

“This study gives us a deeper view of how components of our modern diets are metabolized by gut microbes, including the breakdown of components that may be unhealthy for us,” said Jeffrey I. Gordon, MD, the Dr. Robert J. Glaser Distinguished University Professor and director of the Edison Family Center for Genome Sciences & Systems Biology. “We now have a way to identify these human gut microbes and how they metabolize harmful food chemicals into innocuous byproducts.”

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