Studies over the past several years on mice and humans demonstrate that a particular phylum of microbiota, Bacteroidetes, play an important role in healthy weight and normalization of glucose.
Research has shown that humans and mice with no metabolic disorders and normal to low weight have higher colonies of Bacteroidetes. Overweight mice, overweight humans, and those with metabolic diseases like diabetes have higher levels of the phylum Firmicutes. There are 274 genera within the Firmicutes phylum, including strains that are well known to horse owners: Bacillus and Lactobacillus.
Interestingly enough, when Bacteroidetes populations were increased in mice, even diets high in fat and carbohydrates did not cause a weight gain.
While there have been no studies on horses or dogs examining the relationship between populations of microbiota and healthy weights and glucose balance, all mammals have these specific microbiota, Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes, in their GI tract.
Benefits of Bacteroidetes:
Bacteroidetes are a very interesting bacteria. They have colonized virtually all types of habitats on Earth, including soil, freshwater, oceans, and the GI tracts of mammals. Bacteroidetes are specialists for the degradation of high-molecular-weight organic matter: proteins and carbohydrates. Bacteroidetes’ other contributions to the mammalian GI tract include interactions with the immune system for the activation of T-cell-mediated responses, and the limitation of GI tract colonization by potentially pathogenic bacteria.
Resident gut Bacteroidetes produce butyrate (a volatile fatty acid) which is an end product of colonic fermentation of carbohydrates. In the horse this encompasses plant carbohydrates including fiber. Butyrate, like other volatile fatty acids, can be used as an energy source by horses.
The Optimum EQ Connection:
In researching Bacteroidetes, I discovered that Cyanobacteria (blue green algae) like spirulina, and Chloraphyta (green algae) like Chlorella can support and encourage the growth of Bacteriodetes. Optimum EQ is dense with spirulina, which could be another reason, besides the whole food ingredients, that horses do so well on this supplement. Because we only dehydrate, never cook or heat our ingredients, the beneficial bacteria are still alive. We only use organic spirulina to avoid potential pollutants or chemicals that can be used in commercial blue green algae farming.
Environmental Factors and Processing:
It is not only what the horses and dogs (and humans) eat that affects the microbiome; it is also how the food is grown and processed that affects the populations of beneficial bacteria in the GI tract. Since Bacteroidetes live in soil and water, it furthers our understanding of how chemical fertilizers and herbicides can affect the population of these beneficial bacteria.
Minimally processed foods will have a higher concentration of microbiota than overly processed or heat-treated foods. Also, by-products of whole foods—soy hulls for instance—will not contain the microbiota of the whole soybean itself.
According to a study published in Frontiers in Microbiogy in 2011, there is a strong connection between how a food is grown and processed and how that affects the population of Bacteroidetes.
“This food connection points toward the fact that recurrent contacts between environmental and gut microbes can have beneficial effects. At the same time, it underlines the potential problem of our modern lifestyle and the consumption of hyper-hygenic, extensively processed food, depriving us of the environmental reservoirs of microbial genes that allow adaptation by lateral transfer.” (Thomas F, Hehemann JH, et al. Environmental and Gut Bacteroidetes: The Food Connection. Front Microbiol. 2011; 2-93)
Managing Weight and Healthy Blood Sugar:
- We love giving treats to our horses, but high sugar combined with high-starch foods may activate the Firmicutes biota and lower the Bacteroidetes. Better to give a couple of carrot slices or apple slices.
- Low-starch horse feeds may indeed have low starch, yet they are often made with whole food by-products, which could play a role in the population of the microbiota.
- Glyphosate is often used on hay fields to control weeds. European studies have shown that glyphosate affects the GI tract of livestock and puts stress on the immune system. What role glyphosate currently plays on the microbiome has yet to be determined.
- With the new understanding of the GI tract benefits of spirulina, this needs to be an important component in the overall management of metabolic imbalances and the easy keepers.
- Let your horse get dirty! Microbes are transferred via the skin and your horse will get some beneficial Bacteroidetes when he or she can roll in the grass or mud.
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
(Heading Illustration credit: Carter, 2007)
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