Fish Oil-Diet Benefits May Depend On Your Gut Microbes

Diets that are rich in fish oil create gut bacteria known to lessen weight gain and improve glucose metabolism, while diets with lots of animal fat promote growth of bacteria linked to gut inflammation, new research from Sahlgrenska Academy suggests.

Researchers transferred these microbes into other mice to see how they affected health and found that gut bacteria share some of the responsibility for the beneficial effects of fish oil and the harmful effects of lard.

Mice that were given transplants of gut microbes linked to a fish oil diet were protected against diet-induced weight gain and inflammation compared with mice transplanted with gut microbes associated with a lard diet. This shows that gut microbes are an independent factor aggravating inflammation associated with diet-induced obesity and gives hope that a probiotic might help counteract a “greasy” diet.

Says first study author Robert Caesar of the University of Gothenburg:

“We wanted to determine whether gut microbes directly contribute to the metabolic differences associated with diets rich in healthy and unhealthy fats.”

Even though the study was done in mice, the ultimate goal is to identify interventions for optimizing metabolic health in humans.

Caesar, working in the lab of senior study author Fredrik Bäckhed, began by feeding either lard or fish oil to mice for 11 weeks and monitoring signs of metabolic health. While the consumption of lard promoted the growth of bacteria called Bilophila, which have been linked to gut inflammation, the fish oil diet increased the abundance of bacteria called Akkermansia muciniphila, known to reduce weight gain and improve glucose metabolism in mice.

“We were surprised that the lard and the fish oil diet, despite having the same energy content and the same amount of dietary fiber–which is the primary energy source for the gut bacteria–resulted in fundamentally different gut microbiota communities and that the microbiota per se had such large effects on health,” says Fredrik Bäckhed.

In an additional series of experiments, the researchers conducted “fecal transplants” to test whether fish oil-diet microbes could improve the health of mice fed only lard and vice versa. The results provide additional evidence that gut microbe communities can both determine and recover health problems caused by poor diet.

“Our paper supports previous reports indicating the bacteria Akkermansia muciniphila is a promoter of a healthy phenotype,” Bäckhed says. “However, further investigations will be needed to determine if this bacteria can be used as probiotic strain and, in that case, how it should be combined with diet to optimize health outcomes.”

Robert Caesar, Valentina Tremaroli, Petia Kovatcheva-Datchary, Patrice D. Cani, Fredrik Bäckhed
Crosstalk between Gut Microbiota and Dietary Lipids Aggravates WAT Inflammation through TLR Signaling
Cell Metabolism DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cmet.2015.07.026

Photo: Libby Welch, Wellcome Images