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Marathon Runners May Boost 'Your' Exercise Performance

Can you believe that a tiny microbe can help you to increase your performance – and you can consume it to improve your exercise capacity? Scientists are working on using super-healthy people's biology to translate that into a nutritional formula for everyone's use!

Research from Harvard Medical School has identified a type of bacteria from elite athletes that improve exercise capacity. Interestingly these bacteria, named the genus Veillonella are generally not found at high levels in the intestines of people who have a sedentary lifestyle.

The research team worked on the specific analysis of Boston Marathon runners in 2015. They collected the stool samples daily throughout the week before and after the run to analyze the microbiome of marathon runners. Veillonella was the most prominent one that increased the entire microbiota.

Although the ability of Veillonella to use lactate as an energy source was already known, the scientists wanted to focus on a specific species of Veillonella, called Veillonella atypica, since it was the one that was isolated explicitly from marathon runners' microbiome.

After they isolated the V. atypica (– taking the bacteria from the stool sample), they administered this sport-fan bacteria to sixteen mice. Next, another sixteen mice were fed without Veillonella atypica but received the yogurt bacterium Lactobacillus bulgaricus. Then all mice had a treadmill run.

The results were excited as the bacteria boosted the animal's performance in the treadmill running tests! Scientists discovered that V. atypica group ran 13% longer than the other group.

V. atypica has been known for a long time, from the early 1980s. It is a bacterium that presents in mammals' gut and the oral cavity. Especially for the oral cavity, this bacterium is known to be an early colonizer in oral biofilm formation and dental plaques. However, their critical feature as breaking down the lactate, a metabolite known to accumulate with prolonged strenuous exercise, and producing propionate has been a new focus for science.

Our muscles produce lactic acid during strenuous exercise. The bacterium uses this product as one of their key food sources to have propionate and acetate. Propionate is a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) that our bodies utilize to improve exercise capacity.

This remarkable discovery may ask, what if we consume propionate directly instead of swallowing bacteria? Unfortunately, this practical suggestion may not be a brilliant idea since the propionate -the SCFA- would be broken down by digestive juices before effect. So, sometimes consuming bacteria; specifically, Veillonella atypica, looks like one of the great ways to invest your health and exercise capacity! An increased ability to exercise also means strong protection against certain chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, and overall longevity.

The healthier life of us might be lying in the healthiest individual's guts – what do you think?

"This is one of the first studies to directly show a strong example of symbiosis between microbes and their human host… It is very clear. It creates a positive feedback loop. First, the host is producing something that this particular microbe favors. Then in return, the microbe creates something that benefits the host. This is a really important example of how the microbiome has evolved ways to become this symbiotic presence in the human host." -- Dr. Aleksander Kostic, Ph.D.

- Scheiman, J., Luber, J.M., Chavkin, T.A., MacDonald, T., Tung, A., Pham, L.D., Wibowo, M.C., Wurth, R.C., Punthambaker, S., Tierney, B.T., Yang, Z., Hattab, M.W., Avila-Pacheco, J., Clish, C.B., Lessard, S., Church, G.M., Kostic, A.D. (2019). Meta-omics analysis of elite athletes identifies a performance-enhancing microbe that functions via lactate metabolism. Nature Medicine. 25(7):1104-1109.

- Han, M., Liu, G., Chen, Y., Wang, D., & Zhang, Y. (2020). Comparative genomics uncovers the genetic diversity and characters of Veillonella atypica and provides insights into its potential applications. Frontiers in Microbiology, 11.

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