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Gut microbiome changes with exercise

By Nicolle Kränkel - EBTR Nucleus

Comment on: The microbiome of professional athletes differs from that of more sedentary subjects in composition and particularly at the functional metabolic level.  (Barton W et al. Gut. 2017)

Risk Factors and Prevention

The gut microbiota- a heterogeneous population of microbes containing about a thousand different bacterial species alone - can be viewed as a metabolic organ on its own right, providing nutrients and other bioactive metabolites out of food components the human body is not able to digest by itself. In addition, the gut microflora is able to regulate the human immune response and might thus play a large role in cardio-metabolic pathologies. The interplay works both ways: while a reduced diversity of the gut microbiome as well as a shifted composition are associated with obesity and impaired glucose control [Karlsson et al. 2013; Le Chatelier et al. 2013], we can also modulate our gut microbiome by antibiotics, the composition of our diet and regular physical activity.
Following a previous analysis of the composition of the gut microbiome in elite athletes as compared to more sedentary high- and low-BMI controls [Clarke et al. 2014], Barton et al. compared the metabolic profile of host and microbiome, thus providing functional insight into the effects of strict diet and intense exercise programmes in competitive athletes [Barton et al. 2017].

Both studies reported a higher diversity of gut microbiota in athletes, as compared to controls with low or with high BMI. The authors observed three-fold associations between markers of muscle activity, dietary composition and the study group (athletes, controls with high BMI, controls with low BMI). In the control groups, metabolic pathways correlated mainly with dietary factors, such as sugar intake, while in the athlete group, creatine kinase (a marker of muscle activity), bilirubin, and total energy intake were associated to metabolic changes [Barton et al. 2017].
The combination of two lifestyle factors – diet and exercise – makes it difficult to derive clear-cut mechanistic insight. Especially since athlete´s diet contains high fibre contents, supporting a higher diversity of microorganisms and increasing the synthesis of short-chain fatty acids, associated with more beneficial plasma lipid profile [Fechner et al. 2014; Barton et al. 2017]. Physical activity, on the other side has been associated with shorter stool transition for a long time.

Probiotic foods have gained interest in the general population as a means to improve health. A better understanding of the mechanisms, including the composition of the diet and regular physical activity, supporting gut microbiota diversity, might help to more efficiently exploit the beneficial actions of microbial products, including the provision of antibiotics and co-factors as well as short-chain fatty acids.


Note: The content of this article reflects the personal opinion of the author/s and is not necessarily the official position of the European Society of Cardiology


The microbiome of professional athletes differs from that of more sedentary subjects in composition and particularly at the functional metabolic level. By Barton W, Penney NC, Cronin O, Garcia-Perez I, Molloy MG, Holmes E, Shanahan F, Cotter PD, O'Sullivan O - Gut. 2017 Mar 30. pii: gutjnl-2016-313627. - DOI: 10.1136/gutjnl-2016-313627.

Exercise and associated dietary extremes impact on gut microbial diversity. By Clarke SF, Murphy EF, O'Sullivan O, Lucey AJ, Humphreys M, Hogan A, Hayes P, O'Reilly M, Jeffery IB, Wood-Martin R, Kerins DM, Quigley E, Ross RP, O'Toole PW, Molloy MG, Falvey E, Shanahan F, Cotter PD. - Gut. 2014;63(12):1913-20. - DOI: 10.1136/gutjnl-2013-306541

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Richness of human gut microbiome correlates with metabolic markers. By Le Chatelier E, Nielsen T, Qin J, et al. - Nature. 2013;500(7464):541–6.