A new “Amazonian” frontier has been discovered under our bellies, more precisely in the large intestine where most of the gut microbiota is located. In this blog-article, i will zero in on one of the key gut players and show how the species akkermansia muciniphila is related to health and proper weight management. (Section A) In a second section, I will suggest how this bacteria can be holistically maintained and developed (Section B).
Recently discovered, Akkermansia muciniphila (Akkermansia) is a Gram-negative, anaerobic, non-spore-forming and oval-shaped bacterium. It is a member of the Verrucomicrobia phylum and is part of the human commensal bacterium, meaning those bacteria that harmoniously thrive within the microbiota without damaging conflicts. This bacteria was isolated in 2004 and named after Dr. Antoon Akkermans, a dutch microbiologist. (1) Akkermansia, present in the healthy human intestinal tract, constitute from 1 to 5% of the microbial gut community. (2) (Source)
Multiple Health Benefits
Within the microbiota, akkermansia plays an important homeostatic role, notably between the other trillion of microbes and the human host. Akkermansia and its metabolites produce anti-inflammatory effects in different gastrointestinal disorders. This species helps to control gut barrier functions and can thus modulate intestinal permeability (See below). It can also favorably modulate diabetes (3) inflammation (4) obesity (5) appendicitis (6) and inflammatory bowel disease.(7).
Key role in the Colon’s Mucus layer and Barrier
The gastrointestinal tract is covered with a layer of mucus which serves, among other things, as a source of nutrients for bacterial growth. (8) This mucus layer attracts bacteria which colonize, survive and multiple inside and on the mucus layer. Akkermansia is the most abundant mucus degrading bacteria in the healthy individual.
Mucus production and thickness is important to a healthy gastrointestinal tract and Akkermansia is key in this process. Low population levels of Akkermansia indicates a thin mucus layer. This results in a weakened gut barrier function and the ability of toxins to translocate into the bloodstream. Furthermore, the host and Akkermansia communicate continually and create a positive feedback loop in which Akkermansia degrades the mucus layer which stimulates new mucus production and the production of new mucus stimulates growth of Akkermansia. This process assures that abundant amounts of Akkermansia maintain the integrity and shape of the mucus layer (9).
Key role in SCFAs
As a result of this mucus degradation, A. muciniphila produces oligosaccharides and SCFAs, in particular, acetate and propionate. (Source). These products can stimulate microbiota interactions and host response. In turn, oligosaccharides and acetate stimulate growth and metabolic activity of bacteria that colonize close to or directly on the mucus layer. This process also provides colonization resistance to pathogenic bacteria that have to cross the mucus layer to reach the intestinal cells. As a result of the mucus degradation process, Akkermansia produces two very important short chain fatty acids:
Furthermore, the short chain fatty acids mentioned above trigger a cascade of responses in the host resulting in immune stimulation and metabolic signaling. (10) (Source)
Maintaining and Increasing this Species
Since the discovery of this bacteria is recent, and to my knowledge, there appears to be no commercially available probiotic supplement that contains Akkermansia muciniphila. However, we can usually promote its abundance holistically via certain foods, prebiotic fibers and substrates including, but not limited to arabinoxylan and inulin, both of which are potent prebiotics.
“…prebiotic supplementation shifted mucin degradation to distal regions, where mucin-degraders may produce beneficial metabolites (e.g. propionate by Akkermansia muciniphila), so that prebiotics may potentially improve gut health along the entire length of the intestine”. (Source)
To these can be added fructooligosaccharides (FOS) (oligofructose), that which increased the abundance of Akkermansia muciniphila by 100-fold. (11) Akkermansia can also be increased by consuming polyphenol-rich wines and foods, including but not limited to pomegranate (attributed to ellagitannins and their metabolites) (12), cranberries (13) and grape polyphenols and proanthocyanidin, that which tends to increase mucus secretion, thereby creating a favorable environment for Akkermansia to thrive. (14)
Certain foods and fats can also increase the abundance of Akkermansia, in particular beans and omega 3 oils. Of all of the varieties of beans, it would appear that navy beans are quite effective in boosting Akkermansia abundance. In one study, Fecal abundance of Akkermansia muciniphila was increased with a high fat and bean group versus just a high fat diet by 20-fold. (15) From the viewpoint of the fat quality, fish oils are preferred over animal fat. In one study, mice fed fish oil compared to pig lard for 11 weeks confirmed the increase in Akkermansia and Lactobacillus in the cecal contents. (16) However, from the viewpoint of the entire microbiota, healthy plant based omega 3 oils would be preferred over fish oil.
It is very important to human health that the population of Akkermansia is high and not depleted, since its abundance inversely correlates with body weight, type 1 diabetes and the other diseass mentioned above. One of the best ways to promote this bacterial species is by eating a nutrient rich plant-based vegan diet that includes lots of omega 3 rich foods (walnuts, purslane, flax etc) and fiber. High glycemic foods, especially refined sugar and white flours should be avoided if only because this type of fuel would feed Akkermansia’s foes. (17).
The human gastrointestinal tract contains a complex and hierarchically structured community of microbes, fulfilling important health-promoting functions. Recently, Akkermansia muciniphila, a new species from the deeply branched phylum Verrucomicrobia, (18) was isolated from the human intestinal tract. One of its major characteristics is based on its capacity to efficiently use mucus as a carbon and nitrogen source. This anaerobic resident is thus associated with the protective mucus lining of the intestines, the mucus of which it loves to thrive on (ie, muciniphila = mucin-loving).
From the viewpoint of a healthy long lifespan, this species is one of my favorites because it modulates many health and longevity pathways and helps to keep the gut barrier young and strong, thereby preventing some of the major chronic and auto-immune disease conditions that ensue when the intestinal mucus barrier and its junctions are thin and damaged.
Christian Joubert (Hmi director and Cso)
The following companies can test for levels of Akkermansia in one’s gut microbiome: