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Veillonella: The Gut Bacteria Found in Elite Athletes

July 05, 2022 7 min read

Veillonella: The Gut Bacteria Found in Elite Athletes - Layer Origin Nutrition

Why is Veillonella Classified as a Good Gut Bacteria and How is it Linked to Elite Athletes?

Introduction

Veillonella may be a new species of bacteria to you because you’re probably more familiar with names such as Bifidobacteria, Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, or Clostridium.That’s the thing with the human gut microbiome; there are so many inhabitants that we can pay more attention to some species and strains than others.

That’s probably the case for Veillonella, but scientists have found out quite a bit about this bacterium, mostly good, but a little bad.

Three Veillonella strains have also been listed in the 15 ‘good’ gut microbes by the PREDICT 1 study (Layer Origin Nutrition is not associated with the PREDICT 1 study).

So, we thought, why not shine a light on these three strains and find out what all the fuss is about?

What is Veillonella?

Veillonella is a gram-negative, anaerobic coccus. That means it can’t grow in areas where there is oxygen (anaerobic) and are round if you look at them under the microscope (cocci).

Anaerobic cocci are opportunistic pathogens that can cause infection. However, they are an ordinary resident of the microbial flora in the intestine, mouth, and vagina. Still, they can cause damage to their host if the person’s immune system becomes compromised[i].

The Veillonella genus consists of 14 species, with the newest member, Veillonella infantium,discovered in 2018[ii].

As a normal resident of the human gut, it may seem logical to believe that Veillonella,like many other microbes, ferments carbohydrates and transforms them into metabolic end products, such as vitamins and short-chain fatty acids.

However, that isn’t the case for Veillonella.

Instead, it is known to convert lactate into the SCFA, propionate[iii], which, as you’ll discover later, is an important function. Although it is also worth noting that despite Veillonellabeing a largely commensal microbe, there is lots of literature available linking it to various infections and diseases.

In this article, though, we will focus on the positives and the potential benefits this species of bacteria can bring. Let’s start by looking at the three strains identified in the PREDICT study and what makes them so special.

Which Veillonella Strains Have Been Identified as Good by the PREDICT 1 Study?

The PREDICT program is the world’s largest in-depth nutritional research study. The first study in the program, PREDICT 1, identified 15 good and 15 bad bacterial strains.

Nestled in the ‘good’ list are three Veillonella strains:

  •  V. dispar
  • V. atypica
  • V. infantium 

Veillonella dispar

In the mouth, V. disparis known for its beneficial anti-bacterial properties due to its ability to reduce nitrate, but less is known about this strain in the human gut.

Some research has shown that an increase in V. dispar alongside other bacterial species is associated with the development of several chronic diseases, including:

  • Atherosclerosis
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Type 2 diabetes[iv].

In contrast, researchers from the PREDICT program believe that V. dispar has some benefits for human health.

Their research found that the presence of this Veillonellastrain in the human gut was linked with increased insulin sensitivity and lower inflammation levels[v].

Veillonella atypica

Just like V. dispar,the presence of Veillonella atypicain the gut is associated with increased insulin sensitivity, according to the PREDICT 1 study.

The researchers also discovered that there might also be a link between this bacterium and lower insulin levels after eating a meal.

Although we talk a lot about butyrate, there are other types of short-chain fatty acids that your gut microbes produce.

For example, V. atypicais thought to break down lactic acid into propionate, a feat that could be a potential game-changer for athletes( we’ll talk about this later in the article).

What is Propionate? 

Propionate is one of the less-studied examples of a short-chain fatty acid, but it has some well-defined health benefits. Like other SCFAs, propionate is produced during the bacterial fermentation of dietary fiber, with some Veillonellastrains being the primary producers.

Propionate has numerous health benefits, including cholesterol-lowering, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory properties[vi].

Research also shows that propionate may protect you from diet-induced obesity by regulating food intake[vii].

An exciting property of propionate is its ability to make cancer cells effectively commit suicide. The process is called apoptosis and scientifically is referred to as programmed cell death. It is a method used by the body to rid itself of irreparable cells.

A study conducted in 2019, found that propionate could function as an anticancer drug for treating lung cancer through its ability to induce cell apoptosis[viii]. That means that propionate has potent anticancer effects alongside butyrate, which may prove invaluable in the future treatment of cancer.

Veillonella infantium

Veillonella infantiumis a newly discovered Veillonellastrain. It has been identified as a ‘good’ gut microbe in the PREDICT 1 study because it is linked with lower levels of inflammation and high polyunsaturated (good) fat levels.

 Is Veillonella a Performance-Enhancing Microbe?

It’s not just within the PREDICT 1 study that Veillonella’sfame is gaining momentum.

A study published in 2019, found that members of the Veillonellagenus may contribute to an increased capacity for exercise in elite athletes.

The study began in 2015 using stool samples from Boston Marathon runners. Their stool samples were collected during a two-week period (one week before the marathon to one week after).

The researchers also collected stool samples from sedentary individuals for comparison.

The researchers found a greater abundance of Veillonellain the marathon runner’s samples which increased immediately after completing the race.

After isolating the specific strain, V. atypica, they inoculated it into mice and found that its abundance increased significantly following participation in treadmill running. Interestingly, the mice also had an increased capacity to run after they were supplemented with Veillonella.

The key thing about Veillonella is it uses lactic acid or lactate as its primary energy source. That’s important because when you participate in intense exercise, your body produces lactic acid by breaking down its supply of stored sugars without needing oxygen.

Remember earlier we mentioned that Veillonellathrives in environments without oxygen? The study found that lactate can pass through the epithelial barrier into the gut, where V. atypica can then transform it into propionate.

By doing so, this bacterium increased the running capacity of both humans and mice. In other words, V. atypicacould be a performance-enhancing microbe[ix]!

We think that’s a practical reason for listing Veillonellaas a ‘good’ gut microbe.

Veillonella and Gum Disease

Veillonella strains aren’t only found in the gut but also in other microbiomes throughout the human body, particularly in the mouth. Because of its love for lactic acid, Veillonellacan use this bi-product, formed from the fermentation of sugar by Streptococci in the mouth, to make its energy source.

However, prolonged exposure to these acids produced by bacteria, such as Veillonella,can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. That’s why staying on top of your oral hygiene is essential!

Summary 

The Veillonellagenus is an interesting one, and many of its members have only recently been discovered. However, three strains have caught our eye because of their inclusion in the PREDICT 1 list of ‘good’ gut microbes. Each of them has interesting, potential health benefits, linked to insulin sensitivity and polyunsaturated fat levels.

However, some interesting research is emerging into how V. atypica may be a performance-enhancing microbe because of its love for lactic acid, and its ability to transform it into the SCFA, propionate. So, watch this space!

Remember, you can help to diversify your gut microbiome by leading a healthy lifestyle, consisting of a healthy diet packed with fibre, getting plenty of exercise, staying hydrated, and taking prebiotic supplements such as human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) to feed and boost the good bugs in your gut. Explore our range here.

 

Written By: 

Leanne Edermaniger

Leanne is a science writer who specializes in human health and enjoys writing about all things related to the gut microbiome.

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 References

 

[i] Wells CL, Wilkins TD. Anaerobic Cocci. In: Baron S, editor. Medical Microbiology. 4th edition. Galveston (TX): University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston; 1996. Chapter 19. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK8436/

[ii] Djais AA, Theodorea CF, Mashima I, Otomo M, Saitoh M, Nakazawa F. Identification and phylogenetic analysis of oral Veillonella species isolated from the saliva of Japanese children. F1000Res. 2019 May 3;8:616. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.18506.5. PMID: 31448103; PMCID: PMC6688723.

[iii] Sowalsky A. Gut microbes prevent marathoners from pooping out. Science Translational Medicine. 2019;11(500).

[iv] Ghosh T, Rampelli S, Jeffery I, Santoro A, Neto M, Capri M, Giampieri E, Jennings A, Candela M, Turroni S, Zoetendal E, Hermes G, Elodie C, Meunier N, Brugere C, Pujos-Guillot E, Berendsen A, De Groot L, Feskins E, Kaluza J, Pietruszka B, Bielak M, Comte B, Maijo-Ferre M, Nicoletti C, De Vos W, Fairweather-Tait S, Cassidy A, Brigidi P, Franceschi C, O'Toole P. Mediterranean diet intervention alters the gut microbiome in older people reducing frailty and improving health status: the NU-AGE 1-year dietary intervention across five European countries. Gut. 2020;69(7):1218-1228.

[v] Probiotics and Weight Loss: How and Why They Work [Internet]. Joinzoe.com. 2022 [cited 2022 Jun 29]. Available from: https://joinzoe.com/learn/probiotics-and-weight-loss

[vi] Silva Y, Bernardi A, Frozza R. The Role of Short-Chain Fatty Acids from Gut Microbiota in Gut-Brain Communication. Frontiers in Endocrinology. 2020;11.

[vii] Lin HV, Frassetto A, Kowalik EJ Jr, Nawrocki AR, Lu MM, Kosinski JR, Hubert JA, Szeto D, Yao X, Forrest G, Marsh DJ. Butyrate and propionate protect against diet-induced obesity and regulate gut hormones via free fatty acid receptor 3-independent mechanisms. PLoS One. 2012;7(4):e35240. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0035240. Epub 2012 Apr 10. PMID: 22506074; PMCID: PMC3323649.

[viii] Kim K, Kwon O, Ryu TY, Jung CR, Kim J, Min JK, Kim DS, Son MY, Cho HS. Propionate of a microbiota metabolite induces cell apoptosis and cell cycle arrest in lung cancer. Mol Med Rep. 2019 Aug;20(2):1569-1574. doi: 10.3892/mmr.2019.10431. Epub 2019 Jun 26. PMID: 31257531; PMCID: PMC6625448.

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


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