New research links controversial gut organism to reduced body fat

Illustration of the human gut microbiome

A global study of over 50,000 participants links the presence of gut Blastocystis, traditionally thought of as a parasite, to improved cardiovascular health and reduced body fat, suggesting beneficial effects on cardiometabolic health. More research is needed to validate these findings.

Research shows increased Blastocystis levels in the gut of people with improved cardiometabolic health and healthier eating habits.

An international study led by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) analyzed more than 50,000 people worldwide and found that individuals carrying intestinal Blastocystis, a single-celled entity often considered a parasite or a benign organism in the digestive system, were associated with signs of better cardiovascular health and lower body fat. The findings were published in the journal Cell.

Blastocyst“Its effects on health and disease are controversial and likely context-dependent, but our research suggests it may play a beneficial role in how diet affects human health and disease,” said co-lead author Long H. Nguyen, MD, MS, a physician-investigator in the Clinical and Translational Epidemiology Unit and Division of Gastroenterology at MGH, and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “At the very least, its ubiquity may suggest a nonpathogenic role.”

Nguyen, who is also a Chen Institute Department of Medicine Transformative Scholar at MGH, and colleagues sought to determine the relationship between gut Blastocystnutrition and resulting cardiometabolic health outcomes including overweight/obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseaseTo do this, they conducted a large-scale study that integrated and harmonized data from nearly 57,000 individuals from 32 countries in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa, focusing on Blastocyst and investigate whether its presence influences the effects of different food products on the cardiometabolic health of individuals.

“We have found that Blastocyse“The presence and abundance varied by region and were influenced by diet,” Nguyen said.

Dietary influence and historical presence

Blastocyst was associated with intake of certain foods and overall dietary patterns favoring healthier plant-based and minimally processed foods. Additionally, Blastocyst was rarely found in newborns, suggesting it is likely acquired later in life. The condition has even been found in feces as early as 595 AD, suggesting it is not strictly a marker for a more modern microbiome configuration.

It is striking that higher Blastocyst levels were linked to better short-term markers of cardiometabolic health. For example, the team observed more favorable blood sugar and lipid profiles in individuals with higher Blastocyst levels, suggesting a potential positive effect on cardiometabolic health, beyond the effect of a healthy diet alone. Lower levels of Blastocyst were associated with long-term effects such as obesity.

Also in adults who participated in a six-month study of personalized dietary interventions, improved diet quality was associated with subsequent increases in Blastocyst prevalence and abundance.

“Overall, our findings suggest a potentially beneficial modulatory role for Blastocystwhich may help explain individual responses to diet and differences in digestive health depending on the presence and level of Blastocyst“, Nguyen said. “Our results also indicate that Blastocyst may not be a parasite with harmful effects on the host, but rather a beneficial component of the human gut microbiome.”

Additional studies are needed to determine whether increasing Blastocyst levels represent a viable strategy for disease prevention, just as there is a growing body of research investigating the effects of modulating gut bacteria to ward off a range of medical conditions.

Reference: “Intestinal Blastocystis is linked to healthier diets and better cardiometabolic outcomes in 56,989 individuals from 32 countries” by Elisa Piperni, Long H. Nguyen, Paolo Manghi, Hanseul Kim, Edoardo Pasolli, Sergio Andreu-Sánchez, Alberto Arrè, Kate M. Bermingham, Aitor Blanco-Míguez, Serena Manara, Mireia Valles-Colomer, Elco Bakker, Fabio Busonero, Richard Davies, Edoardo Fiorillo, Francesca Giordano, George Hadjigeorgiou, Emily R. Leeming, Monia Lobina, Marco Masala, Andrea Maschio, Lauren J. McIver, Mauro Pala, Maristella Pitzalis, Jonathan Wolf, Jingyuan Fu, Alexandra Zhernakova, Simone M. Cacciò, Francesco Cucca, Sarah E. Berry, Danilo Ercolini, Andrew T. Chan, Curtis Huttenhower, Tim D. Spector, Nicola Segata, and Francesco Asnicar, July 8, 2024, Cell.
DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2024.06.018

This work was supported by Zoe Ltd. and TwinsUK, which is funded by the Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council, Versus Arthritis, European Union Horizon 2020, Chronic Disease Research Foundation (CDRF), the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Network (CRN) and the Biomedical Research Centre based at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in partnership with King’s College London. Additional funding information is available within the publication.

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