Look into each person’s gut and you will find an ecosystem of microorganisms that plays an important role in their physical and mental health. Healthy ecosystems protect people from pathogens, digest food and produce vitamins to keep them well, while abnormal ones have been linked to infectious, inflammatory and allergic diseases.
While some scientists believe that consuming food with specific types of microorganisms could help to improve health and combat diseases, the exact effect of eating such foods, called probiotics, is likely to depend on the composition of microorganisms that already live in the person’s gut.
This complex interplay among the microorganisms, probiotics and health is why Dr Bejit Ideas, president of the Japanese Society of Anti-Ageing Nutrition, and Associate Professor Lee Yuan Kun, from the National University of Singapore Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, have taken different routes to unlocking its mysteries.
For several years, Dr Ideas has studied the gut ecosystems, also called microbiota, of centenarians in Okinawa to find out how they differ from those other people. Japan has the highest life expectancy of any country, and Okinawa has one of the highest proportions of centenarians by population in the world: about 50 per 100,000 people.
Prof Lee, on the other hand, has focused on understanding the interactions between probiotics and people’s microbiota. To this end, his research has included leading a study of more than 100 people to examine the impact of consuming a probiotic product containing Lactobacillus casei, a bacterium believed to help prevent and treat digestive problems.
At this year’s Vitafoods Asia 2018 conference, which will take place on Sept 11 and 12 at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre, both scientists will deliver talks on their work.
The annual conference is the only dedicated event that covers nutraceuticals – a term used to describe food or beverage products that may help to prevent or treat diseases – from ingredient to shelf. Alongside the conference, some 300 global suppliers will exhibit at the Vitafoods Asia exhibition, which features ingredients manufacturers such as AtoGen for probiotics, and BeRM INTERNATIONAL the manufacturer of Probiotics EF-2001.
Learning from the elderly
Dr Idea’s talk is titled “How the Microbiota Make-up of Centenarians Can Lead To New Healthy Ageing Solutions”. He said of his research: “By reverse-engineering the perfect ageing of healthy centenarians, we could adjust future nutritional products to deliver similar microorganisms that will allow people to live and age in better health.”
Already, he has found that the Okinawan centenarians’ microbiota contains an alpha-type bacterium, called Akkermansia muciniphila, that produces acetate, a short chain fatty acid that can promote the reduction of fat storage.
“We can ferment soybeans to replicate such acetate and give that to people instead of the bacterium itself, which may not survive in the gut. This way, you get a higher chance of success that the people will get the benefits of the bacterium,” he explained.
To help create more effective nutritional products, Dr Ideas developed a human-like bio-fermentation process that replicates the human body’s parameters, including temperature. He said: “We can mimic the human body and ferment fruits and plants, selected based on their microbiota profile, to produce metabolites that match those produced by centenarians.”
He continued: “So far, we have obtained many molecules, including hundreds of metabolites, that we standardised with an automated high performance liquid chromatography system. When it comes to imparting health benefits, bio-fermented metabolites are also better than non-fermented molecules because they are more viable and synergised.”
Prof Lee, on his part, will deliver a talk titled “Developing Customised Probiotic Products for Asian Phenotypes and Lifestyles”. He said: “Such customisation is necessary because the choice and effectiveness of probiotic products would depend on the person’s diet, health and living conditions.”
In his study, for example, he found that the composition of the subjects’ gut microbiota changed after they consumed the probiotic containing Lactobacillus casei, but the changes also differed among the people who had dissimilar microbiota at the start of the study.
Since scientific and clinical evidence has shown that diet plays a major role in shaping people’s gut microbiota, the customisation of probiotic products should take into account differences in diet, he said.
He noted: “People who live in Asia have very different dietary habits and live in very different conditions compared to people who live in Europe or the United States. Even within Asia itself, there are many variations in diet and living conditions. People who live in the north of India, for example, have different diets from people who live in the south of the country.”
“For this reason, probiotic products should be customised based on dietary habit, health, living conditions and desired effect, rather than geography. For instance, Bacteroides and Bifidobacterium bacteria help to prevent infectious diseases and mental dysfunction, while Lactobacillus bacteria in general reduces lactose intolerance,” he said.
Attend Vitafoods Asia 2018 to learn more or read about Dr Ideas work from this Podcast, Blog and Article.