Gut research is on a journey, and is somewhere between the identification of bacteria and their effects on wellbeing. Funding from Lantmännen Research Foundation is helping find answers in this field.

Consumption of grain fibre has a strong link to health, with low consumption of wholegrains being the biggest factor globally in cardiovascular disease and diabetes. But exactly how wholegrains and fibre affect our health is something that we and others are exploring. We have some answers. We know that when dietary fibre reaches the large intestine, it can become available as a substrate for beneficial gut bacteria, so the fibre can act as a prebiotic.

... when dietary fibre reaches the large intestine, it can become available as a substrate for beneficial gut bacteria, so the fibre can act as a prebiotic.

We know that bacteria in the large intestine produce metabolites, as short- chain fatty acids, a kind of postbiotics. This is something that a research group at Örebro University has studied in several projects funded by our foundation. One of the projects has shown that wheat bran can increase the amount of butyric acid produced in the large intestine, which is associated with health effects, and a recently completed project studied the effect of butyric acid on glucose response and intestinal permeability in type 2 diabetics. Another project studied how butyric acid can affect intestinal permeability and stress resistance in healthy people, using a unique in-vivo model. The University of Eastern Finland is running a project that aims to study metabolites, substances produced by gut bacteria when they ferment fibre, in pig organs after the consumption of wholegrain rye and wheat. We are now waiting to see the results of these studies in scientific journals. The concepts of pre-, pro- and postbiotics are hot topics. Prebiotics are fibres that encourage the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Probiotics are bacteria with health-promoting effects that are ingested through food or as supplements. Postbiotics, a more recent term, are fermentation products or metabolites formed by bacteria in the large intestine, substances that have a positive health effect in themselves. The use of these terms helps us better understand the bacterial machinery of our gut.

In the future, research may advise you what to eat based on your gut flora’s composition...

In the future, research may advise you what to eat based on your gut flora’s composition and how you do or do not benefit from different foods. Understanding the role of diet on, and its synergy with, gut bacteria and the effect of their metabolites on our body can pave the way towards personal solutions, ones that are good for your health and your tastebuds. While we wait for more detailed advice, we can follow the new Nordic Nutrition Recommendations – eat at least 90 grams of wholegrains per day. The science is on this clear.

Text: Lovisa Martin Marais, Lantmännen R&D