The bacteria Akkermansia
The increased scientific interest in the intestinal flora has led to a variety of advances. Using new methods and more sophisticated measuring instruments, researchers have begun to map the properties and functions of specific microbes. It is now possible to examine microbial ecosystems at a molecular level. Several new species have been discovered in the gastrointestinal tract due to these technological innovations.
The bacterium Akkermansia muciniphila was isolated in 2004. It is named after the Dutch researcher Antoon Akkermans, which is meant as a tribute to his contribution to the science of microbiological ecology. "Muciniphila" is Latin and means "mucin lover". This is because the bacterium feeds on gastric mucins in the intestinal mucosa. Its degradation of gastric mucins leads to beneficial effects in the intestinal flora ecosystem and via feed-back mechanigsms stimulate mucin production in the gut mucosa.
Function and properties
Akkermansia occurs in the intestinal flora of all mammals. It accounts for about 1-4 percent of the total amount of bacteria in the colon.5 Its primary function is anti-inflammatory. Akkermansia is one of the bacteria that has developed an ecological niche in the intestinal mucosa. The breakdown of gastric mucins produces, among other things, propionic acid, which stimulates the body's immune system.
In addition, evolution has evoked a mutual symbiosis between the bacteria in the intestinal flora. Thus, Akkermansia contributes to the bacterial diversity of the intestinal flora by producing propionic and butyric acid, substances which in turn are broken down by other microorganisms.
Research shows that the bacterial diversity in the intestinal flora is generally lower in people who are overweight. Obesity is also associated with a reduced incidence of the bacterium Akkermansia.9 A comparative study of the intestinal flora in normal and obese children has confirmed the same results. The incidence of Akkermansia was lower in the group of children who were categorized as overweight.11 This is also the case in pregnant women who have weight problems. Thus, weight gain in pregnant women seems to be affected by the bacterial composition of the intestinal flora. Pregnant women who are overweight supply the fetus with too much energy, which in other words can lead to hereditary obesity.
Obesity is one of the many factors that increase the risk of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the most common endocrine disease in the world. Research shows that patients suffering from diabetes have an imbalance in the intestinal ecosystem, a condition called dysbiosis.13 Therefore, measures aimed at restoring the balance of the intestinal flora may, above all, have a long-term potential to counteract diseases such as diabetes.
Akkermansia has, as previously mentioned, an anti-inflammatory function. Therefore, it is perhaps unsurprising that a low incidence of Akkermansia can be observed in patients with inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and appendicitis.14 Research has also shown that the risk of microscopic colitis can potentially be reduced via positive changes in intestinal flora.15 Akkermansia has also been shown to strengthen the intestinal barrier function, which is beneficial in problems such as leaky gut.
An extremely low incidence of Akkermansia has also been documented in smokers.
Akkermansia is a bacterium that effectively breaks down carbohydrates. It synthesizes all the important amino acids as well as several vitamins. Its metabolism of gastric mucins stimulate mucuous production. Akkermansia produces substances such as butyric acid and propionic acid, which in turn feed other important bacteria and stimulate the immune system. Propionic acid also has anti-inflammatory properties.
It is sometimes said that the body is our temple. The intestinal mucosa is a barrier against harmful bacteria. Akkermansia is like a guard at the wall that surrounds the temple. If its number decreases, then we are less equipped for future invasions.