Our bodies are complex, highly organised systems of individual cells which collaborate to accomplish the activities necessary for life. Our concept of what health is evolves in tandem with discoveries about the human body that enable us to achieve and optimise physical fitness. It is our duty to understand our bodies, to improve our well-being and secure a rewarding present and future.
In 2004, the scientists Muriel Derrien and Willem de Vos published a study about Akkermansia muciniphila (A. muciniphila), thereby triggering a domino effect of considerable research that continues to this very day. However, to fully understand this incredible organism, we must learn more about bacteria in general (A. muciniphila is a bacterium). Bacteria, single-celled organisms, are found in water, soil and food, and both on the inside and outside of living things such as humans, making them crucial participants not only in the Earth’s ecosystems but also in our own internal processes.
So, what is Akkermansia muciniphila?
A. muciniphila is a self-sufficient bacterium that resides within the mucus layer of our gut lining. It is the only bacterium belonging to the phylum Verrucomicrobia that is found in the gut. Four percent of our gut bacteria are the A. muciniphila species, and its presence and level vary depending on multiple factors like health status, aging etc. A. muciniphila levels decrease in certain disease states like irritable bowel disease and obesity, conditions that are becoming more common due to modern lifestyles.
How it Works
Unlike other microorganisms in the human digestive tract, A. muciniphila does not rely on the diet of the host, giving it an ecological advantage. This bacterium thrives in what is known as the outer mucus layer (lining the digestive tract), while the inner layer lining the gut keeps microorganisms away and prevents inflammation. The lining of the gut (for instance, the lining of the large intestine) and of our lungs is covered in a gel that consists of a protein called mucin. Mucin is also found in body fluids such as saliva.
A. muciniphila is strongly dependent on mucin for energy, as revealed by its name – the term Akkermansia stems from the name of the microbial ecologist Antoon D.L. Akkermans, while muciniphila translates to 'preferring mucin'. As a result, A. muciniphila can even grow when no nutrients are available in our guts by utilising our mucin reserves, and this is what gives it an ecological advantage.
How Akkermansia muciniphila Enhances Gut Health
We share a symbiotic relationship with the A. muciniphila bacterium in our gut. When A. muciniphila feeds off the mucin in our guts, the bacterium stimulates our cells to produce more mucin, helping modulate our immune systems.
So, how does all this work?
A. muciniphila breaks down mucins and transforms them into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) like acetate. In the human intestines, bacterial species like Faecalibacterium feed on acetate. A. muciniphila boosts cell growth and generates SCFAs to feed other microorganisms, scientists refer to this as 'cross-feeding' - the transfer of nutrients between cells. As mentioned earlier, those with irritable bowel syndrome, as well as other chronic disorders such as obesity and type II diabetes, have a lower level of A. muciniphila in their gut. Even though scientists know very little about A. muciniphila as it was only recently discovered, but it is vital for our gut health because of its ability to regulate the thickness of intestinal mucus.
Foods that Can Increase the Level of Gut Akkermansia muciniphila
Research shows that the best foods that support A. muciniphila growth are:
Polyphenol-rich foods (foods containing antioxidants), such as:
- • Apples
- • Beans
- • Berries
- • Cloves
- • Grapes
- • Nuts
- • Olives
Prebiotic fibre-rich foods, such as: