Akkermansia: Your Microbiome’s Metabolic Superhero

Akkermansia

Akkermansia muciniphila is a type of bacteria that resides in the gut microbiota, specifically in the mucus layer of the intestines.

This bacterium has gained significant attention in recent years due to its potential role in glucose metabolism and metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes.

To the average lay person who suddenly finds themselves dealing with gallbladder pain, it may be hard to connect the dots between a healthy gut microbiome and what’s going on with your gallbladder. As in most cases, it comes down to our favorite catchphrase: “It’s all about the bile.”

When your body pushes bile out of your gallbladder and into your small intestine, its primary function there is to ‘soak into’ and help break down your food, especially dietary fats. But as that bile-infused food makes its way through your guts, your bile also interacts with the bacteria living in your intestines!

So… is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Well, as with many things in life, the answer to whether your ‘bile + bacteria’ partnership is promoting or degrading your health is… it depends!

Gut microbiota play a role in modifying bile, leading to the formation of secondary bile acids. These modified bile acids can affect your metabolism and signaling pathways.

Some secondary bile acids, such as ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), may have protective effects against liver diseases and gallstone formation.

However, other secondary bile acids, such as such as lithocholic acid (LCA), can activate the expression of genes related to inflammation. And if you’ve been reading our website for awhile, you probably recognized the word ‘litho’ and wondered if this secondary bile acid plays a role in the formation of stones. You’d be right! Elevated levels of LCA is a risk factor for the development of gallstones, and has also been linked to hepatotoxicity (i.e., liver damage).

So the question isn’t whether your bile should interact with your gut microbiota. The question is how do you want it to interact, and what can you do create the healthiest combination of bile and gut flora?

If you want to cultivate the right gut flora for gallbladder health, here are some facts you need to know:

  • Healthy bacteria in the gut influences the solubility of cholesterol in bile, reducing the likelihood of cholesterol crystallization and gallstone development.
  • Having healthy microbiota also creates healthy bile acid metabolism. In other words, the type of bacteria living in your gut determines the type of secondary bile acids that develop in your intestines – which will then determine how efficiently you digest food and move waste out of your body.
  • A healthy balance of primary and secondary bile acid, and the right secondary bile acids, mean your nutrients are digested quickly and absorbed well, while toxins are quickly eliminated.
  • On the other hand, unhealthy amounts and types of secondary bile acid can result in slow transit time of food through your intestines, which by extension can damage your intestines, lead to gut permeability, and trigger inflammation.
  • A healthy gut barrier prevents harmful substances from permeating your intestines and entering the bloodstream. Akkermansia muciniphila has been shown to maintain the integrity of the gut barrier, reducing inflammation in the body, supporting liver health and healthy bile acid metabolism.
  • Akkermansia muciniphila has also been shown to play a role in reducing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. (1)
  • And perhaps the most exciting news of all for gallbladder patients – a recent study demonstrated that supplementing with Akkermansia and quercetin together transformed thick, sludgy, hydrophobic bile (the kind that leads to gallstones and gallbladder disease) into thin, water-soluble, healthy bile! (2)

From this information, it should be clear that supplementing with Akkermansia is a great idea for anyone looking to directly support their liver and gallbladder health.

 

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But the good news about Akkermansia doesn’t stop there – in fact, the bulk of the research done on this bacterial superhero has focused on its role in increasing insulin sensitivity, reducing metabolic syndrome and risk factors for type 2 diabetes.

Here are some of the ways Akkermansia muciniphila may be related to glucose metabolism (you’ll notice quite a lot of overlap with conditions that promote healthy bile, liver and gallbladder health, which we just outlined above).

 

The quick version …

Mucus Layer Integrity
Research shows that Akkermansia muciniphila maintains the integrity of the mucus layer that lines the intestinal tract. A healthy mucus layer is essential for preventing the leakage of harmful substances from the gut into the bloodstream. Maintaining this barrier function can indirectly influence glucose metabolism by preventing inflammation and metabolic endotoxemia, which are linked to insulin resistance.

Anti-Inflammatory Effects
Chronic low-grade inflammation is associated with insulin resistance and impaired glucose metabolism. By reducing inflammation, Akkermansia muciniphila contributes to improved glucose tolerance.

Metabolic Regulation
Several reports indicate that supplementation with Akkermansia muciniphila, as well as certain food ingredients such as polyphenols which promote Akkermansia growth, can lead to improved glucose metabolism, lipid metabolism, and intestinal immunity. It modulates the gut-brain axis and influences hormones and signaling pathways related to appetite, energy expenditure, and glucose regulation. (3)

Butyrate Production
Akkermansia muciniphila can produce short-chain fatty acids, including butyrate. Butyrate is known to have positive effects on glucose metabolism by promoting the release of hormones that regulate blood sugar and improving insulin sensitivity.

Gut Barrier Function
By promoting the production of mucins, the proteins that form the mucus layer of the intestines, Akkermansia is crucial to a healthy gut barrier. A well-functioning gut barrier reduces inflammation and metabolic disturbances. (4)

 

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The deep-dive version …

The Role of Akkermansia in Combatting Inflammation
Akkermansia plays a significant role in controlling inflammation, which is essential for metabolic health. As the name ‘muciniphila’ suggests (the word literally means ‘mucin lovers’), Akkermansia bacteria love to consume mucins in the intestines.  Mucins are proteins that are ‘glycosylated’ – meaning they have a carbohydrate molecule attached to the protein through an enzymatic process. The resulting protein-carbohydrate fusion produces a slimy mucus that serves as a protective barrier around the insides of your intestines, keeping toxins and pathogens from passing through the intestine wall and into the body. (5) Akkermansia bacteria live inside the mucin layers and use them as an energy source, essentially eating the glycosylated proteins and transforming them into short-chain fatty acids.

The presence of these short-chain fatty acids in turn regulates fat metabolism by increasing fat burning and decreasing fat storage. They also protect against colon cancer, improve blood sugar management, and support a healthy immune system. Perhaps most interestingly, however: it’s the presence of these short-chain fatty acids – the byproduct of Akkermansia eating mucins – that actually stimulates the body to produce more protective mucins! In other words, when you have sufficient levels of Akkermansia in your intestines, the bacteria stimulate your body to produce a healthy feedback loop (no pun intended). But without enough Akkermansia there to gobble up your mucins, your body “slacks on the job” and doesn’t keep producing enough mucins to adequately protect your intestinal lining. Fascinating, right?

The Microbiome–Gut–Brain Axis
Akkermansia support our health in yet another chain reaction: the effect of a healthy microbiome on our moods. GABA, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin are neurotransmitters that are synthesized in our intestines – and therefore, compromised gut health can also mean compromised mental health. And by supporting optimal gut functioning, Akkermansia in turn could support optimal mood regulation and cognition. (6) When we feel more anxious, stressed and depressed, our ability to prioritize fitness can also decline. Conversely, when our moods are stable and we feel mentally healthy, it’s much easier to make positive choices for our physical health. It’s no wonder, then, that researchers are investigating the therapeutic role Akkermansia can play in promoting physical, emotional and mental health through the gut-brain axis.

Metabolism and Appetite
The gut plays a pivotal role in regulating metabolic health through the synthesis of specific metabolites, notably butyrate. Certain cornerstone bacterial strains like Akkermansia have the capacity to enhance butyrate production, consequently prompting the secretion of GLP-1 and PYY by the host. These gut-secreted hormones are creating headlines in recent months for their regulatory roles in metabolism, energy equilibrium, appetite control and glucose stability. Reintroducing bacterial strains known for their ability to perform these critical functions within the gut microbiome holds promise for naturally enhancing metabolic health. (7)

With so many benefits for your health, why not give this beneficial bacteria a boost? Grab your Akkermansia today – and for maximum benefit, we recommend taking it along with a polyphenol such as quercetin.

 

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References:

(1) Gut Akkermansia muciniphila ameliorates metabolic dysfunction-associated fatty liver disease by regulating the metabolism of L-aspartate via gut-liver axis. Lipid Biology and Metabolic Disease Research Group, School of Health and Biomedical Sciences, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia (PubMed)

(2) Juárez-Fernández M, Porras D, Petrov P, Román-Sagüillo S, García-Mediavilla MV, Soluyanova P, Martínez-Flórez S, González-Gallego J, Nistal E, Jover R, et al. The Synbiotic Combination of Akkermansia muciniphila and Quercetin Ameliorates Early Obesity and NAFLD through Gut Microbiota Reshaping and Bile Acid Metabolism Modulation. Antioxidants. 2021; 10(12):2001. (MPDI)

(3) Naito, Yuji et al. “A next-generation beneficial microbe: Akkermansia muciniphila.” Journal of clinical biochemistry and nutrition vol. 63,1 (2018): 33-35. (NCBI)

(4) Zhou, Kequan. “Strategies to promote abundance of Akkermansia muciniphila, an emerging probiotics in the gut, evidence from dietary intervention studies.” Journal of functional foods vol. 33 (2017): 194-201. (PubMed)

(5) Grondin, Jensine A et al. “Mucins in Intestinal Mucosal Defense and Inflammation: Learning From Clinical and Experimental Studies.” Frontiers in immunology vol. 11 2054. 4 Sep. 2020 (PubMed)

(6) Xu, Ruiling et al. “The role of the probiotic Akkermansia muciniphila in brain functions: insights underpinning therapeutic potential.” Critical reviews in microbiology vol. 49,2 (2023): 151-176. (PubMed)

(7) Everard, Amandine, and Patrice D Cani. “Gut microbiota and GLP-1.” Reviews in endocrine & metabolic disorders vol. 15,3 (2014): 189-96. (PubMed)