Plant-Based Diet Reduces Food-Bourne Infection Risk in Mice

An eating plan plentiful in fruits and vegetables increased the resistance of mice to the intestinal pathogen, E. coli.

Jan. 31, 2020
By Mary West

Food-borne ill­nesses, such as those due to a cer­tain strain of Escherichia coli (E. coli), cause debil­i­tat­ing and poten­tially deadly infec­tions through­out the world every year.

A recent study found a plant-based diet reduced the risk of the mal­adies in mice. While it is too soon to apply the results to humans, the inves­ti­ga­tion adds to the body of evi­dence that sug­gests eat­ing a diet rich in fruits, veg­eta­bles and whole grains is ben­e­fi­cial for health.

Plant-rich diets are high in pectin, a gel-like sub­stance found in many fruits and veg­eta­bles. Pectin is digested by the gut micro­biota into galac­tur­onic acid, which we find can inhibit the vir­u­lence of EHEC.- Vanessa Sperandio, pro­fes­sor of micro­bi­ol­ogy at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center

The strain of E. coli, called EHEC, is cur­rently under inves­ti­ga­tion in regard to a gas­troin­testi­nal infec­tion out­break asso­ci­ated with romaine let­tuce, reported authors of the research at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. EHEC causes dan­ger­ous inflam­ma­tion in the colon that man­i­fests in vom­it­ing and bloody diar­rhea.

There has been a lot of hearsay about whether a plant-based diet is bet­ter for intesti­nal health than a typ­i­cal Western diet, which is higher in oils and pro­tein but rel­a­tively low in fruits and veg­eta­bles,” researcher Vanessa Sperandio, pro­fes­sor of micro­bi­ol­ogy and bio­chem­istry, said in a press release. So we decided to test it.”

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Plant-rich diets are high in pectin, a gel-like sub­stance found in many fruits and veg­eta­bles,” she added. Pectin is digested by the gut micro­biota into galac­tur­onic acid, which we find can inhibit the vir­u­lence of EHEC.”

Sperandio explained that intesti­nal pathogens such as EHEC try to estab­lish a foothold among the ben­e­fi­cial bac­te­ria that reside there. The com­mu­nity of microbes in the gut includes harm­less vari­eties of E. coli as well as other strains, many of which aid diges­tion and serve as a bar­rier to infec­tion-caus­ing bac­te­ria. EHEC breaks through the bar­rier by secret­ing T3SS, a sub­stance that trig­gers inflam­ma­tion and pro­duces symp­toms of the infec­tion.

According to Sperandio, the study dis­cov­ered that the ben­e­fi­cial E. coli strains use dif­fer­ent sug­ars for food than the path­o­genic ones such as EHEC. Moreover, another strain of ben­e­fi­cial gut bac­te­ria breaks down the pectin in fruits and veg­eta­bles to form the sugar galac­tur­onic acid.

Once this acid gets low, EHEC and other gut pathogens increase the secre­tion of T3SS, thus becom­ing more vir­u­lent. Because reg­u­larly eat­ing foods con­tain­ing pectin helps main­tain lev­els of galac­tur­onic acid, the gel-like sub­stance sup­presses the increased vir­u­lence.

The researchers observed that pectin’s effects led to improved resis­tance to EHEC. Compared to mice fed reg­u­lar food, those on the pectin-enriched food had a much lower inci­dence of becom­ing ill from the pathogen. In addi­tion, mice on the diet with pectin had 10,000 bac­te­ria in the cecum, while those on the reg­u­lar diet had one mil­lion bac­te­ria in this area, Sperandio noted.

However, fur­ther research is needed before it is proven that eat­ing more fruits and veg­eta­bles is likely to reduce the risk of a food-borne infec­tion like EHEC, Sperandio told Olive Oil Times.

At this point, it would be jump­ing to con­clu­sions,” she said. I’d rather be care­ful here, given the com­plex­ity of pathogen-host asso­ci­a­tions and the fact that our stud­ies are in mice. Therefore, it’s a bit early to trans­late these find­ings to the human diet.”

However, the authors did con­clude that dietary sugar avail­abil­ity, such as the galac­tur­onic acid cre­ated from pectin, can influ­ence the rela­tion­ship between the bac­te­r­ial com­mu­nity in the gut and intesti­nal pathogens, along with dis­ease out­comes.

The study was pub­lished in Nature Microbiology.





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