New Research Finds That Young and Middle-Aged Adults with Prediabetes Have Altered Gut Microbiome Composition

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By Linsey Maughan

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A study led by Illinois Institute of Technology researcher and alumna Xuhuiqun “Sissi” Zhang (Ph.D. FDSN ’20) has found that young and middle-aged adults with prediabetes have an altered gut microbiome composition, which is associated with reduced concentrations of select bioactive microbial metabolites and impaired metabolic health. Gut health has become an increasingly important topic as researchers gain a deeper understanding of the role of gut health in overall health; microbiomes located in the gut play a key role in the development, or not, of diseases.

Zhang, who works as a research scientist at Illinois Tech’s Center for Nutrition Research, published a paper on her team’s findings in the journal Nutrients in 2020 titled “Functional Deficits in Gut Microbiome of Young and Middle-Aged Adults with Prediabetes Apparent in Metabolizing Bioactive (Poly)phenols.” Zhang has been mentored by food science and nutrition faculty members including Professor Britt Burton-Freeman and Associate Professor Indika Edirisinghe, who were both involved in this study.

“The gut microbiota plays a significant role in metabolizing dietary (poly)phenols to absorbable metabolites that exert biological effects, influencing metabolic health,” Zhang says. “Individuals with Type 2 diabetes and prediabetes have altered gut microbiome composition and inferred function; however, tests of actual function are limited. We aimed to understand if adults with prediabetes have specific gut microbiota profiles that may affect the [ability] to metabolize bioactive (poly)phenols, [which are naturally occurring organic compounds], and [whether their gut microbiota profiles correlate] with impaired metabolic biomarkers.”

The researchers used a process called whole genome shotgun metagenomic sequencing to characterize the gut microbiome composition of young and middle-aged adults with prediabetes and insulin-resistance, as well as metabolically healthy study participants. They measured fasting glucose and insulin, fasting lipids profile, blood pressure, and body composition of 36 participants to assess their metabolic health status. Targeted quantitative metabolomic analysis of blood and urine samples collected over 24 hours were used to examine microbial (poly)phenolic metabolites in response to study participants’ consumption of a (poly)phenol-rich red raspberry test drink. 

Zhang says that adults with prediabetes have been found to have an altered gut microbiome composition, with its most significant features being enriched Ruminococcus gnavus, a proinflammatory bacterial species associated with Crohn’s disease. They also found evidence of depleted Bifidobacterium bifidum, a common probiotic species that helps maintain gut homeostasis. Individuals with prediabetes also have impaired gut microbiome function, which hinders their ability to metabolize and utilize the bioactive (poly)phenolic metabolites, such as urolithins and caffeic acids, which have been associated with improvements in metabolic health.

Zhang and her colleagues now have plans to build upon this research.

“In the next step, we would like to explore if nutritional strategy would improve cardio-metabolic health through shaping the gut microbiome,” she says.

Photo: Illinois Institute of Technology researcher Xuhuiqun “Sissi” Zhang