Love milk, yogurt, pizza, and other irresistible dairy products? Hate having to take lactase pills or face suffering in the bathroom every time after you eat or drink them? You’re not alone. In fact, it is estimated that around 75% of the entire human population has difficulty absorbing lactose, or the sugar found in milk and dairy products. However, a recent revelation has suggested a way to manipulate the human gut microbiome and circumvent this issue.
In a study conducted by Dr. Andrea Azcarate-Peril, an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the School of Medicine at UNC Chapel Hill, it was shown that highly purified (>95%) galactooligosaccharides could indeed improve or often eliminate the indigestion (nausea, cramps, bloating, etc.) felt by lactose-intolerant subjects. To investigate this finding, Azcarate-Peril and her team conducted the following experimentation.
Human subjects were administered the high-purity short-chain GOS, designated as “RP-G28”, and stool samples were collected at three separate times: pretreatment (day 0), post-treatment (day 36), and after the GOS feeding was halted and the subject was encouraged to consume dairy products (day 66). To analyze changes within the fecal microbiome, scientists used 16s rRNA amplicon pyrosequencing and high-throughput quantitative PCR. Samples from day 36 saw an increase in bifidobacterial populations in 27 out of the 30 subjects (90%). This confirmed that GOS resulted in a bifidogenic response in vivo. Additionally, GOS induced a significant increase in the relative amount of lactose-fermenting Facecalibacterium and Lactobacillus. Then, when dairy was introduced into the subjects’ diets (day 36 to day 66), lactose-fermenting Roseburia species presence increased. In conclusion, the results of Azcarate-Peril’s work indicate that a GOS diet can cause a definitive change in the fecal microbiome of a lactose-intolerant individual, increasing concentrations of a lactose-metabolizing bacteria. The change discovered has been correlated with improved lactose tolerance in patients at the clinical level.
We might be on the verge of helping millions upon millions of people who are lactose malabsorbers! As an individual who struggles with lactose intolerance, this is fantastic news and I cannot wait for more research to be conducted in this domain. What other gastrointestinal issues could we solve by affecting the human gut microbiome? Are we on the road to curing inflammatory bowl disease (primarily ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease)?