BARI, Italy, Sept. 18 (UPI) -- In their search for foods that encourage the growth of good bacteria in the gut, researchers found that eating β-glucan-enriched pasta increased populations of the bacteria -- as well as reduced levels of LDL, or bad, cholesterol.
β-glucans, or beta glucans, are healthy sugars found in the cell walls of certain microbes and in the bran of cereal grains such as oats and barley. Already used in the treatment of diabetes, cancer and high cholesterol, the sugars are also known to have a positive effect on the immune system.
"These results highlight the influence of fibers and of the Mediterranean diet on gut microbiota, and indirectly on human health," said Dr. Maria De Angelis, a professor at the University of Bari Aldo Moro, in a press release.
Researchers took blood and fecal samples from study participants before putting them on a two-month diet that included a daily, 100-gram serving of pasta made from a mixture of 75 percent durum wheat flour and 25 percent whole grain barley flour that contained three grams of barley β-glucans.
When comparing the pre-study samples with those taken at the end of two months, researchers found participants had noticeably higher levels of Lactobacilli, and lower levels of Enterobacteriaceae and other non-essential bacteria, in their guts.
In addition to the bacterial changes, the researchers found increases in certain short chain fatty acids, 2-methyl-propanoic, acetic, butyric, and propionic acids, bacterial metabolites, which is indicative of anti-inflammatory activity in the body. The participants' average LDL cholesterol also dropped from 107.4 to 93.8 mg per deciliter.
De Angelis pegged the supplementary beta glucons' benefit to an overall benefit seen in the Mediterranean diet, which includes healthy amounts of whole grains as a staple, and has been shown to lower the risk of stroke, heart attack and, possibly, breast cancer.
The study is published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology.