Agave fiber found to improve gut health, help maintain healthy weight

Supplementing with agave extract can lead to better gut health and even weight loss, claim the researchers behind a new study. Their findings, which have been published in Nutrients, suggested that agavins—a type of indigestible sugar derived from the agave plant—can balance out and diversify gut microbiota.

For the purposes of their study, the researchers divided 42 lab mice into two groups and fed each one a different diet: the control group was given a standard lab mouse diet, and the other group was put on a high-fat diet. After five weeks have passed, the overweight mice from the second batch were further categorized into three groups. While the mice from the first group were placed on the standard diet, the two groups continued their high-fat diets, though with the inclusion of either agavin or oligofructose supplements. This continued for five more weeks.

By the end of the experiment, the researchers assessed the effects of the mice’s diets by sampling microbiota from their ceca, the pouches connected to the junctions of their large and small intestines. They found that the microbiota of the high-fat-diet mice significantly decreased in diversity, while the Firmicutes-to-Bacteroidetes ratio increased. A higher percentage of Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes is typically associated with weight gain, which the researchers observed among the high-fat diet mice. In addition, these mice displayed lower levels of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA).

These reversed when the mice shifted to the standard diet. The same effect occurred in the mice who continued the high-fat diets that were supplemented with agavins or oligofructose, with the microbiota diversity and SCFA levels increasing, and Firmicutes-to-Bacteroidetes ratio normalizing.

Moreover, the researchers noticed that agavin supplementation encouraged the growth of Kiebsella and Citrobacter, two members of the Enterobacteriaceae family of bacteria. An increase in Enterobacteriaceae has been linked to weight loss.

“Diet supplementation of agavins restored microbiota diversity depleted by a high-fat diet, reduced the Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes ratio, enriched members of the Enterobacteriaceae, and increased the SCFA concentration in cecum, which could induce an accelerated weight loss in mice,” the researchers wrote.

They concluded with: “These results could provide novel insight to develop a new supplementary strategy using agavins to modulate gut microbiota in overweight or obese individuals, which might have positive consequences on body weight loss.” (Related: Can you REALLY lose weight if you go on a healthy diet? A fecal sample may hold the answer)

Gut health, weight loss, and agave

A healthy human gut is home to trillions of helpful bacteria belonging to hundreds of species. These bacteria — known collectively as “gut microbiota” — provide their own set of benefits that keep us healthy and happy. While some break down food to extract nutrients and transform them into important compounds, others inhibit dietary fat absorption to add to the amount of fat that exits our bodies with our stool. Though we have yet to identify the exact role of each different bacterial species, it’s safe to say that the greater the number and diversity of our gut bacteria, the better it is for us as a whole.

Agave comes into the picture by being a good source of inulin, a soluble plant fiber that serves as an energy store and temperature regulator for certain types of plants. Humans have a lot to gain from inulin since it’s known to slow down digestion, remove cholesterol from the digestive tract, and make us feel full more often. All of these actions make inulin an effective tool for weight loss and weight management.

More than that, however, is the fact that inulin stimulates the growth of good gut bacteria — the good gut bacteria that can help us lose weight. So it’s no wonder that agave had such a positive effect on the mice in the study.

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