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Research Project Investigates How to Fix Bugs in People’s Guts with Pulses (PCN Summer 2015) JUL 2 2015 | Consumers and Producers | Pulse Crop News

This article appeared in the Summer 2015 issue of Pulse Crop News.

The Alberta Pulse Growers have long been funding research that examines the positive effects that eating pulses has on blood sugar regulation.

Resistant starches are slowly digested preventing spikes of blood sugars that diabetics struggle to control. But there are also other ways that pulses help protect against the development of obesity and diabetes.

Human intestines are teeming with a diverse and abundant population of microbes. Most of the time these microbes promote health, but it has recently been shown that if this population becomes unbalanced, it can contribute to the development of diseases such as obesity and diabetes. When we eat an unhealthy diet, we are pushing our microbial populations in the wrong direction. Dr. Ben Willing, a Canada Research Chair in the Microbiology of Nutrigenomics at the University of Alberta, and his team believe that pulse products push our microbial population back in the right direction.

To prove this theory, he has recruited a whole herd of mice and rats to help. More and more the answers to our wellbeing are being associated with intestinal health. Microbes in the gut send signals to the intestinal wall to fortify the barriers, making for a healthier intestine; and if microbes aren’t sending the right signals the intestine becomes permeable to things we want to keep out. By examining the changes in the intestinal populations of mice when fed different diets, the U of A scientists are able to extrapolate the effect in the human intestinal environment.

Willing is examining how the inclusion of pulses, in particular peas, impacts these microbial populations in hopes of understanding why pulses have the beneficial impact that they do, particularly regarding blood sugar regulation, which is termed glucose tolerance. He has isolated two potential components that are likely the keys to this mystery.

In the last months of this research, positive steps are being taken to understand the mechanism of this action. Three objectives in particular are helping to frame the research being done.

  1. Test the direct antimicrobial activity of anthocyanidins on isolates of gut microbes.
  2. Determine the changes in gut microbes induced by pea seed coat fractions associated with improved glucose tolerance in rats fed a high fat diet.
  3. Examine the effect of pea seed coat fractions on the microbial population and how these impact the integrity of the intestinal wall and their ability to protect against pathogens.

To date there have been some interesting learnings, all of which lean to a very positive picture about the impacts of pulses in our diets. Any research requires repetition and sometimes minor adjustments once initial measurements are taken. The first mouse experiment indicated that there is improved intestinal integrity associated particularly with compounds within the seed coat of peas containing proanthocyanidins; this is demonstrated by a decrease in pathogens within the gut system itself.

It is suggested that different pea varieties may have different impacts on gut health, and Willing and his team are comparing two varieties to evaluate this hypothesis. Microbial analysis of rats fed high fat diet in combination with pea seed coat showed very distinct effects of both Solido and Canstar, although their effects are very different from each other. Both varieties are associated with benefit, but in different ways. This may allow people to choose to consume different varieties of peas according to an individual’s greatest health needs, which may be a future research project in itself!

For more information about APG funded research visit