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OSU research: Tomatoes may improve stomach health

KEITH ARNOLD
Special to the Legal News

Published: November 22, 2022

New Ohio State University research on the benefits a tomato-rich diet has on the gut microbes of young pigs has suggested scientists take a deeper look at the diet’s effect on humans.
Researchers found that two weeks of eating a diet heavy in tomatoes increased the diversity of gut microbes and altered gut bacteria toward a more favorable profile in the animals.
“This was our first investigation as to how tomato consumption might affect the microbiome, and we’ve characterized which microbes are present, and how their relative abundance has changed with this tomato intervention,” said the study’s senior author, Jessica Cooperstone, assistant professor of horticulture and crop science and food science and technology at the university.
Published in Microbiology Spectrum, the study included use of tomatoes developed by Ohio State plant breeder and study co-author David Francis, a press release detailed. The tomatoes are the type typically found in canned tomato products.
Ten control pigs that had been recently weaned were fed a standard diet, while another 10 pigs were fed a diet of which 10 percent consisted of a freeze-dried powder made from the tomatoes, researchers said. Fiber, sugar, protein, fat and calories were identical for both diets.
Each of the pig populations lived separately, and researchers running the study minimized their time spent with the pigs––precautions designed to ensure that any microbiome changes seen with the study diet could be attributed to chemical compounds in the tomatoes, the release continued.
Microbial communities in the pigs’ guts were detected in fecal samples taken before the study began and then seven and 14 days after the diet was introduced.
A technique called shotgun metagenomics was employed to sequence the microbial DNA present in the samples.
Researchers found that the results showed two main changes in the microbiomes of pigs fed the tomato-heavy diet––the diversity of microbe species in their guts increased, and the concentrations of two types of bacteria common in the mammal microbiome shifted to a more favorable profile.
Cooperstone explained that the higher ratio of the phyla Bacteroidota compared to Bacillota present in the microbiome has been found to be linked with positive health outcomes, while other studies have linked this ratio in reverse, of higher Bacillota compared to Bacteroidota, to obesity.
“It’s possible that tomatoes impart benefits through their modulation of the gut microbiome,” she said. “Overall dietary patterns have been associated with differences in microbiome composition, but food-specific effects haven’t been studied very much. Ultimately, we’d like to identify in humans what the role is of these particular microorganisms and how they might be contributing to potential health outcomes.”
The research team plans to progress to similar studies in people, looking for health-related links between tomatoes in the diet and changes to the community of microorganisms living in the gastrointestinal tract.
According to the research, tomatoes account for about 22 percent of vegetable intake in Western diets, and previous research has associated consumption of tomatoes with reduced risk for the development of various conditions that include cardiovascular disease and some cancers.
The fruit’s impact on the gut microbiome remains a mystery.
Cooperstone said these findings in pigs, which have gastrointestinal tract similar to the human GI system, suggest it’s an avenue worth exploring.
“To really understand the mechanisms, we need to do more of this kind of work in the long term in humans,” she said. “We also want to understand the complex interplay––how does consuming these foods change the composition of what microbes are present, and functionally, what does that do? A better understanding could lead to more evidence-based dietary recommendations for long-term health.”
Supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and the Foods for Health initiative at Ohio State, the study was led by OSU researcher Mallory Goggans.
Additional co-authors included Emma Bilbrey, Cristian Quiroz-Moreno and Sheila Jacobi of Ohio State, and Jasna Kovac of Penn State University.
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