Walnut consumption and gut microbial metabolism: Results of an exploratory analysis from a randomized, crossover, controlled-feeding study
Background & aims: The effect of walnut-related modulation of gut microbiota composition on microbiota functionality is unknown. The aim was to characterize the effect of a walnut-enriched diet (WD), compared to a fatty acid-matched diet devoid of walnuts (WFMD) and a diet where oleic acid replaces alpha-linolenic acid (ORAD), on bacterial gene expression. Methods: A 3-period, randomized, crossover, controlled-feeding study was conducted. Participants were provided a 2-week run-in standard western diet (SWD; 50% kcal carbohydrate, 16% protein, 34% fat, 12% SFA). Following the SWD in random sequence order, participants were provided the WD, WFMD, and ORAD (48% carbohydrate; 17% protein; fat 35%; 7% SFA). The WD contained 18% of energy from walnuts (57 g/d/2100 kcal). The WFMD and ORAD were devoid of walnuts; liquid non-tropical plant oils were included in these diets. Metatranscriptomic analyses were performed as an exploratory outcome. Results: The analytical sample included 35 participants (40% female) with a mean ± SD age of 43 ± 10 y and BMI of 30.3 ± 4.9 kg/m2. The ⍺-diversity of taxa actively expressing genes, assessed by observed species (p = 0.27) and Pielou's Evenness (p = 0.09), did not differ among the diets. The ⍺-diversity of actively expressed genes was greater following the WD compared to the WFMD and ORAD as assessed by the observed genes and Pielou's Evenness metrics (p < 0.05). β-Diversity of the actively expressed genes differed following the WD compared to the WFMD (p = 0.001) and ORAD (p = 0.001); β-diversity did not differ between the WFMD and ORAD. Active composition analyses showed increased Gordonibacter (p < 0.001) activity following the WD vs. the ORAD. Greater expression of many genes was observed following the WD compared to the WFMD and ORAD. Following the WD, greater expression of metabolism-related genes encoding glycine amidinotransferase (GATM; K00613) and arginine deiminase (K01478) was observed compared to the WFMD. Greater expression of glycine amidinotransferase (GATM; K00613) by Gordonibacter was also observed following the WD vs. the WFMD and ORAD. Conclusion: Our results suggest walnut intake may increase endogenous production of homoarginine through gut microbiota-mediated upregulation of GATM, which is a novel mechanism by which walnuts may lower cardiovascular disease risk. However, given the exploratory nature replication is needed. Clinical trial registration: Clinicaltrials.gov (NCT02210767).