Cooks work tirelessly to ensure that the Christmas turkey has a nice, golden-brown, crispy skin. To accomplish this they make, mostly unknowingly, use of a chemical reaction known as the Maillard reaction first discovered by the French chemist Louis Camille Maillard in 1912. This discovery happened by accident while Maillard was working on trying to improve the peptide synthesis method developed by one of the greatest chemists in human history, Emil Fischer. Maillard had mixed amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, with different kinds of sugars and observed that, after heating, the reaction mixtures started to brown and release CO2 gas. In a stroke of pure genius, Maillard realised that the reaction between proteins and sugars is not only of relevance for the food industry but could also be involved in diabetes.
Research shows that the consumption of food high in Maillard reaction products may have negative health consequences. In a number of research papers published by the lab of Helen Vlassara it was found that a diet high in Maillard reaction products may accelerate cognitive decline, induce vascular dysfunction and cause diabetes-like changes in rodents. However, not everyone is convinced about the negative health effects of dietary Maillard products and more research is needed.
In a recent study published in Nature Communications researchers describe a new bacteria, Intestinimonas strain AF211, that they isolated from the stool of a healthy subject. This bacteria converts the amino acid lysine and its Maillard reaction product fructoselysine into butyrate. Butyrate produced by the bacteria in our gut is believed to have several health benefits; the positive health effects of high fiber diets could be explained by increased butyrate production. In contrast diets high in protein have generally been assumed to have unhealthy effects on the bacteria present in our gut. But this new study shows that the truth may be more complex. The presence of this new bacterial strain in certain people may make these people more resistant against the unhealthy effects of protein rich meals. Sadly enough, when the authors analysed data from the Human Microbiome Project they found that the key bacterial gene that enables the breakdown of fructoselysine in the human gut was present in just 6 out of 65 individuals. While you're probably not one of the lucky ones, there may be ways to copy the effects, or receive some of these helpful bacteria for yourself in the future.
Read more at Nature