Scientists have discovered that big bugs can help little bugs.
We have been chirping about crickets for a while here at TreeHugger. The insects are tasty, packed with protein, easy on the environment, and come with fewer ethical concerns than animal agriculture. Now there's even more evidence for their awesomeness -- a boost to the microflora in your gut.
A group of researchers led by Dr. Valerie Stull at the University of Wisconsin-Madison set out to see how eating crickets affects gut microbiota and if it functions as an anti-inflammatory. The resulting experiment showed that crickets are, indeed, very good for one's gut health.
Stull and her colleagues took a group of twenty healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 65 and divided them into two groups. For two weeks, each group consumed a chocolate malt shake and pumpkin spice muffin for breakfast, but the only difference is that one group's food contained 25 grams of cricket powder. This is equivalent to 15 grams of protein, which is similar to many protein-rich breakfast shakes, and can be incorporated easily so as not to affect taste or texture. This was followed by a two-week reset ('washout') period, followed by the groups switching for an additional two weeks.
The results came out in favour of cricket powder. Blood and stool samples collected at various periods throughout the experiment revealed an increase in five good bacterial strains in cricket-eaters. One of these was Bifidobacterium animalis, a well-known probiotic that is used commercially and has been shown in clinical studies to "improve gastrointestinal function, protect against diarrhea, reduce side effects of antibiotic treatment, and increase resistance to common respiratory infections."
Additionally, there was a 3- to 4-fold decrease in the amount of Lactobacillus spp. in the participants' guts. This is thought to be caused by the antimicrobial properties of chitin, the fibrous material that makes up a cricket's exoskeleton.
Participants' blood looked healthier as well. Science Alert reported:
"[They found] an increase in a metabolic enzyme associated with gut health, and a drop in an inflammatory protein in blood plasma called TNF-alpha, which has been implicated in a range of ailments including cancer, major depression, Alzheimer's disease, and inflammatory bowel disease."
Cricket consumption was also associated with suppression of Acidaminococcus, a bacterial strain that is linked to growth deficits among infants in Malawi and Bangladesh. As stated in the study's description, this particular benefit is not directly relevant to the study group, but could be useful in improving maternal and infant health in low-resource settings.
With only 20 participants, the study is very small, and further research would be required to replicate the results; but it comes at a time when gut health is a hot topic, as well as figuring out more sustainable ways of producing nutritious food for a growing global population. As Prof. Stull told Science Alert,
"This very small study shows that this is something worth looking at in the future when promoting insects as a sustainable food source."
Read the entire study here.