Green, leafy vegetables are recognized to be good for the health. Now a new research has found evidence of yet another thing that makes greens especially beneficial for gut health: its sugar content.

The study suggests that leafy greens contain a sugar molecule that boosts the health of gut's good bacteria. In turn, good bacteria are able to efficiently block bad bacteria from colonizing the gut.

The Sugar That Gut Loves

The wonder sugar that the gut loves is called sugar sulfoquinovose (SQ). Aside from bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms feed on this rare but hefty enzyme.

Leafy greens generate SQ in abundant amounts globally. The production is so high that experts compare it to the rate of the total iron ore manufactured per year.

"Every time we eat leafy green vegetables we consume significant amounts of SQ sugars, which are used as an energy source by good gut bacteria," says study lead author Dr Ethan Goddard-Borger from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.

An example of an SQ beneficiary is Escherichia Coli (E. Coli). E. Coli prevents bad bacteria from growing and colonizing the gut by creating a protective coating. Pumping up E. coli with SQ makes it perform this function more efficiently.

Development Of New Antibiotics

Goddard-Borger says their discovery may also pave the way for the development of new antibiotics. More bacteria are developing resistance against existing antibiotics thus new antimicrobial methods are essential to create new classes of drugs.

The researchers think that their study may help drug makers use the enzymes for very particular delivery of antibiotics to fight against the harmful types of E. coli and other pathogens. For example, experts may come up with an antibiotic against Salmonella, without having to affect good gut bacteria.

Application To Environment

Co-author Spencer Williams says that their discovery may also be helpful to the environment. He explains that they were able to find out how bacteria obtain the sugar from plants.

Specifically, the expert team discovered the enzyme called YihQ, which helps bacteria absorb and process sugars that contain sulfur. They also found that SQ is the only sugar that contains sulfur. This means that each time SQ is "digested" by bacteria, it releases sulfur.

Sulfur is essential for building proteins and by releasing this to the body and later to the environment, more organisms are able to reuse it and obtain its benefits.

"This work answers a 50-year mystery that has surrounded how sulfur - an element essential for life on Earth - was used and recycled by living organisms," says Williams.

So the next time you eat your leafy greens, smile. Your tummy and nature are giving thanks.

The study was published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology on Monday, Feb. 15.

Photo: Aaron Stidwell | Flickr

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