A new study published in the journal Scientific Reports shows that consuming crickets can help support the growth of the probiotic bacterium Bifidobacterium animalis, a strain that has been linked to improved gastrointestinal function and other health measures. The study also shows that eating crickets is not only safe in large amounts but may also reduce inflammation in the body.
We already know that insects are nutritious, filled with complete protein, vitamin B12, iron, calcium, fiber, and many other nutrients. More than 2 billion people around the world regularly consume insects as their source of protein, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats.
Colorado State University’s Professor Tiffany Weir and colleagues were interested in documenting for the first time via clinical trial the health effects of eating crickets.
“With what we now know about the gut microbiota and its relationship to human health, it’s important to establish how a novel food might affect gut microbial populations. We found that cricket consumption may actually offer benefits beyond nutrition,” Professor Weir said.
There are about three times more bacterial cells than human cells in our bodies. Most of them reside in our guts, influencing physiology, metabolism, and gene expression when it comes to immune function, energy, and even mood. Even more interesting: the microbiota changes in response to what you eat (1).
“Raising insects for protein not only helps protect the environment, but also offers a more healthful option than meat in many wealthy countries with high-meat diets,” added study co-author Dr. Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Crickets, like other insects, contain fibers, such as chitin, that are different from the dietary fibers found in foods like fruits and vegetables.
Fiber serves as a microbial food source and some fiber types promote the growth of beneficial bacteria, also known as probiotics.
A clinical trial with cricket flour
The authors of this study (2) used crickets as their insect of choice because they contain a lot of chitin and chitosan, the types of fiber that can influence gut health. Twenty healthy adults (ages 18 – 65) participated in this six-week, double-blind, crossover dietary intervention.
Researchers saw an increase in a metabolic enzyme associated with gut health, and a decrease in an inflammatory protein in the blood called TNF-alpha, which has been linked to other measures of well-being, like depression and cancer.
More beneficial bacteria and less inflammation
The researchers collected blood and stool samples before and after each segment of the trial to measure the changes and they concluded:
“Cricket powder supported growth of the probiotic bacterium, Bifidobacterium animalis, which increased 5.7-fold. Cricket consumption was also associated with reduced plasma TNF-α. These data suggest that eating crickets may improve gut health and reduce systemic inflammation; however, more research is needed to understand these effects and underlying mechanisms.”
Researchers additionally saw an increase in the abundance of beneficial gut bacteria like Bifidobacterium animalis.
“This very small study shows that this is something worth looking at in the future when promoting insects as a sustainable food source,” said study first author Valerie Stull, a recent doctoral graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.
1) Plotnikoff G. A., Riley D., ‘The human microbiome.’ Glob Adv Health Med. 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24891987/
2) Valerie J. Stull et al., ‘Impact of Edible Cricket Consumption on Gut Microbiota in Healthy Adults, a Double-blind, Randomized Crossover Trial’, Sci Rep. 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30018370