Physical and psychological stress have been shown to modulate multiple aspects of gastrointestinal (GI) physiology, but its molecular basis remains elusive. We therefore characterized the stress-induced metabolic phenotype (metabotype) in soldiers during high-intensity combat training and correlated the metabotype with changes in GI symptoms and permeability. In a prospective, longitudinal study, urinary metabotyping was conducted on 38 male healthy soldiers during combat training and a rest period using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. The urinary metabotype during combat training was clearly distinct from the rest period (partial least-squares discriminant analysis (PLSDA) Q(2) = 0.581), confirming the presence of a unique stress-induced metabotype. Differential metabolites related to combat stress were further uncovered, including elevated pyroglutamate and fructose, and reduced gut microbial metabolites, namely, hippurate and m-hydroxyphenylacetate (p < 0.05). The extent of pyroglutamate upregulation exhibited a positive correlation with an increase in IBS-SSS in soldiers during combat training (r = 0.5, p < 0.05). Additionally, the rise in fructose levels was positively correlated with an increase in intestinal permeability (r = 0.6, p < 0.005). In summary, protracted and mixed psychological and physical combat-training stress yielded unique metabolic changes that corresponded with the incidence and severity of GI symptoms and alteration in intestinal permeability. Our study provided novel molecular insights into stress-induced GI perturbations, which could be exploited for future biomarker research or development of therapeutic strategies.
Keywords: combat stress in soldiers; intestinal permeability; irritable bowel syndrome; metabolomics; metabonomics.