Genistein stimulates insulin sensitivity through gut microbiota reshaping and skeletal muscle AMPK activation in obese subjects

BMJ Open Diabetes Res Care. 2020 Mar;8(1):e000948. doi: 10.1136/bmjdrc-2019-000948.


Objective: Obesity is associated with metabolic abnormalities, including insulin resistance and dyslipidemias. Previous studies demonstrated that genistein intake modifies the gut microbiota in mice by selectively increasing Akkermansia muciniphila, leading to reduction of metabolic endotoxemia and insulin sensitivity. However, it is not known whether the consumption of genistein in humans with obesity could modify the gut microbiota reducing the metabolic endotoxemia and insulin sensitivity.

Research design and methods: 45 participants with a Homeostatic Model Assessment (HOMA) index greater than 2.5 and body mass indices of ≥30 and≤40 kg/m2 were studied. Patients were randomly distributed to consume (1) placebo treatment or (2) genistein capsules (50 mg/day) for 2 months. Blood samples were taken to evaluate glucose concentration, lipid profile and serum insulin. Insulin resistance was determined by means of the HOMA for insulin resistance (HOMA-IR) index and by an oral glucose tolerance test. After 2 months, the same variables were assessed including a serum metabolomic analysis, gut microbiota, and a skeletal muscle biopsy was obtained to study the gene expression of fatty acid oxidation.

Results: In the present study, we show that the consumption of genistein for 2 months reduced insulin resistance in subjects with obesity, accompanied by a modification of the gut microbiota taxonomy, particularly by an increase in the Verrucomicrobia phylum. In addition, subjects showed a reduction in metabolic endotoxemia and an increase in 5'-adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase phosphorylation and expression of genes involved in fatty acid oxidation in skeletal muscle. As a result, there was an increase in circulating metabolites of β-oxidation and ω-oxidation, acyl-carnitines and ketone bodies.

Conclusions: Change in the gut microbiota was accompanied by an improvement in insulin resistance and an increase in skeletal muscle fatty acid oxidation. Therefore, genistein could be used as a part of dietary strategies to control the abnormalities associated with obesity, particularly insulin resistance; however, long-term studies are needed.

Keywords: AMP-activated protein kinase; fatty acid oxidation; insulin sensitivity; obesity.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinases / metabolism*
  • Anti-Obesity Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome / drug effects*
  • Genistein / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / drug effects*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Obesity / microbiology*


  • Anti-Obesity Agents
  • Fatty Acids
  • Genistein
  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinases