You may be familiar with food products that boast about being great sources of probiotics and with all the benefits probiotics can offer, it is some welcomed marketing in the world of nutrition. A recent discovery suggests that maintaining the levels of healthy bacteria in our digestive tracts may be more important than we could have ever imagined. Vanessa Ridaura, a grad student from Washington University, and her fellow researchers decided to investigate the link between the composition of gut bacteria and obesity. What Ms. Ridaura found was nothing short of astonishing.
How Gut Bacteria Influences Weight Gain
The gut bacteria from lean and obese mice were obtained and inserted in mice that had been born and raised in sterile conditions so no bacteria were present in their digestive tract prior to the treatment. These germ-free mice were then fed a diet of standard low fat chow and what resulted may have carved a new path in the understanding of obesity. The sterile mice which received gut bacteria from the obese rodents accumulated body fat much quicker than the mice which received gut bacteria from their lean counterparts.
Another paper recently published in Nutrition in Clinical Practice by Rose Krajmalnik-Brown, also found that there is a significant correlation between the digestive tract’s ecosystem and weight gain. It was discovered that the bacteria of obese individuals produced far more short chain fatty acids (SCFA) than those of lean individuals. Furthermore, these SCFA would activate parts of the human genome responsible for fat production in the body. This most likely confirms that the bacterial environment we’ve created in our own stomachs could very well be manipulating how our body metabolizes fat.
Why the Body Composition of Our Peers May be Effecting Our Weight
An equally, if not more interesting fact revealed during the study by Ridaura, was that when obese and lean mice were kept in the same cage, the obese mouse adopted certain metabolic characteristics of the lean mouse but not vice versa. Does this suggest that you could passively shed pounds and inches by simply hanging out with a gymnastics team? It is far too early to say for sure, so I wouldn’t use that method as a primary weight loss tactic just yet, but it is certainly worth studying a little more in depth.
The Role of Diet-Bacteria Interaction
In the world of research, answering one question only raises several more, so Ridaura and her colleagues decided to investigate how different diets influence the action of beneficial gut bacteria. I apologize to those who had hoped they could lose weight by acquiring some lean friends, because it appears that when feeding on a high fat, low fibre diet, the obese mice were no longer able to adopt the lean characteristics of their cage mate. The mice had to be on a healthy diet of high fibre and low saturated fat to continue reaping the benefits.
While this particular study made leaps and bounds in the subject of obesity and the gut’s bacterial ecosystem, it was a mere expansion on numerous other studies. Dr. Paul Eckburg of Stanford performed a study on the diversity of gut bacteria among individuals and found that there is a high degree of variation. This could be one factor that accounts for many of the subtle differences in metabolism amongst individuals. Interestingly, Dr. Eckburg refers to our bacterial make up as an “essential organ”. I believe, that referring to our bacterial balance as an “organ” is a rather good way of framing this concept. Perhaps, if gut bacteria are viewed as a tangible part of our health, we will learn to be more attentive to it.
The effects of healthy microorganisms in our body, although acknowledged, may still be undermined by many people. It is quite possible this could be a valuable tool in the fight against obesity and obesity related disease. Are we growing ever closer to a solution to obesity? I believe we are and I am confident that if research such as this continues, we will develop promising new therapies and prevention methods against obesity.