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For the 35% of Americans who are doing battle right now with obesity, many of the causes are familiar. Poor diet, stationary lifestyles and even genes all impact our ability to lose weight and live healthy. Researchers, however, in recent years have become interested in a less traditional cause of weight gain, gut microbes. Yes, that’s right, the bacteria in our stomach may have direct influence on everything from our metabolism, to our brain chemistry, and even what foods we “crave” and which foods we “hate”. This certainly has the potential to change the treatment of obesity, and how we deal with weight gain clinically.
Bacteria in our intestines has always played a very important role, both evolutionarily as well as biologically. These little denizens in our body help to digest food, break down plant fibers and even get rid of harmful foods we eat by inducing regurgitation in some cases. Yet new studies show that the bacteria in our guts not only alter the way we store fat, but how we balance our glucose levels as well. In addition, they help with hormone balance, and if the wrong mix of microbes is present, even at the time of birth, a person may face life long consequences as a result.
Researchers are for the first time really appreciating just how different mixes of bacteria in our body impact our health. Not only does it have the potential to help treat obesity (by changing what a person craves) but also help with mental acuity, learning and even increases intelligence potentially. Jeffrey Gordon of Washington University at St. Louis takes this as a call to design foods, from the microscopic to the macroscopic in order to best take advantage of this in the future.
All of us have a diverse community of workers in our intestines, all with a specific role. Some are designed to digest complex plant fibers, and others have evolved to consume fats or even carbohydrates and sugars. The more of any one of these things we eat, the lower the diversity of the other groups, until (in some cases) those bacteria are lost completely from our natural flora. In last year’s September issue of Science Gordon’s team theorized that there are certain kinds of “job vacancies” in our body for these bacteria. These deficiencies in the obese are often in the groups that help increase metabolism and decrease appetite. One of these job vacancies could be Helicobacter pylori, which actually helps regulate appetite by moderating ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates hunger. A probiotic of this bacteria could induce significant hunger declines in patients.
Diet is what shapes the ecosystem in our stomachs. Those that eat foods that are processed highly, they have less diversity in their gut flora. There’s a complex interaction that governs our bacterial composition, that’s from food, diet variety, and also how the food is prepared. This interaction can even predispose us to obesity from the moment we’re born, if our parents had bacterial flora that was particularly bad at causing weight gain or increased appetite.
Studies have shown that those who go through natural births actually swallow the mother’s bacterial flora to help in digestion of milk. This has been a problem in C-section births who often lack this flora. This new appreciation for the microscopic inhabitants of our bodies came to light with the increased use of antibiotics, particularly in children. Due to how these antibiotics kill our bodies’ bacteria, including those in our gut, they actually can cause weight gain. Mice given small dosages of antibiotics actually developed 15% greater body fat than their non-antibiotic counterparts.
Not only does what we eat impact our bodies by increasing calorie and sugar intake, it also can impact our desire for more food, metabolism and even how much weight we will gain. For these reasons, new researcher will continue to explore the impact of bacterial cultivation in our body and try to come up with longer term solutions that offer real treatments for obesity. It may be possible to fix the “Western Diet” through simply changing our microbial friends.
Pauline Jacobsen is a writer and editor for several blogs. Presently she writes for the weight loss company hcgplusdrops.com which provides the web’s only real HCG diet products. These products have been shown in numerous studies to boost metabolism and decrease appetite through hypothalamus signals related to the hormone.