Time for a Gut Check: Intestinal Bacteria
If I were to ask what constitutes the essence of who you are, you might give answers such as personality, humor or intelligence. Perhaps beauty would be your choice, or maybe you believe the essence of who you are is your compassion. Whatever your response, I doubt you would tap into microbiology for an answer. Then again, why would you?
The reality is, as humans we are composed of a myriad of cells, and one could argue that this composites the core of who we are, really. Consider further that, in shear number, bacterial cells outnumber human cells ten to one. Well, I’m quite sure that very few among you would consider your essence to be bacteria. Am I right?
Be that as it may, the bacteria we carry could fill a half-gallon jug. While that may be an ugly visual, bacteria are quite important. Case in point, the hundred trillion bacteria that line the large intestine and consist of hundreds of separate species are collectively an engine for digestion. Gut bacteria break down food into useful and nutritious components.
Now research seems to indicate that weight gain or obesity and intestinal bacteria and gut microbes are correlated. Add to that, according to the NIH, certain types of bacteria taking over the gut may contribute to inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease.
Gut Bacteria and Weight Gain
Gut bacteria begin filling the digestive tract at birth and are collected from a number of different sources. The gut bacteria we collect as children can remain with us for decades — although the makeup of the bacteria is subject to change when we lose weight. People who are overweight have different types and different amounts of gut bacteria than do lean people.
In order to determine what influence gut bacteria may have on weight gain, a Washington University graduate student took gut bacteria from four sets of twins. One twin was obese and the other was normal weight. One set of twins was identical to rule out any inherited cause for differences in weight. Human microbes were then transplanted into the intestines of mice that had been raised in a germ-free environment (so their bodies would be free of bacteria).
The result was that the mice who received gut bacteria from the obese human sibling gained more weight and experienced unhealthy changes in their metabolisms. Thusly weight gain and gut bacteria were concluded to be correlated.
Something even more interesting happened when the mice that were given gut bacteria from the obese human sibling were later caged along with mice who received bacteria from the normal weight sibling.
Whereas mice have the habit of eating the feces of one another, they frequently exchange intestinal bacteria. It was discovered that when the bacteria from the lean mice was ingested by the obese mice, the obese mice then showed improvement in weight and metabolism. The lean mice were not affected by the bacterial exchange.
Gut Bacteria and Weight Loss
The hope is that these study findings will help to narrow down which bacteria might affect the amount of energy people absorb from food. An additional hope is that probiotics eventually can be manufactured that will help people maintain a healthy weight. As well, the development of food or other supplements to promote virtuous microbes while suppressing the harmful types.
Some spas began to offer fecal transplants (bacteriotherapy) as a method for weight loss. However the possibility for someone becoming ill from such a transplant caused the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to intervene and regulate the practice. Rightly so, fecal microbiata transplant (FMT) only can be performed by a physician and many researchers tend to find it imprecise. Typically, FMT is considered experimental and not covered by insurance. Currently in the US, Canada and Mexico, FMT is only used as a treatment for c difficile. However, it is approved for other uses in the UK and elsewhere. And US clinical trials are exploring FMT for obesity, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and other gut-related conditions. Your best bet would be to consult your family doctor or gastroenterologist.
Gut Bacteria and Weight Gain Conclusion
Researchers does not suggest that poor gut health is the single cause of obesity and diabetes. However the bottom line is it seems that, along with exercising and eating right, we need to enlist our inner microbial army to defeat obesity.
Living life larger than ever,
My Bariatric Life