Obesity is on the rise across most of the Western world. Poor diet, lack of exercise and less effort required to obtain food all contribute to this ever growing problem. Being obese or overweight puts children and adults alike at risk for a number of chronic diseases including diabetes, asthma, certain cancers, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and more.
Lifestyle changes such as eating the right foods in proper amounts along with exercising and reducing stress are key factors in reaching or maintaining healthy weights. For some people however, these changes may not be enough. But recent research indicates there may be another factor impacting achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
You may be familiar with good and bad gut bacteria. Often when people take antibiotics they have upset stomachs and are told that the antibiotic kills not just the bad but also the good bacteria. Recent research suggests that this gut bacteria mix may play an important role in weight gain and obesity.
In a study from Washington University in St. Louis by Professor Jeffery Gordon and his team, it was found that microbes found in the gut are different between obese and lean individuals. More specifically, it was revealed that a lean person’s gut bacteria are more extensive than in an obese person.
Birth and Gut Bacteria
Our gut bacteria make up begins to be determined at birth. As we pass through our mother’s birth canal we acquire some of her bacteria. As infants grow, they soon begin to develop their own gut bacteria. Research shows that formula-fed babies in comparison with breast-fed babies have less diverse gut bacteria and tend to become obese adults more so than their breast-fed counterparts. These formula-fed children are more likely to develop diabetes as well. Breast-fed babies have the advantage of ingesting substances that nurture the development of beneficial bacteria while warding off the unhealthy ones.
It has also been found that C-section babies are also more likely to become obese adults and have higher rates of diabetes. These infants do not have the advantage of gaining their mother’s gut bacteria since they do not pass through the birth canal. These important differences were found by Rob Knight of the University of Colorado Boulder and Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello of New York University who collaborated on this study.
It was also found, that the formula-fed babies develop certain bacteria in their gut that are not seen in breast-fed infants until solid foods are consumed. This early presence of these bacteria could be the cause of higher rates of health problems such as asthma, allergies and eczema in these children.
Modified Bacteria Promote Health
In another study by Sean Davies, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology at Vanderbilt, it was found that a certain bacteria could produce a therapeutic compound that would promote a healthy gut and deter obesity, insulin resistance and other health related complications from a diet high in fats.
“The types of bacteria you have in your gut influence your risk for chronic diseases,” says Davies. “We wondered if we could manipulate the gut microbiota in a way that would promote health.”
For this study, the team used a type of bacteria that is used to treat diarrhea. This bacterium was modified by the team to produce a lipid, NAPE, which is naturally produced in the small intestine when we eat. This lipid is changed to N-acylethanolamide, NAE, which plays a role in less food intake and lowered obesity.
The team then fed mice with the modified bacteria in their water supply. They wanted to determine if this NAPE producing bacteria would impact food quantity intake and weight gain in the mice being fed a high fat diet.
The results? The mice fed the modified bacteria in their water supply exhibited notably reduced food intake, weight gain, fatty liver and body fat compared to the control group of mice. These mice who were fed the NAPE producing bacteria continued to show reduction in many of these areas for as many as twelve weeks after they stopped ingesting the modified bacteria. The mice remained less obese than their control group counterparts up to twelve weeks past their last intake of the bacteria.
As promising as the research is, Davies cautions that it is not a ‘cure’ for obesity. He explained to Medical News Today,
“Since it worked in mice eating a high-fat diet, it does suggest that it will be beneficial, even if people don’t change their diet to something including more vegetables and less junk food. But we expect that it would likely provide the most benefit to those who do change their diet and try to get sufficient exercise. There are lots of people who are doing their best to change their lifestyle and it still isn’t enough for them to get to and keep a healthy weight, we think this strategy will really help them.”
Researchers hope this type of testing can be done in humans in the near future however they caution there will be many regulatory safeguards that need to be satisfied before this testing could begin.
Numerous other studies seemed to support the theory that gut bacteria have a significant influence not just on our risk for chronic disease but also for promoting good health and a healthy weight.
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