The human body is home to trillions of bacteria and other microbes, both inside the body and on the skin. Together they are known as the microbiome, and those that live in the gut make up the gut microbiome.
In recent decades, a more complete picture of how the gut microbiome functions has emerged. Scientists are better understanding how these microbes affect many facets of human health, from certain disease processes to mental health. However, many questions remain, including the role of gut bacteria in weight maintenance. Although researchers have a pretty good idea of how the foods we eat affect the composition of the microorganisms that live in the gut, research is only beginning to analyze the opposite, that is, to say how gut bacteria influence our eating habits, our cravings, and even our ability to gain or lose weight.
In mice, the microbiome can cause obesity. But the question of which microbes are potentially beneficial or harmful to metabolic health and obesity is an ongoing topic of research. Now we have a better idea.
How our gut bacteria can affect our weight and eating habits
Evidence that the bacteria in our gut play an important role in obesity comes from previous research comparing the microbiomes of twins. The researchers found similarities in the twins, which they call the “basic microbiome,” suggesting there may be a genetic component to the type of bacteria that inhabit our digestive tract. They also found fundamental differences between the microbiome of a healthy-weight twin and the corresponding obese twin, showing that the microbiome can also be influenced by environmental factors.
Interestingly, when the researchers transplanted bacteria from human microbiomes into mice that had been raised germ-free, the mice that received the obese twin’s bacteria became obese, and those that received the normal-weight twin’s bacteria remained obese at their normal weight. They could reproduce this phenomenon endlessly. Of course, without additional studies, experts can’t say for sure if the same results hold true in humans.
Can gut bacteria influence our eating habits?
The bacteria in our gut could affect not only how easily we gain or lose weight, but also what we eat. There is ample evidence that diet can have a major impact on these microbial communities, as demonstrated in an article published in April 2022 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
How to manipulate your microbiome to lose weight
Given the limited knowledge we currently have about the microbiome and its role in obesity, is it possible to alter the bacterial makeup of our gut to maintain our weight, avoid obesity, and improve our long-term health? While there is no quick and easy fix, bacterial communities differ from person to person and what works for one may not work for another, experts believe interventions with real potential are likely.
One such intervention could be to alter the microbiome by consuming less processed foods. In fact, new research has revealed possible links between the Western diet and an imbalance in the gut. We rely heavily on convenience foods, but they lack nutritional quality. When we depend on these foods, we are not feeding the beneficial gut microbes. And if you’re not constantly feeding beneficial gut microbes, you’re allowing disease-causing microbes to thrive, creating an unhealthy balance of good and bad bacteria.
The variety of plants in a diet should also be increased by adding not only more plants but also more variety. In fact, one study showed that people who ate 30 different plant-based foods per week had a greater diversity of gut microorganisms than those who ate 10 or fewer.
That doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite foods entirely. It’s all about diversification. For example, how do you make oatmeal for breakfast a little bit different every day? Maybe it’s oatmeal and blueberries one day, oatmeal and strawberries the next, oatmeal and almonds the next.
probiotics and prebiotics
When used appropriately and with other dietary changes, it can also help increase beneficial gut bacteria and decrease harmful bacteria.
Probiotics are live microorganisms found in fermented foods like yogurt and, in some cases, dietary supplements. However, simply ingesting these foods is not enough. In order for them to survive and outperform organisms that have been living in the gut much longer, they must be accompanied by the sugars they need to metabolize. Recent research has shown that. It’s pretty spectacular, if you give the microbes the right sugar, they stick around.
These sugars are known as prebiotics, compounds that act as fuel for certain beneficial microbes and are found naturally in common plant foods like asparagus, garlic, onions and bananas.
Then there are “foods with a microbiological purpose”, meaning those that are specifically formulated to alter the colonization of the gut. A team from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis recently found that certain types of added fiber alter gut bacteria in ways that may benefit the long-term health of study participants suffering from overweight and obesity.
As the domain progresses, the tracks become clearer. A growing body of evidence shows that the microbiome plays an important role in the development of overweight and obesity and weight loss.
Basic gut metagenomic functional gene signature associated with variable weight loss responses after healthy lifestyle intervention in humans
The gut microbiome influences host dietary choices
Evaluation of microbiome-driven fiber snacks in gnotobiotic mice and humans
* Presse Santé strives to convey health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE can the information given replace the advice of a doctor.
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