Could what is living in your gut make a difference for your weight? If we believe recent research, obese people may need help from a thin person’s intestine.
A Different Kind Of Transplant
To find out if our gut bacteria play a role in weight management, you certainly have to get at those bacteria. Which means taking faeces samples and would put me right out of this line of furthering mankind’s knowledge. I have no trouble with blood and bones, but smells always get to me. Faster than anything else.
Braver souls now went down that exact road and took stool samples from four pairs of female twins, where one was obese, the other of normal weight. These samples were then injected into special mice having no gut bacteria of their own and changes to the mice’s body weight recorded.
The mice that got the samples from the thin women stayed slim, those that got the obese samples put on quite a bit of fat. The reason apparently is a special type of microbes called “bacteroides” of whom normal weight women have more.
Getting Slimmer, But Only On Low-Fat
In a follow-up experiment, both groups of mice were put into the same cage and allowed to mingle. As mice have the tendency to eat each others droppings, this not only led to them having a more interesting social life, but also a mixing of gut bacteria between the slim and fat ones. After ten days of this microbe trading, the obese ones had become leaner.
However, this only happened if they were fed a high fiber / low fat diet. On a high fat / low fiber diet, the obese mice didn’t benefit from having more bacteroides. In the latter scenario, the gut climate apparently wasn’t very favorable for them.
Was Atkins Wrong?
In the future we may be able to buy pills with “slimming bacteria,” but a lot of good that will do us if it only works on the right diet. If we ate a high fiber / low fat diet we probably also wouldn’t need to lose weight in the first place.
At the moment a more interesting question is what this means for the Atkins and other low carb diets. Have people following those unwittingly killed the gut bacteria that could have benefitted them?
Picture courtesy of Sandra and Colin Rose.