New research published in Science in 2013 indicates that there is an interaction between a person’s gut microbiota, a person’s diet and whether or not they are obese. This is one of the first studies to illustrate how a person’s diet and their gut microbes interact to affect weight gain. One of the main jobs of the gut bacteria, which number in the trillions, is to help digest food and synthesize nutrients from the diet. When this is skewed, as happens with an imbalance of the gut microbiome, all hell breaks loose.
Previous studies showed that obese and lean human twins have clear differences in their gut microbial communities. Most notably, the communities from obese twins have less diverse bacterial species.
The investigators took intestinal microbes from identical and fraternal human twins — one who was lean and one who was obese — and transplanted them into mice. The mice had been raised in a microbe-free environment so essentially they were starting with a clean slate.
In this part of the study they found that the mice given the obese microbiome gained weight and the mice given the microbiome from lean humans stayed lean.
In another part of the study, the twins’ microbes again were transplanted into germ-free mice. This time, mice with microbes from a lean twin were put in cages with mice carrying microbes from an obese twin. Mice will naturally eat each others feces so the bacteria from the “lean” mouse would transfer to the “obese” mouse. The animals were also fed “healthy” or “unhealthy” human diets.
The researchers found that,
When the animals were fed an all-too-typical diet common in the United States — high in saturated fat (my emphasis) and low in fruits and vegetables — there was no colonization of “lean” microbes into the guts of mice carrying microbes from an “obese” twin. These mice gained weight and fat and developed metabolic problems.
The scientists make the assumption that saturated fat is unhealthy. Microbes live on sugar and starches from fiber foods like fruits and vegetables. In this case, I think it was the low fruits and vegetables part of the diet that was lacking in support of the gut microbes. When reading research that is touted in the media as ground breaking — it is always wise to read the parameters of the study.
I would take the results of this study with a grain of salt. We do know that the gut bacteria definitely plays a part in obesity. However, I would like to see research that is a little more unbiased in assuming which diet is “healthy.”
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