Although the research is still in its infancy, we are beginning to better understand the relationship between gut bacteria, the foods we eat, and how they may impact weight management and obesity.
The human body is home to trillions of bacteria and other microbes, both in the body and on the skin. Collectively, they are known as the microbiome, and those living in the gut make up the gut microbiome. We are all carriers of a very specific distribution in the intestine, which is relatively adapted to us. It’s almost like a fingerprint. Over the past few decades, a more complete picture of how the gut microbiome works has begun to crystallize. Through initiatives such as the Human Genome Project, scientists are better understanding how these microbes affect many facets of human health, from certain disease processes to mental health.
But 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 just beginning to analyze the reverse, i.e. say how gut bacteria influence our eating habits, our cravings, and even our ability to gain or lose weight.
For example, we know that in mice, the microbiome can cause obesity. But the question of which microbes are potentially beneficial or detrimental to metabolic health and obesity is an ongoing topic of research. We now have a better idea.
Ways our gut bacteria can affect our weight and eating habits
Evidence that the bacteria in our guts 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,” which indicates there may be a genetic component to the type of bacteria that inhabit our digestive tracts. They also found fundamental differences between the microbiomes of a twin who had a healthy weight and the corresponding twin who was obese, showing that the microbiome can also be influenced by environmental factors.
More interestingly, when the researchers transplanted bacteria from human microbiomes into mice that had been raised germ-free, the mice that had received the bacteria from the obese twin became obese, and those that had received the bacteria from the normal-weight twin remained at their normal weight. They were able to reproduce this phenomenon ad infinitum. Of course, experts can’t say for sure if the same results are true in humans without additional studies.
To understand if the makeup of a person’s microbiome can predict weight loss success, researchers conducted an experiment on 105 people enrolled in a year-long wellness program. They assessed participants’ gut bacteria at the start of the program and again at the end, and found that some bacterial genes appeared to be associated with the ability to lose weight and others were likely associated with high resistance to weightloss. They also learned that people whose gut bacteria reproduced quickly were more successful at losing weight. These findings, which were published in October 2021 in the journal mSystems, may explain why some people find it harder to lose weight than others.
Can intestinal bacteria influence our eating habits?
The bacteria in our gut could not only influence how easily we gain or lose weight, but also what we eat. There is considerable evidence that diet can have a strong influence on these microbial communities. We know that food influences microbes, but can microbes influence food?
Early data seems to indicate that they can. Since the study of the microbiome is relatively new, much of what we currently know comes from research on mice. In another experiment using germ-free mice, the researchers introduced microbial colonies from other mice, each with a specific diet: vegetable, omnivorous or carnivorous. The germ-free mice that received a bacterial transplant from mice on a plant diet preferred a high-protein diet over a high-carb, low-protein diet, a preference that differed from that of the other groups. This seems to indicate that the composition of bacteria in the gut may somehow determine food preferences, at least in mice.
Although it is too early to tell if these results apply to humans, research is ongoing into the effect of microorganisms on appetite and metabolism, as well as feelings of hunger or satiety.
How to manipulate your microbiome
Given the limited knowledge we currently have about the microbiome and its role in obesity, is it possible to alter the bacterial composition of our gut to maintain our weight, avoid obesity and improve our long-term health? While there is no quick and easy fix, after all, 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 change the microbiome by consuming fewer processed foods. Because new research has shown possible links between the Western diet and an imbalance in the gut. We depend a lot on ready-made foods, but they lack nutrition. When we depend on these foods, we are not feeding the beneficial gut microbes. And if you don’t continually feed beneficial gut microbes, you allow disease-causing microbes to thrive, creating an unhealthy balance of good and bad bacteria.
Better then to increase the variety of plants in a diet, adding not only more plants but also more variety. She cites a study showing that people who ate 30 different plant foods per week had a greater diversity of gut microorganisms than those who ate 10 or fewer.
That doesn’t mean you have to completely give up your favorite foods. It’s just about diversifying. How do you make breakfast oats a little 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 modifications, may also help by increasing beneficial gut bacteria and decreasing harmful bacteria, research notes.
Probiotics are live microorganisms found in fermented foods like yogurt and, in some cases, supplements. However, it is not enough to ingest these foods. In order for them to survive and outcompete organisms that have lived in the gut for much longer, they must be accompanied by the sugars they need to metabolize. This is what recent research has shown. It’s quite spectacular. If you give the microbes the right sugar, they stick around.
These sugars are known as prebiotics, compounds that serve as fuel for specific beneficial microbes and are found naturally in commonly plant-based foods like asparagus, garlic, onions, and bananas. according to research.