A team of scientists in China have recently published some exciting research on the role of gut bacteria in obesity. The study analyzed the effect of a diet composed of whole grains, traditional Chinese medicinal foods and prebiotics and measured weight loss and changes in gut bacteria. After 23 weeks the volunteer had lost 51.4 kg — almost 30% of his body weight, without any exercise. Also, other dangerous metabolic parameters associated with obesity — such as high blood pressure and high blood sugar — had improved to normal range.
Sounds like a pretty effective New Year’s diet if you can handle almost six months of a large amount of porridge! But the kicker wasn’t about the diet — rather, what was happening inside the gut. The team found that after the change in diet a species of toxin-producing bacteria had reduced from 35% to undetectable levels as the pH in the stomach changed. This bacteria was isolated, fed to mice, and weight gain was compared in rodents with and without the bacteria. They found that infected mice on a high-fat diet became obese and developed insulin resistance, whereas uninfected mice on the same diet did not gain the same amount of weight.
So could infection with this type of bacteria be a cause of obesity? The idea is that the toxins released by these bacteria may lead to inflammation processes that disrupt the way the body makes and stores fat, and so a treatment to reduce these bacteria may help weight loss. This opens up a slew of questions about potential new routes to stop us gaining weight, or perhaps lose it after a particularly gluttonous festive season. But with a complex variety of bacteria in our gut, and a lot more research to go, I think I’ll be avoiding the low-calorie porridge for now and sticking with the simple ‘eat less, move more’ method… when I’ve finished my Christmas chocolate that is.