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Gut reaction: Intestinal bacteria may be contributing to obesity

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
September 9th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

While obesity remains at epidemic proportions throughout the developed world, there is now evidence to suggest it's not always linked to behavior and diet. A new study posits that what or how much a person eats isn't the only factor affecting weight. The microbes lining the intestines account as well.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The new study raises the possibility that pro-biotic bacteria may be added to diet and exercise in the battle against obesity.

Researchers started with mice raised in sterile environments with no intestinal bacteria and gave them gut microbe samples taken from human twins -- both identical and fraternal. While the twins' genes were similar, one was obese and the other was of normal weight.

It was discovered that the mice that received bacteria from the obese twin gained more weight than those inoculated with the thin twin microbes. Their metabolisms showed signs of trouble like those seen in obese humans.

"That was a surprise," Ronald Evans, a molecular biologist at the Salk Institute says. While not involved in the research, Evans wrote a commentary on two related studies published last week in Nature.

People with less diverse collections of intestinal microbes are more likely to gain weight, and show the beginning signs of diabetes, than those with more microbial diversity.

"The question [those studies] left on the table is, is the microbiome following the changes in our bodies," Evans said, "or is it causing the changes in our bodies?" The latest study takes an important step toward saying the microbes causes the changes, Evans says.

Even more interesting was when the researchers put the obese-microbe mice and the lean-microbe mice in the same cage.

"Co-housing resulted in the invasion of the lean microbes into the obese cage mate's gut community, but not vice versa," Washington University scientist Jeffrey Gordon said who coordinated the research.

When the lean microbes took over the intestines of the obese-microbe mice, those mice gained less weight than mice that didn't have a cage mate carrying lean microbes.

It turned out that having an overweight cage mate didn't make the lean-microbe mice fat.

Before one rushes out to change their roommate - or leave their spouse for a thinner one, be mindful that the mice swapped microbes through the unsavory habit of eating each other's droppings.

"The question is, can we do this in people," Evans, the Salk Institute researcher says, "and can we actually get to the point where we have a culture that would be what you might call a good bacteria, or pro-biotic pill?"

Currently, it's not possible to take a magic pro-biotic pill and eat all the hamburgers you want. Mice that ate a high-fat, low-vegetable diet gained weight regardless of what microbes they carried.

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