Make Friends With Your Gut Microbiota VI: Diet Edition

May 29th, 2014 in New Science with 1 Comment


[Featured Image courtesy]

The Grapefruit Diet, Atkins, South Beach, The Zone Diet, The Paleo Diet… Mavenites, May 29th is “World Digestive Health Day,” and in our 6th installment of “Make Friends With Your Gut Microbiota,” we’re going to discuss why your gut microbiota makes you fat…or thin.  We briefly discussed in a previous installment of MFWYGM research that indicated that a lower diversity of microbes can lead to obesity in mice, and in a recent article in Scientific American, Claudia Wallis discusses a number of current research studies that draw a link between the gut microbiota and obesity.


[Image Credit:  Rafa Alvarez via Scientific American]

Here are just a few examples:  

  • Studies of twins performed by Jeffrey Gordon and his colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis showed that leaner individuals had a much more diverse gut microbiota and had a larger population of microbes in the phylum Bacteroidetes.  These microbes are more able to efficiently metabolize plant fiber and starch for use as an energy source.  
  • Martin Blaser, in his book Missing Microbes suggests Helicobacter pylori in the human gut has been responsible for regulating the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin, but has been wiped out by overuse of antibiotics.  
  • Other research studies performed by Jeffrey Gordon's team blame a Westernized high fat, low fiber diet for a reduction in microbial diversity.
  • Studies performed by Rob Knight at the University of Colorado, Boulder and Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello show a correlation between babies born via caesarian section and risk for obesity and diabetes.  

gut 2

[Image Credit:  Jane Hurd via National Geographic]

However, even though a humanized mouse model shows correlation between obesity and lack of microbial diversity, the jury is still out on the obesity-human gut microbiome connection.  An obesity study among the Old Order Amish shows such a wide diversity in the gut microbiota that it is difficult to draw clear links between the gut flora and obesity.  

gut 3

[Image courtesy Linda LaRue]

Wallis also mentions a study currently being conducted in Amsterdam where feces from lean individuals are transferred to obese individuals to determine if a change in gut flora could lead to weight loss.  Could fecal transplants be the next Atkins diet?  Research is still pending.  Meanwhile, eat right, get some exercise, and think about adding a probiotic to your routine.

See previous installments of Make Friends With Your Gut Microbiota here, here, here, here, and here.


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Kelly Cowan

About Kelly Cowan

I’m a mom, teacher, scientist, author and community activist. I work at an open-admissions regional campus of a midwestern university, where I teach microbiology and epidemiology to a lot of pre-health professions students and a few poets and business majors.

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