Probiotics and Obesity

BacteriaGut bacteria linked to obesity?  How is that possible?

Maybe you didn’t realize that the microbial cells in your gut (some people call them bugs) outnumber human cells 10 to 1. What’s more, they weigh about one and a half kilograms not counting those that cover our skin and mucous membranes. The fact that so many of our cells are microbial has got many research laboratories looking at some of the ramifications of having them in the wrong balance.

So how can the wrong balance of bugs in the gut increase weight?  Seems there are major differences in the type of gut bacteria found in obese and lean subjects.   More unhealthy bacteria predominate in obese subjects and these bad bugs are actually much more efficient in extracting and storing energy from food. The good news is that researchers noticed that when people lose weight their gut bacteria change back to the more healthy strains observed in a lean person.

And what does all this mean for the person wanting to lose weight?  There is presently no magic bullet but we can start incorporating into our diet anti-inflammatory probiotics such as lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium lactis which have shown good results in fat loss studies. Also include more soluble fibres in the diet.  They are not only filling but encourage the production of low energy density polysaccharide prebiotics (such as Litesse) which have also been found to be helpful.  Naturally fermented vegetables such as saukerkraut and kim-chi will enhance the balance of good bacteria.

Avoid over-eating as it is linked with a decrease in friendly microorganisms such as bifidobacteria as well as increasing pro-inflammatory bacteria associated with low grade inflammation which is classically associated with the co-morbidities associated with obesity.

Here’s the science, for those who are interested.
Our gut microbiota is usually comprised of two main types of bacteria from the subkingdoms Firmicutes and Bacteriodetes.  The Firmicutes is a group of bacteria which is able to ferment non-digestible food components in the lower bowel (such as fibre and pectin) into short-chain fatty acids and monosaccharides using glycoside hydrolases and polysaccharide lysases. The Firmicutes have been shown to predominate in obese people where there is a 20% increase and a 90% decrease in the Bacteroidetes. When the bacteria from a group of over-weight animals are transplanted into the sterilised guts of lean animals there is a 60% increase in body fat in those animals over 2 weeks. This is accompanied by increased insulin resistance, adipocyte hypertrophy and increased levels of circulating leptin and glucose.  These bacteria are also able to boost anabolic processes linked to triglyceride production and lipoprotein lipase-driven fatty acid storage. In short, there is an increase in energy gain in an obese person coming from the wrong bacterial balance in the gut.


Turnbaugh PJ, Ley RE, Mahowald MA, et al An obesity-associated gut microbiome with increased capacity for energy harvest. Nature 2006:444,1009-10DiBaise JK, Zhang H, Crowell MD et al. Gut microbiota and its possible relationship with obesity Mayo Clin Proc 2008: 83(4) 460-469

Ley RE, Turnbaugh PJ, Klein S, et al. Microbial ecology: human gut microbes associated with obesity. Nature 2006: 444, 1022-3

Delzenne NM, Cani PD. The role of intestinal microbiota in energy metabolism and metabolic disorders. Int Diabetes Monitor 2010:22(5) 189-195

Thanks to Dr Robert Buist, formulator of the Isowhey weight management range.


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