Like many others, I have tried the probiotic yogurts that are touted to help the digestive system. Putting these microbes in your system can be good. But what I found interesting is that having the wrong type of bacteria can actually have a negative influence your weight.
“A growing stack of research suggests that the mysterious, microscopic ‘zoo’ in your digestive system plays a role in how slim – or pudgy – you are,” Dr. Michael Roizen and Dr. Mehmet Oz wrote in the Houston Chronicle. Noting that these bacteria often are found in intestines, the doctors described the positive role of probiotics: “They break down food, help you absorb certain nutrients, keep your immune system firing on all cylinders and fend off invaders that can cause a nasty case of the runs. They even can protect against stomach ulcers and urinary tract infections, and can ease irritable bowel syndrome.”
Researchers have begun to be able to identify specific bacteria that can be problematic. In a 2008 report on NPR, Robert Krulwich reported on a Washington University study that found that bacteria-free mice remained skinny. Researcher Jeffrey Gordon found that food passed through the intestine largely undigested in mice that had no bacteria in their intestines. However, once the mice were exposed to bacteria, they turned their food into more calories and gained weight.
“When Gordon and a bunch of other scientists began to look more closely, they discovered that bacteria are not all alike,” Krulwich reported, noting that there are approximately 500 different bacteria species in the normal human intestine and another 500 types in the human mouth. Oz and Roizen wrote, “In one study, obese people were three times more likely than lean folks to have a virus called Ad-36 in their digestive tracts – a bug known to make chickens fatter. Also, some intestinal bacteria seem to trigger bigger appetites and a tendency to store more calories as fat.”
In addition, researchers have found that people who live in different parts of the world have different types of bacteria, with these differences mattering in weight gain. “Imagine a Cheerio sliding down the digestive tracts of an Inuit and an Argentine,” Krulwich explained. “The Inuit’s intestinal bacteria are great at digesting oats; the Argentine’s bacteria don’t much care for oats. What happens? The Inuit gains weight. The Argentine makes more frequent visits to the restroom.”
So can the bacteria be changed? “The obvious implication here is that if you find bacteria which are responsible for disease – and you can identify obesity in this – you can then target them to reduce the risk of that disease,” biologist Jeffrey Gordon was quoted as saying in the NPR story. Additionally, some researchers have reported that the right stomach bacteria can stop the development of type 1 diabetes in lab mice.
Roizen and Oz recommend eating prebiotic fibers known as inulin and oligosaccarides in order to nurture the “good” bacteria. Suggested foods are asparagus, onions, garlic, dandelion greens, Jerusalem artichokes, jicama, apples, barley, berries, tomatoes, honey, flaxseed and beans.
Taking a probiotic also can be helpful, especially if taken as a supplement. Roizen recommends taking a supplement regularly and suggests brands that contain Bacillus coagulans “because its outer shell is so tough that it can survive even the gnarliest mix of stomach acids. Two brands that have it: Sustenex and Digestive Advantage.” He also recommends those probiotics that can be activated by the intestinal tract’s acids (such as Culturelle).
Eventually, researchers may be able to change the way obesity is treated. “We are getting more and more evidence to show that obesity isn’t what we thought it used to be,” said Dr. Nikhil Dhurandhar of Louisiana Stat e University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center in 2006 MSNBC story. “It isn’t just (that) you’re eating too much and you’re lazy.” Explaining that a research field called “infectobesity” has emerged which looks at obesity with multiple causes, such as viruses and microbes. This research may eventually identify different treatments for different causes of obesity. The MSNBC story noted that Dhurandhar described the current regimen of diet and exercise as “like treating all fevers with one aspirin.”
Published On: July 30, 2010