Digestive Bacteria and Weight Loss




If you recall one of The Hound’s recent posts on the health benefits of probiotics, you should remember how I discussed the idea of the ways a healthy intestinal bacteria balance can not only maximize overall health, but could also help you with weight loss. Well, it turns out two recent scientific studies proves that my “gut feeling” was 100% correct!


The first, conducted on mice by Dr. Lee M. Kaplan, director of the obesity, metabolism and nutrition institute at the Massachusetts General Hospital, was recently published in the peer reviewed Journal, Science Translational Medicine. Dr. Kaplan and his team set out to determine what accounted for the dramatic weight loss in patients that have had gastric bypass surgery. It had been theorized by Kaplan and others that it was not necessarily the change in the physical size of the patients’ stomach capacity, but the changes in bacteria levels that resulted from reconfiguring their guts. If Dr. Kaplan’s theories “held weight,” it would mean that perhaps the same weight loss results could be gotten by adjusting the bacterial levels of obese persons, without the need for surgery!


If you recall another recent Hound post on the barbaric “aspire assist” surgery, you will know that I often bark at conventional medicine and their approach to weight loss and obesity treatments. However, to give credit where credit is due, Dr. Kaplan’s forward thinking approach, that could theoretically “bypass” weight loss surgery all together, is one that gets The Hound’s whole-hearted support.


Dr. Kaplan’s experiments were the first to try to determine if the documented microbial changes that occur after gastric bypass could account for weight loss. Previous studies had shown that the make-up of digestive bacteria in an obese person changed significantly after the surgery. In fact the micro-flora levels resembled that of a thin person after the operation. But it was unknown if the change occurred from the surgery itself, or from the weight loss that followed the operation.


The Studies

Dr. Kaplan and his researchers used mice, which they had fattened up with a high calorie high fat diet. They conducted gastric bypass operations on one group of mice, and two other groups had “sham” operations in which the animals’ intestines were merely severed and then sewn back together. This was done to see whether just having the gut cut open and put back together, without having the bypass, would have any effect on bacteria types or levels.


One sham group was kept on the rich food, while the other was put on a weight-loss diet.

As Dr. Kaplan had hoped, the microbial populations quickly changed in the mice that had bypass, and those same mice lost weight. In the sham group, the bacteria counts did not change significantly, even in those that were put on a weight-loss diet.


Exactly how the altered intestinal bacteria might lead to weight loss is not exact known yet. But it seems that somehow the right balance of microbes seem to rev up metabolism so that the animals tend to burn off more energy.


People who have bypass surgery generally lose 65% to 75% percent of their excess weight. Dr. Kaplan stopped short of saying that the microbial changes alone could account for such dramatic reductions, but did say that they could account for as much as 20%. For many, a microbial-based treatment that could achieve a 20% reduction in body weight, could be significant.


The second study, this one involving humans, and published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, set out to determine if there were particular microbes in the guts of overweight persons that could be contributing to their obesity. The researchers looked for the presence of bacteria in over 700 people. They discovered that the majority of those who were overweight in the group did indeed have a greater level of a microbe called Methanobrevibacter smithii. The researchers believed that the abundance of this particular bacteria in the heavier people helped them to release more calories from the food that they ate. More calories released but not burned, means they get stored as fat, and lead to weight gain.



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