Gut bacteria: a new twist on weight loss

Racha Adib
Racha Adib
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Do you ever feel like you’ve been putting your all into losing weight, but the results are just not satisfying enough? What if you’re missing a piece of the puzzle?

A recent study published in the Science Translational Medicine magazine revealed that the gut bacteria of mice undergo drastic changes following gastric bypass surgery. The study shows that post surgery, the altered bacteria were similar to those of mice with a normal weight.

To dig further, scientists decided to transfer the altered bacteria into obese mice that had not undergone surgery. The results were quite impressive. The mice experienced rapid weight loss equivalent to 20% of the weight they would have lost had they undergone the surgery. It seems that weight loss effects were due the altered bacteria’s ability in regulating the fat and sugar concentrations that entered the gut. It was also found to elevate body metabolism, in return helping in burning off more energy.

If we could only find ways to manipulate gut bacterial populations and mimic those effects. But for now, unfortunately we don't have enough solid facts to do that.

In the meantime, there are positive choices you can make to encourage good bacteria. If we eat a diet loaded with red meat, saturated fats and simple sugars, certain types of bad bacteria will take over and survive. On the other hand, if we eat a diet high in fiber, like fruits, vegetables and grains, a much healthier population of bacteria will thrive.

If we could only find ways to manipulate gut bacterial populations and mimic those effects. But for now, unfortunately we don't have enough solid facts to do that.

Racha Adib

What are the facts? Many bodies of evidence support the benefits of probiotics, which contain living bacteria, on the gut flora.

There are limited sources of probiotics however in the diet:

1. Yogurt is a familiar source of probiotics. Make sure “live culture”, “live bacteria”, or “probiotic” is listed on the label because not all yogurts are probiotic. In fact, the live culture or bacteria makes the yogurt probiotic.

2. Kefir, a thick form of yogurt-like drink made from fermented milk, is a good source for probiotics.

3. Aged cheeses (like gouda and blue cheese) are a source of resilient probiotics that can survive their way through your intestines.

4. Soy beverages and unfermented milk contain weaker strains of probiotics that often do not produce their full health effects. However, fermented milk such as buttermilk is a better source of probiotics.

5. Miso soup, a popular Japanese dish, is a paste made from fermented soybean. Miso contains more than 160 bacterial strains.

Besides being found in foods, probiotics are also available as supplements. Even though they don't provide the full benefits that dietary food can offer in terms of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, they are more convenient. Remember to always consult your doctor before you decide on taking them.

Prebiotics, on the other hand, are special form of dietary fibers that help nourish and enhance the function of the gut bacteria, therefore supporting its growth in your gut. They can be readily found in non-digestible plant sources such asparagus, artichokes, onions, and garlic. They are also being added to cereals, breads, biscuits, yogurts and other dairy products.

Journal Reference:
1. A. P. Liou, M. Paziuk, J.-M. Luevano, S. Machineni, P. J. Turnbaugh, L. M. Kaplan. Conserved Shifts in the Gut Microbiota Due to Gastric Bypass Reduce Host Weight and Adiposity. Science Translational Medicine, 2013; 5 (178): 178ra41 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3005687


Racha Adib is a Beirut-based licensed dietitian who offers nutrition and wellness counseling to individuals and corporations. She graduated from the American University of Beirut with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition and Dietetics followed by a certificate in Essentials of Business. She is a member of the Lebanese Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics and the Lebanese League for Women in Business. She has also been frequently featured in media on MTV's “The Doctors,” LBC's “Mission Fashion,” and Orbit's “Ayoun Beirut” among others, and hosts a weekly radio program on the latest nutrition news and science breakthroughs. She can be found on Twitter: @rachaadib

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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