How These Gut Bacteria Can Help You Lose Weight

Posted by Amanda Atchison on May 4, 2015 Blog | | No comments

Scientists have identified a gut bacterium that could provide new treatment for overweight, obesity, and diabetes. There are ways to foster the growth of these bacteria, but first a little background.

It is estimated that between 500 and 1000 species of gut bacteria make their home in the human gut. And not just a few of each—there are trillions of bacteria living your body.

In fact, for every human cell in your body, there are 10 bacteria. One way of looking at it is that we humans are, in fact, 90% bacteria. They’re small, though, so they only make up about 2% of total human-body mass.

It can be difficult for us to imagine the deeply symbiotic relationship that we share with certain bacteria, because we don’t see them. But make no mistake, our lives depend on them, and so does the quality of our lives.

In fact, a formal trial is underway in Puerto Rico to see if exposing babies born via C-section to their mothers’ vaginal fluids after birth can improve health outcomes. Michael Pollan talks about this and more in an excellent article recently published in the New York Times called, Some of My Best Friends are Germs.

Now, in a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences researchers see a potentially strong role for the Akkermansia muciniphila bacteria.

This bacteria, according to Science Daily:

“is present in the intestinal system of all humans, from babies to the elderly. This microorganism is found in the intestinal mucus layer that protects against intruders.”

In obese and Type-2 diabetic mice, it was found that levels of Akkermansia muciniphila had been compromised. Feeding the test animals oligofructose prebiotics appeared to have boosted the levels back to normal.

These are insoluble fibers that can be found in foods like onions, leeks, garlic, yams, and bananas. Since the fibers cannot be digested, they survive the small intestines and make it into the large intestines where they can be selectively fermented and digested by certain microorganisms.


Since oligofructose can be difficult to obtain in large quantities in the diet, a gluten-free prebiotic supplements like this, may be appropriate.

prebiotinPrebiotics differ from probiotics in that they are not live bacteria products. Rather, prebiotics are those insoluble fibers that help feed the good bacteria already present and help promote healthy population levels. There may be a case for supplementation being used to restore healthy levels of gut flora, while natural foods can be effective in maintaining them.

When Akkermansia populations had been restored, the mice in the study lost weight, suffered from less inflammation, and lowered their levels of insulin resistance.

Another very interesting finding of the study is that increasing the Akkermansia populations also thickened the gut’s mucus barrier. This helps prevent gut contents from getting into the blood stream, or what is commonly referred to as having a leaky gut, which can potentially lead to a number of autoimmune disorders.

In the past, I’ve talked about the near-infinite variables we are working with when it comes to health, nutrition, and fitness. Gut flora happens to be one of the most interesting, promising, and impactful areas of research, in my opinion.

Here, Michael Pollan compares tending to our gut flora with tending to our gardens:

“The successful gardener has always known you don’t need to master the science of the soil, which is yet another hotbed of microbial fermentation, in order to nourish and nurture it. You just need to know what it likes to eat — basically, organic matter — and how, in a general way, to align your interests with the interests of the microbes and the plants. The gardener also discovers that, when pathogens or pests appear, chemical interventions “work,” that is, solve the immediate problem, but at a cost to the long-term health of the soil and the whole garden. The drive for absolute control leads to unanticipated forms of disorder.”
—Michael Pollan

Finally, I don’t want to overhype the potential of our increased understanding of the human microbiome.

It may turn out not to be the panacea that some want to believe. But what I do know is that we are only just beginning to even comprehend the possibilities. Did you knowbacteria communicate with each other within a single species? They even behave differently based on how many bacteria are present. It turns out they are actually multi-lingual and are able to communicate with bacteria of different species, too.

It may be worth noting that many people who have suffered from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) have found relief by minimizing the amounts of oligofructose and inulin in their diets.

Also, resistant starches are seeing a bit of a surge in popularity. They are an oligosaccharide and are considered a prebiotic, too.

Just as Pollan points out, the successful gardner doesn’t necessarily master soil science in order to nourish and nurture his fields. In another hat tip to biomimicry, nature mimicry, and the evolutionary clues, we can perhaps make choices that align our interests with the interests of the microbes with which we live so intimately.

Sources: Wikipedia 1, 2, 3, 4 • BBCDaily MailWomen in the WorldNew York TimesPolicyMicPNAS.orgScience