Gut bacteria plays a role in youth obesity

Posted on Sep 27, 2016

by: David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) Gut bacteria may mediate some of the processes that lead to obesity in children and adolescents, according to a new study conducted by researchers from Yale University and published in the Journal of Endocrinology & Metabolism.

The researchers found that overweight youth have a different composition of gut flora than do youth of healthy weight.

The human gut naturally hosts more than 10,000 species of microbes in such abundance that this “microbiome” outnumbers the body’s human cells by a factor of 10 to 1. The microbiome is known to play a key role in regulating digestion, metabolism and immune function, and scientists continue to uncover new ways in which it influences health.

Gut bacteria may directly cause obesity

The researchers analyzed the gut flora of 84 participants between the ages of 7 and 20, and also analyzed blood samples for short-chain fatty acids. They also used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure body fat distribution. Seven of the participants were overweight, 27 were obese, 35 were severely obese and 15 were of normal weight.

The scientists found that at least eight separate groups of bacteria were differently distributed between youth with normal and those with excessive levels of body fat. Four of those groups were found in higher levels among obese and severely obese youths; these bacterial groups were also more effective at digesting carbohydrates when found in obese youth than when found in normal-weight youths. The other four groups were found in significantly lower levels among obese and severely obese youths.

Additionally, obese children had higher blood levels of short-chain fatty acids, indicating a different makeup to their gut flora. Short-chain fatty acids are a metabolic product produced by certain species of gut bacteria.

The fatty acids were also found to be linked with fat production in the liver. This suggests that certain gut bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids which are then taken up by the liver and stored as fat. Thus, the gut bacteria may be directly contributing to increased body fat.

“This association could signal that children with certain gut bacteria face a long-term risk of developing obesity,” senior author Nicola Santoro said.

Obesity rates among children have more than doubled in the past 30 years. Among adolescents, the rate has quadrupled.

Childhood and adolescent obesity increases the risk of numerous health problems later in life, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer.

Your diet matters even more than you think

Researchers are only just beginning to uncover the myriad, complex interactions between diet, metabolism, health and the gut microbiome.

A 2015 study in the journal Nature found that emulsifiers, a nearly ubiquitous class of food ingredients used to improve food texture and increase shelf life, can change the composition of the gut microbiome in a way that produces chronic inflammation. This type of inflammation, in turn, has been linked to obesity, diabetes, liver disease and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Studies have also shown that people with IBD have a different microbiome composition than people without the disease.

A prior Nature study found that within 24 hours of starting a diet heavy in meat, the gut microbiome changes to favor a species of bacteria called Bilophila wadsworthia, which has been linked with inflammatory bowel disease. This bacteria particularly likes fat, and may therefore also increase in a high-fat diet.

Studies have also shown that gut flora can influence the brain, potentially influencing our mood and even our behavior to encourage us to eat the foods that favor them. This may partially explain the addictive properties of junk food.

Other studies have suggested that abnormal gut flora may be linked with the development of autism.

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