Probiotics Could Protect Bacon-Eaters from Weight Gain
Researchers have found that replacing the gut bacteria of mice on a diet of lard with that of mice on a diet of fish oil prevented them from gaining weight. The details aren't too pretty, though.
Photo via Flickr user dinnerseries
Struggling dieters, we have great news!
But first: Are you a mouse? This really only applies to mice. For now, at least.
Let's back up. By now, you've probably heard about the growing interest in gut bacteria, which—as we've previously noted—are believed to influence everything from our mental states to our weight.
You may also have heard something about this hot new jam called "fecal transplants," which are precisely what they sound like. A few years back, scientists discovered that giving patients with infectious diarrhea a transplant of fecal matter from a healthy human cured them of their wretched condition. The reason: the new and improved gut bacteria inside the transplant material took over and replaced the bad bacteria present therein.
And predictably, the gut flora of someone who eats nothing but processed garbage and saturated fat is a little bit different from that of someone who enjoys a diet of raw kale, nut milk, and sunshine. And there, in highly simplified terms, lies the potential key to bacterially enhanced weight loss.
So, let's review: Mice + feces = cancel your SoulCycle membership? We're getting there, but stay with us.
A study published this week in the journal Cell Metabolism has found that mice fed a diet of lard benefitted from gut microbe transplants from mice fed diets of fish oil. In fact, those transplants prevented them from gaining weight due to their pork-heavy diets.
In the first set of experiments, a group of Swedish researchers began feeding two sets of mice lard or fish oil for 11 weeks. After that time, they found that the mice on the lard diet had developed colonies of a bacteria called Bilophila, which is linked to gut inflammation. Mice on the the fish oil diet, however, were found to contain a bacteria called Akkermansia muciniphila, which is believed to prevent weight gain in mice.
"We were surprised that the lard and the fish oil diet, despite having the same energy content and the same amount of dietary fiber—which is the primary energy source for the gut bacteria—resulted in fundamentally different gut microbiota communities and that the microbiota per se had such large effects on health," said lead study author Robert Caesar in a press release.
The researchers then embarked on a series of fecal transplants, introducing gut bacteria from the fish oil group to the lard group.
They found that the lard-laden mice "were protected against diet-induced weight gain and inflammation" (though the reverse was not true for the fish oil-fed mice). "This demonstrates that gut microbes are an independent factor aggravating inflammation associated with diet-induced obesity and gives hope that a probiotic might help counteract a 'greasy' diet," the study notes.
Of course, more research is needed to determine exactly if and how beneficial strains of bacteria like Akkermansia could be used as a probiotic. In the meantime, don't attempt a DIY fecal transplant and just start taking your fish oil.