Someday, stool transplants could help weight loss.
New studies have shown possible links between the diversity of our gut flora and weight gain. That’s right, bacteria living in your stool is linked to how much fat you have in your body.
This insight could pave the way for fecal transplants of bacteria to help people manage their weight. This might encourage a healthier diet so that the bacteria in the gut, and ultimately the stool, will be broadened, leading to a decreased risk of metabolic diseases. We wanted to characterize how the microbiome changes in obese people and see which bacteria live in the gut,” said Michelle Beaumont, a research associate in gut microbiome and obesity at Kings College London, and lead author of the study. “This study has shown a clear link between bacterial diversity in feces and markers of obesity and cardiovascular risk,” according to a CNN article.
Beaumont and her team examined stool samples from more than 1,300 sets of twins taking part in the UK study. When comparing samples, they looked at six measures of obesity, including body-mass index, upper to lower body fat ratios, and measurements of visceral fat, a form of fat typically found around important organs in the abdomen. The greatest difference in the types of microbes was seen when comparing visceral fat. People with lower levels of visceral fat, or leaner people, had a more diverse range of bacteria in their feces. Gut microbiomes that contain healthy, diverse inflammation-reducing bacteria have been shown to help reduce the risk of a wide variety of health conditions, including obesity, cancer, heart disease, infection, and auto immune diseases.
Visceral fat is one of the hardest fats to lose, Beaumont said, adding that the amount of this fat in the body is usually proportional to your actual weight. It has a much stronger association with the gut flora than BMI did. Because visceral fat is found in the abdominal cavity, it is close to many vital organs such as the pancreas, liver, and intestines. The higher the amount of visceral fat a person stores, the more at risk they are for certain health complications. The team stresses that for now this is an association only, they cannot state that differences in gut bacteria causes people to be more or less obese. It could be the diet that’s influencing this. However, she hypothesizes that the microbiome, or gut flora, of obese people may result in them extracting more nutrients from the foods they eat, contributing to more fat being formed.
Stool transplants from a person with a healthy gut flora have already been used successfully to cure antibiotic-resistant infections such as C. Difficile Colitis (Ever heard of “poop soups” used in Ancient China? They were way ahead of us!). Beaumont hopes to follow up her investigation by seeing whether fecal transplants from leaner people could change gut flora to help prevent weight gain. By reducing obesity, these transplants could also prevent metabolic diseases associated with obesity such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Dr. Zain Kassam, chief medical officer at OpenBiome is already conducting a clinical trial exploring the role of fecal transplants from a lean donor to treat obesity. “I can imagine a universe in the not-too-distant future where a microbial treatment can complement diet and exercise to deeply impact the obesity epidemic,” he said.
“To me, the most important finding was that each of the measures of obesity was associated with reduced diversity of the fecal microbiota.” Still, Beaumont highlighted that the easiest and simplest way to diversify those tiny microbes residing in your gut, your poop, and ultimately your weight, is diversifying your diet.
Main image provided courtesy of thetruthaboutcancer.com