This may seem like science fiction stuff, but it may be true nonetheless:
Not only are the “gut microbiota” different in lean people and obese people, but the mix of microbes changes after an obese patient undergoes gastric bypass and becomes more like the microbiota in lean people…
[The experiment described in the article] is the first experimental evidence that changes in the gut microbiota cause the weight loss after gastric bypass, and that the new, post-bypass mix of microbes can cause weight loss in animals that did not have surgery…
Slimming bacteria work their magic in either of two ways, studies of gut microbiota show. They seem to raise metabolism, allowing people to burn off a 630-calorie chocolate chip muffin more easily.
They also extract fewer calories from the muffin in the first place. In contrast, fattening bacteria wrest every last calorie from food.
Transferring slimming bacteria into obese people might be one way to give them the benefits of weight-loss surgery without an operation. It might also be possible to devise a menu that encourages the proliferation of slimming bacteria and reduces the population of fattening bacteria.
This information harks back to our recent very contentious discussion about weight-loss and willpower, the one that pretty much caused me to swear off writing about weight loss, a vow I broke almost instantly.
But to revisit (I’m a glutton for punishment, as well as pectin jelly beans), the argument centered on my contention that a significant number of overweight people do not eat more (or exercise less) than a significant number of thin people. Of course, many do, but I’m not sure what the breakdown is.
That’s why the above study interests me. As much as I’ve read about diet and weight, I don’t think I’ve ever read anything about these magic bacteria. But it’s not new; see this for another study, this time one in which naturally obese-resistant mice (bred for the ability to eat all they want, be kept from exercising, and still not gain weight) became obese when the human bacterium enterobacter was introduced into their guts.
I’d like a lot more research before I come to any conclusions, but it certainly supports my previous observations. It also makes me wonder, though, if introducing these bacteria into heavy people’s guts would ultimately be good for their health. I suspect it has something to do with how much extra weight they already carry and how much their health has suffered from it, because there is plenty of evidence (see this, for example) that being underweight is more destructive to health than being mildly overweight. Could it be that slimming bacteria, or the lack of food absorption they foster, impairs health in some way over time?
And of course, if famine comes, the slim people will be out of luck. Then they’ll wish they’d kept their old gut flora and fauna.