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Study: Diversity of bacteria in feces linked to body fat


(NaturalNews) Researchers from King's College London have identified potentially important differences in the microbial makeup of feces from obese and non-overweight individuals, in a study published in the journal Genome Biology.

The study is part of a recent explosion of research into the microbiome, the billions of microorganisms that naturally inhabit the human body. The gut alone hosts more than 10,000 species, which outnumber our own cells by 10 to 1, and have been shown to play key roles in everything from digestion and metabolism to immune function and even mood.

At least 50 percent of human feces is actually shed bacteria.

Do microbes cause the liver to store more fat?

The researchers collected and analyzed fecal samples from more than 3,600 twins, then compared the microbial makeup of the samples to six different measures of obesity, including body mass index (BMI) and the prevalence of several different kinds of body fat.

Bacterial composition was most heavily correlated with visceral fat – found around the belly and nearby organs – which is the kind most strongly linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other metabolic disorders. The researchers found that the people with the highest levels of visceral fat had the lowest microbial diversity in their feces.

The researchers also found evidence that twins tended to have similar degrees of microbial diversity. This does not necessarily point to a genetic link, however, since twins also tend to have shared many environmental factors – including the same womb.

Lead author Michelle Beaumont could not explain the link between body fat and microbial diversity, but suggested that perhaps lack of microbial diversity leads to the dominance of certain species that turn carbohydrates into fat efficiently.

"As this was an observational study we cannot say precisely how communities of bacteria in the gut might influence the storage of fat in the body, or whether a different mechanism is involved in weight gain," she said.

At least one recent study supports this hypothesis. The study, conducted by researchers from Yale University and published in the Journal of Endocrinology & Metabolism, found a different microbial composition in the guts of overweight and non-overweight youths.

The study also found that obese children had higher levels of short-chain fatty acids in their blood. These fatty acids, which can be turned into stored fat by the liver, are a metabolic byproduct of certain gut microbes.

Eat real foods to maintain your health

Beaumont suggested that people might be able to improve the composition of their gut microbiomes by eating a diet more similar to that of our evolutionary ancestors – that is, a wide diversity of whole foods.

Even without producing a change in our gut flora, there's no doubt that such a diet would lead to improved health. But there is also evidence that a dietary change can lead to rapid and beneficial (or harmful) changes in the gut microbiome.

In a study published in the journal Nature in 2014, researchers assigned 10 people to eat only the food provided by the researchers, either a diet made almost entirely of animal products, or one that was almost entirely fruits and vegetables.

Within 24 hours, all participants showed dramatic changes in their gut microbiomes, as measured by fecal samples. Participants on the meat-heavy diet showed an increase in species with a high tolerance for bile, and a drop in species that break down carbohydrates. Other bacterial species changed their gene expression to better digest protein. These participants also showed increases in a fat-loving species named Bilophila wadsworthia, which has been linked to inflammatory bowel disease.

Participants on the vegetarian diet showed little change in species composition, but the species present underwent changes in gene expression for more efficient digestion of cellulose and starch.

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