Could Our Gut Bacteria Be Tipping the Bathroom Scale?

According to two brand new studies, our intestinal microflora (yes, that’s right, those little critters in our guts), could play a major role in weight loss and weight gain. And importantly, this science may have huge implications for better, more effective ways to lose weight!

Here’s what the science is saying, and our team’s take on it.


Study 1: The Gastric Bypass

If you haven’t heard of the gastric bypass before, it’s a popular procedure that leads to rapid weight loss, reduced body fat and improved blood sugar. Only downside? It’s a super invasive operation that shrinks the stomach and rearranges the intestines with the use of a scalpel … not fun. Anyways, in this animal model of the surgery the bypass mice quickly lost a lot of weight (whereas in the “sham,” or pretend bypass group their weight remained the same, even on a weight-loss diet). But here’s the real kicker: the scientists then transferred intestinal contents from each group of mice to the others, and those who got the contents from the bypass mice instantly lost weight—no surgery needed!

This super-cool science suggests that gastric bypass surgery works in part by changing the balance of our intestinal flora, and that down the road non-surgical treatments for obesity could be developed that adjust or “fix”  the gut microbiota (once researchers know what the perfect balance is, of course). How this shift in gut bacteria causes weight loss is not yet known either but the researchers say that these critters are somehow revving up metabolism to burn off more energy—stay tuned on this remarkable hypothesis as the studies start to roll in.

Study 2: The Breathalyzer

Here, participants let scientists look at the levels of hydrogen and methane in their breath, in a breathalyzer test of sorts. To put this into context for you (in case you’re wondering why is this important?), breath methane is related to higher body mass index (BMI) and increased body fat. This study did indeed find a higher BMI and body fat content in people with higher methane and hydrogen levels but the real find here was that elevated levels of these gases and  higher weight were also related to the presence of a pesky gut invader called m smithii*.

This bit of neat data suggest that certain gut microbes could be partly responsible for obesity—but again, stay tuned because more science needs to be done before we can say more.

In conclusion, we predict the that next scientific steps will be to take stool from people who have undergone gastric bypass surgery and put it into mice to see if they lose weight, and then from person to person to see if this new finding holds. We think this research holds so much promise, but don’t hold your breath for this as a new weight-loss therapy just quite yet (or maybe in this case, do!). For immediate action on your health, our Weight Management app provides you with the perfect one-week meal plan to help you kick things off right. The meal plan addresses the top 3 things that are proven to slow down weight loss, or are at the root of being able to shed those pesky pounds.  The app provides focus on which foods will slow your weight loss, which foods will make your weight loss easier, and even tailors an exercise plan for gym, home and travel to help you achieve your goals! It’s like having your holistic nutritionist and your trainer right at your fingertips!

*full name of this pesky gut bug is Methanobrevibacter smithii

Study 1: Liou AP, Paziuk M, Luevano JM Jr, Machineni S, Turnbaugh PJ, Kaplan LM, 2013. Conserved shifts in the gut microbiota due to gastric bypass reduce host weight and adiposity. Sci Transl Med, 5(178).

Study 2: Mathur R, Amichai M, Chua KS, Mirocha J, Barlow GM, Pimentel M, 2013. Methane and hydrogen positivity on breath test is associated with greater body mass index and body fat. J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 98(4):E698-702.