Thursday, May 18, 2017

Gut Bacteria, Diet, Pets and Obesity

In 2008, investigators at the Washington University St. Louis Medical School indicated that trillions of bacteria live in our gut. These bacteria perform a number of functions, including the extraction of calories from food and the management of nutrients. The bacteria are common to all people, but each individual has a unique set of gut bacteria. Studies have shown that these bacteria play an important role in weight control. Further, diet and contact with pets at a young age can influence gut bacteria.

Past research in mice has shown that obese mice had more of the bacteria called Firmicutes in their gut, and fewer of the bacteria called Bacteroidetes.  Therefore, Firmicutes were assumed to be associated with obesity, and Bacteroidetes were assumed to be associated with leanness.

The researchers also concluded that diet played a significant role in the number of Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes in the gut of the mice. The mice that were fed a low-fat diet had more Bacteroidetes and less Firmicutes than the mice who were fed the high-fat diet. Since diet apparently plays an important role in the composition of gut bacteria in mice, there is a good chance that diet plays a significant role in the human gut bacteria composition.

And according to one study, there seems to be a high probability that contact with pets in the home, at a very young age, may heightened gut bacteria that can deter obesity. The researchers concluded that "The impact of pet ownership varies under different birth scenarios; however, in common, exposure to pets increased the abundance of two bacteria, Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, which have been negatively associated with childhood atopy and obesity."

Of course, more study is needed to determine exactly how diet and contact with pets can influence gut bacteria. Healthcare providers could then work to influence the use of certain types of diets, and pet ownership if feasible, that could help grow desirable gut bacteria.

Indeed, organizations that provide meal replacements might be especially interested in creating diets that influence the growth of desirable gut bacteria. And pet shops will likely be interested in the pets that are most associated with healthy gut bacteria. At any rate, understanding how to cause the growth of certain gut bacteria that function to reduce obesity or cause leanness might be useful. 

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