We need more gut bacteria!

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Our lovely digestive system.

Right now, there are trillions of bacteria living inside your gut. If you were to take them all out and put them on a scale, they would weigh almost 3.5 pounds! I know it seems kind of gross, but the tiny microorganisms are actually good for you. They boost the body’s immune system, produce vital vitamins, and talk with different nerve cells. They’re so healthy for us, in fact, that researchers consider them to be just as important as our livers or kidneys, and the more variety we have in our bellies, the merrier! According to a new study from the University of Copenhagen, however, 1 in 4 people don’t have the right amount of bacteria in their guts.

The university’s health professionals analyzed the stomach bacteria of 169 obese people and 123 non-overweight participants. Apparently, about 25% of the subjects only had 40% of  the bacteria they were supposed to! Even though the results were true for all the subjects (that is, even though non-overweight participants had reduced numbers of bacteria as well), obese individuals were more likely to have less bacteria in their bellies. In addition, they were more likely to gain more weight in the future! “Our study shows that people having few and less diverse intestinal bacteria are more obese than the rest,” said Oluf Pedersen, Professor and Scientific Director University of Copenhagen. “They have… bacteria which exhibit the potential to cause mild [swelling] in the digestive tract and in the entire body… which we know from other studies to affect metabolism and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.”

What is it about being overweight that decreases bacteria? Unfortunately, the researchers couldn’t quite determine whether it was obesity causing less bacteria or less bacteria causing obesity. In other words, they’re not sure what came first: the chicken or the egg! As the health scientists point out, though, low-fat diets have been linked to an increase in bacteria. “This indicates that you can repair some of the damage to your gut bacteria simply by changing your dietary habits,” adds Pederson.

The researchers plan to carry out more research on the microorganisms. Their ultimate goal  is to find bacteria that can suppress appetite and use them as a natural medicine to prevent obesity and diabetes.

Featured image courtesy of BASF on Flickr. Digestive system image courtesy of Polygon Medical Animation on Flickr.