THURSDAY, Sept. 5 (HealthDay News) -- The bacteria living in
your digestive system may be the last thing on your mind, but a new
study in mice raises the prospect that obese people might get
benefits through the transfer of a thinner person's gut germs.
The research is preliminary, and there are a variety of
obstacles, including as-yet-unknown side effects in people, cost
and the "ick" factor. "Fecal transplants" are now used to treat
people with an intestinal disorder, and they're not for the faint
of heart (or stomach).
Still, the findings from researchers at the University of
Colorado reveal the potential promise of the approach.
In the future, there may be "a way to swap bacteria that's not
gross," said Justin Sonnenburg, an assistant professor at the
Stanford University School of Medicine. "There may even someday be
a pill you could take."
At issue are the germs that live within your body and help you
digest food, among other things. The bacteria live in communities,
and "there's a huge, increasing interest in understanding these
communities at a fundamental level," Sonnenburg said. "That way, we
can prevent diseases they're associated with."
The new study looked at what might happen if germs from a
thinner person were transferred into an obese person.
They took fecal bacteria from four sets of adult, female, human
twins in which one sister was obese (a step above simply being
overweight), and then transplanted the germs into mice. They then
fed the mice various diets, including some meant to represent the
typical unhealthy American diet.
"[The results] show that mice that get microbes from obese individuals gain more weight than those that get microbes from lean individuals," said study co-author Rob Knight, an associate professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "In other words, the weight gain can be transmitted from humans to mice by transferring their microbes."
There's another twist: Mice like to eat each other's feces, so
they naturally transferred fecal bacteria to each other. The mice
with germs from the obese twins appeared to be affected by their
counterparts with germs from thinner twins and actually gained less
But the opposite wasn't the case. And, the researchers found, a
typical high-fat, American-style diet seemed to eliminate the
benefits for the obese-twin mice of eating the feces of their
thinner twin counterparts.
What does this all mean? It's possible to disrupt weight gain by
transferring gut bacteria and to use mice to understand more about
the germs inside humans, Knight said. Results of animal studies,
however, often don't translate to humans.
The study, which appears in the Sept. 6 issue of the journal
Science, was funded in part by the food company Kraft, the
U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Crohn's and Colitis
Foundation of America.
For more on
obesity, try the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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