Personalized treatments for obesity: Gut microbiome link identified by study

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29 May 2018 --- Researchers at King’s College London have uncovered the role the gut plays in processing and distributing visceral fat on the body. The research demonstrates that the response of our gut microbes to our diets can directly affect obesity. Significantly, this means that they are primarily controlled by what we eat rather than our genes, paving the way for personalized treatments that utilize gut enhancing fibers or probiotics for obesity and other chronic diseases.

“This new knowledge means we can alter the gut environment and confront the challenge of obesity from a new angle that is related to modifiable factors such as diet and the microbes in the gut. This is exciting because unlike our genes and our innate risk to develop fat around the belly, the gut microbes can be modified with probiotics, with drugs or with high fiber diets,” says Dr. Jonas Zierer, first author of the study.

Published in Nature Genetics, the study analyzed the fecal metabolome (the community of chemicals produced by gut microbes in the feces) of 500 pairs of twins to build up a picture of how the gut governs these processes and distributes fat. The team also assessed how much of that activity is genetic and how much is determined by environmental factors.

The analysis of stool samples identified biomarkers for the build-up of internal fat around the waist. It's well known that this visceral fat is strongly associated with the development of conditions including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

By understanding how microbial chemicals lead to the development of fat around the waist in some, but not all the twins, the King's team hopes also to advance the understanding of very similar mechanisms that drive the development of obesity.

The study is the “first to study the biochemical compounds that microbes produce and to link them to genes and bacteria,” Dr. Christina Menni, an author of the research at King's College tells NutritionInsight.  

“In the future, personalized diets can be made to modify the bacteria producing the abdominal obesity associated metabolites. Smart toilets or smart toilet paper will give us a snapshot of the metabolites produced in our guts, and what foods to eat to readdress any imbalance” she adds. 

“This exciting work in our twins shows the importance to our health and weight of the thousands of chemicals that gut microbes produce in response to food. Knowing that they are largely controlled by what we eat rather than our genes is great news, and opens up many ways to use food as medicine,” says Tim Spector, Head of King’s College Twin Research Group.

NutritionInsight has recently reported on the growing research and application areas for ingredients that target the gut in a series of special reports. The first, focusing on fiber, can be read here.