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Gut microbes could offer weight loss benefits of GBP surgery – without the surgery

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March 28, 2013

Gut microbes could provide weight loss benefits without surgery (Photo: Shutterstock)

Gut microbes could provide weight loss benefits without surgery (Photo: Shutterstock)

Gastric bypass (GBP) surgery has become a popular procedure for the treatment of morbid obesity. While many assume it is the reduction of the functional volume of the stomach that helps people feel fuller while eating less that is the solely responsible for the patient’s weight loss, it has been known for several years that there are other contributing factors at work. New research provides further evidence of this and could allow patients to see some of the weight loss benefits of GBP surgery without undergoing the surgery itself.

It is estimated there are around 100 trillion microorganisms in the human gastrointestinal tract. While people can live without them, research suggests the human/gut microorganism relationship is a mutually beneficial one, with the microorganisms doing everything from preventing the growth of harmful bacteria to producing vitamins for their host. Research has also shown differences in the microbial population – or microbiota – found in the gut of obese individuals (both mice and humans) and those in the gut of lean individuals.

Previous research has also shown that GBP surgery leads to changes in the gastrointestinal microbiota in humans and animals by resetting the balance between two types of bacteria. While some thought these changes might be a result of subsequent weight loss, researchers from Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) have shown that the GBP surgery itself is directly responsible.

In experiments on mice, the researchers found that transferring samples of the altered microbiota from mice that had undergone GBP into mice raised in sterile conditions that hadn’t received surgery resulted in rapid weight loss in the germ-free mice.

“Simply by colonizing mice with the altered microbial community, the mice were able to maintain a lower body fat, and lose weight – about 20 percent as much as they would if they underwent surgery,” said Peter Turnbaugh, a Bauer Fellow at Harvard’s Center for Systems Biology.

This was despite the mice subjects being fatted up on a high-fat, high-sugar diet beforehand. “In some ways we were biasing the results against weight loss,” Turnbaugh said. “The question is whether we might have seen a stronger effect if they were on a different diet.”

While more study is needed to understand the underlying mechanism responsible for the weight loss, the research suggests it could one day be possible to provide some of the weight loss benefits of GBP surgery without actually performing the surgery itself.

"We need to learn a good deal more about the mechanism by which a microbial population changed by gastric bypass exerts its effects – including whether it contributes to the improvement in diabetes and other metabolic disorders we see in patients having the procedure – and then we need to learn if we can produce these effects, either the microbial changes or the associated metabolic changes, without surgery," explains Lee Kaplan, MD, PhD, director of the Obesity, Metabolism and Nutrition Institute at MGH and an associate professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

"The ability to achieve even some of these effects without surgery would give us an entirely new way to treat the critical problem of obesity, one that could help patients unable or unwilling to have surgery," adds Kaplan

Kaplan and Turnbaugh are senior authors of the study that appears in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Sources: Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
13 Comments

To lose weight, two things to try:

- juicing : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fat,_Sick_and_Nearly_Dead

- banning corn syrup, which means junk food and pretty much all manufactured food these days : "Sugar: The Bitter Truth " www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBnniua6-oM

Freyr Gunnar
28th March, 2013 @ 04:32 am PDT

It's too bad they don't have a crowd-funding tool for research like this. I bet this one would be one of the projects that got blasted with donations. I can think of at least ten people I know who would gladly donate to this as they have been staring down the barrel of gastric surgery due to the utter failure of exercise and diet to effect weight loss.

VirtualGathis
28th March, 2013 @ 05:08 am PDT

Hmmmm- 20 percent means that for every 50 lbs. you'd lose by lap-band surgery, you could possibly lose up to 10 lbs. by this method - at least until your body re-adjusts to its 'natural' microbial balance, and you yoyo right back.

Nope, there just ain't no substitute for informed self-control - and reasonable exercise.

OuldBill
28th March, 2013 @ 09:56 am PDT

Elephants and other animals will sometimes eat their droppings in order to re-establish the normal intestinal biota.

ezeflyer
28th March, 2013 @ 01:08 pm PDT

@ Freyr Gunnar, and all of the rest who commented earlier.

I take it that none of you have never had an obesity problem. I’m 6 feet 3 inches tall (190.5 cm.) and weigh in at 400 lbs (181.4 Kg.) I was at 468 lbs. (212.3 kg.) at one time. I’ve tried exercise, eating healthy and cutting out surgar’s and sugary products. IT IS NOT AN EASY THING TO LOSE WEIGHT. If this procedure will work on humans I’m all for it. I’d love to be at about one-half the weight I am now.

Some of the suggestions I’ve read here are both offensive, rude and down right non-sensitive. Try wearing a bag with a bunch of bowling balls in them that double your weight and see how easy it is to try and do anything.

JMOdom
28th March, 2013 @ 03:58 pm PDT

Or you could get off you butt and get active and eat right. I astounds me how many people are still looking for that miracle weight loss trend that will allow them to continue to eat processed foods and sit on their ass all day. I losses over 50 pounds by eating fresh food I prepared and mountain biking. A health diet and exercise works every time all the time, you just cant be lazy about it.

Garrett Ross
28th March, 2013 @ 06:07 pm PDT

@JMOdom

Right on man, well said!

@ everyone else

So high fructose corn syrup is the only cause for obesity? Explain buddha.

Bob Humbly
28th March, 2013 @ 06:15 pm PDT

Many years ago the US Army did a test where they took healthy people and made one third eat normally as the control group, one third overeat, and one third under-eat. The group that overate gained an average of 50 pounds no matter how many excess calories consumed and when they went back to normal food consumption they lost the extra weight. The group that under-ate lost weight consistent with observed mass hunger events which include that a 20% reduction in calorie intake results in weight loss and a slowed metabolism that resulted in a 5-10 pound weight gain over their pretest weight upon returning to normal eating. The control group remained normal throughout.

The conclusion is that Anybody that is more than 75pounds overweight the cause is not overeating.

Pikeman
29th March, 2013 @ 04:34 am PDT

re; Bob Humbly

The obesity epidemic started at the same time as the introduction of high fructose corn syrup, and is not affecting nations that have banned high fructose corn syrup.

Also synthetic low calorie sweeteners link to gaining weight.

Slowburn
29th March, 2013 @ 08:41 am PDT

Alternatively, overweight people could try eating less food and doing more exercise. What a crazy idea!

packoftwenty
31st March, 2013 @ 02:33 pm PDT

My theory is that, with so many antibiotics being injected into our food, it stands to reason that our gut bacteria is being affected negatively.

Facebook User
1st April, 2013 @ 09:42 am PDT

I will put an interesting personal perspective on this.

I am overweight, 178 tall and 110kg. I (as previous posts have discussed) was in a serious motorcycle accident in 2011 and am semi crippled.

I exercise a lot. The only thing I can do however is swim. I swim at least 2km (max 5km) every day, I mix it up with sprints and alternate strokes. I do long distance swim races (see oceanswims website). I also work full time as well, have a daughter and play in a band.

I have the upper body of a gorilla BUT the pain drugs I take virtually stop my metabolism, plus kill will power and give me munchies. Sometimes it isn't so simple to "eat less and do more exercise".

I keep putting weight on and I seem unable to stop it. It is depressing and considering my level of exercise a tad unfair.

Be nice to get a magic tablet without banding....

Just saying

Speedbump Andy
2nd April, 2013 @ 06:55 pm PDT

It's good to hear that gut microbes can help in weight loss so that you don't have go under the knife to reduce some pounds of weight. The study is breakthrough for the weight loss surgeries.

Fiona Jesse Giffords
5th April, 2013 @ 11:12 pm PDT
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