Gut flora could be the key to preventing obesity. A recent study revealed that poor gut flora may trigger obesity and healthy gut flora may reduce the risk of obesity. Of course, a balanced diet and exercise are important parts of the equation, too.
LACTIC ACID BACTERIA & OBESITY PREVENTION
Daily intake of a lactic acid bacteria, otherwise known as Lactobacillus plantarum HEAL19, appears to be able to prevent obesity and reduce low-level inflammation.
"Rats who were given this specific lactic acid bacterium from their time in the uterus up to adult age put on significantly less weight than other rats. Both groups ate the same amount of high-energy food", explained Caroline Karlsson in a press release. Ms. Karlsson is the researcher in food hygiene at Lund University, where the study was conducted.
A healthy gut flora should contain a large proportion of "good bacteria," like lactic acid bacteria, in order to keep the inflammation-causing bacteria in check. For the study, rats that were given lactobacilli had a richer and better composition of the bacteria which occur naturally in the intestines.
A different group of rats ingested inflammation-causing Escherichia coli bacteria in their drinking water, and the same high-energy food as the other rats. The E. coli supplement led to changes in gut flora and increased body fat. The findings of the study were reported in the British Journal of Nutrition.
HEALTHY GUT FLORA & HEALTHY CHILDREN
Ms. Karlsson also studied the first feces of 79 children born vaginally. Since a fetus lives in a sterile environment, it has no micro-organisms in its intestines. During birth, the baby swallows the lactobacilli that are naturally present in its mother's vagina. The study showed that newborn babies who are born vaginally have lactobacilli in their gut flora as early as two days after birth, and high birth weight babies had more inflammation-causing bacteria, like E. coli, in their intestines than normal-weight babies.
It appears that a healthy gut flora at an early stage plays a part in general health and wellbeing later in life. Further study indicated that children with allergic eczema at the age of 18 months had a lower diversity in the gut flora when they were just a week old than the children who did not develop allergic eczema.
STEPS TOWARDS REDUCING CHILDHOOD OBESITY
These are interesting findings, but what does it all mean to you and me? We know that sedentary lifestyle, along with a diet high in calories, but low in nutritional value are huge contributing factors in childhood obesity rates. But is there something else we should know to help decrease our children's chances of becoming obese? Who better to ask than Ms. Karlsson herself, who cautions that it not easy to translate the results from animal studies into precise human terms.
"Generally, we believe that, for instance, fermented foods (rich in live lactic acid bacteria) can be favorable for the gut health. However, different bacterial strains have (different) specific characteristics. The bacterial strain tested in our rat model was able to prevent weight gain. There is no commercial product with this specific bacterial strain available on the market," she explained.
"A way to improve the composition of the gut flora may be to consume a balanced diet. Fermented food and probiotic products are ways to consume live bacteria. However, I suggest checking the scientific evidence of the specific bacterial strain(s) in the product since some manufacturers claim probiotic effects on the label, although they do not specify the strain on the label (making it impossible to verify in the literature). A bacterial strain should be named e.g. Lactobacillus plantarum 299v (in this case 299v is the name of the strain of the species Lactobacillus plantarum)."
In her book, "The Road to Perfect Health," General Nutritionist Consultant and Digestive Care Expert Brenda Watson wrote, "In healthy infants who are delivered vaginally, and breastfed from a mother eating a healthy diet, levels of Bifodobacteria and Lactobacilli develop to healthy levels in the gut. This is decreasing in developing countries where many infants are fed a processed formula instead of breast milk. In these infants, by the age of two, a distinct difference is seen in their gut flora (bacteria) which persists into adulthood, and may alter the function of the immune system."
When asked about gut bacteria and childhood obesity, Ms. Watson had this to say, "Probiotics have even been studied for their effects on childhood weight gain. In a 2010 study published in the International Journal of Obesity, 159 women were given the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG or placebo for the last four weeks of pregnancy, and for six months after delivery. Probiotic supplementation was found to reduce excessive weight gain during the first few years of life in the children."
"Probiotics help to rebalance the gut, which can bring about better health, and even weight loss," offers Ms. Watson. "If you wish you had the gut bacteria of lean people, try a healthy diet and probiotics to rebalance your gut."
Sources: Caroline Karlsson; Lund University; Brenda Watson, author of "The Road to Perfect Health: Balance Your Gut, Heal Your Body"
Ann Pietrangelo is the author of "No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis," She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and writes for sites around the web.