Is your weight really your fault?

gut-microbiomeAmanda Sherry (11 AM Micro) found an article in Science Daily describing research from King’s College of London. The normal microbiota of the human intestinal system have been implicated in things as sensitivities to various allergies, and the types of people we might want to hang out with. However, as you look at these types of articles, read them critically, and remember the important distinction between correlation and causation, as pointed out in this commentary from Nature earlier this fall. Here is Amanda’s summary; let’s see if this project passes the criteria outlined in that Nature article:

Obesity, illnesses and diseases, like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease for example, that may be a byproduct of excessive weight have been studied for centuries costing millions of dollars in research funding.  Moreover, the millions of dollars that goes into marketing, advertising, medicine, and diet pills to raise awareness and combat obesity is incredible. So, if scientists are able to link obesity and excessive weight to a family of microbes in a person’s gut, then incredible advantages and/solutions for the medical community and for the health of millions of people living with excessive pounds may be right around the corner.

The article posted in ScienceDaily shares the results of research conducted by scientists in King’s College London and Cornell University. The study researched the relationship between a person’s genetic makeup and how it influences their weight. The results of the study concluded that whether a person is fat or the presence and amount of microbes in their gut determine skinny.

A team of scientists studied hundreds of sets of twins at King’s Department of Twin Research and identified a specific bacterial family called Christensenellaceae. Christensenellaceae is influenced by genetics and found to be more common in individuals with low body weight. The results of the study showed a direct linkage between low body weight and this microbe, concluding that this specific group of microbes living in a human’s gut protects against obesity. And to add more credence, in a separate study with mice — mice that were treated with this microbe in laboratory experiments gained less weight than untreated mice, thus further substantiating the results.

Prior to this research, the variation in the abundances of gut microbes has been explained by diet, the environment, lifestyle, and health. This is the first study to firmly establish that certain types of gut microbes are based on genetics and not just influenced by our environment.

To promote the use of microbiome testing more widely, the United Kingdom has established a British Gut Project. This experiment would allow anyone with an interest in their diet and health to have their personal microbes tested. The individual will have to pay a small fee, but will receive some incredible information that he/she can use to make health decisions. The advantage of the Gut project is two fold. First, a person learns some information not currently available to him/her for only a small fee and the second advantage is that work can continue and future research results may provide other links that may exist between our gut and our health.

The results of this study may present some interesting and new ways and next steps to combat obesity. One next step may be to research ways to increase the amount of Christensenellaceae present in a person’s gut, whereby preventing or reducing obesity across the globe. This would be a new weight loss and/or weight prevention option. Not only would it reduce obesity, but it would also directly affect the illness and diseases that are byproducts of excessive weight.


About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on November 17, 2014, in Guest Post, You are what you eat. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. This is very interesting, especially because it can be connected to the information that we are currently learning in Nutrition, which is to eat a well balanced diet. Combine this new information plus the current information there could be some real advances in the way we determine a healthy diet for each person.

  2. Yes, but eating a well balanced diet is a matter of personal choice, whereas choosing the microbiota that infect our digestive tracts is completely out of our control. Absolutely no personal responsibility needed!

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