The secret to weight loss might be diet, exercise, and... microbes.
A study conducted by scientists from Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) examined how swapping the microbial contents of rodents' stomachs yielded a significant loss in body weight. The research was inspired by changes observed in human guts following gastric bypass operations. Why this happens is still a mystery, but promises a potential new alternative to the surgery.
"Our study suggests that the specific effects of gastric bypass on the microbiota contribute to its ability to cause weight loss and that finding ways to manipulate microbial populations to mimic those effects could become a valuable new tool to address obesity," said Lee Kaplan, director of the Obesity, Metabolism and Nutrition Institute at MGH and the other senior author of the paper.
The scientists need to better understand the mechanisms behind why the microbes changed following gastric bypass and if those results can be reproduced without surgery, Kaplan explained. "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," he added.
Gastric bypass surgery also produces other bodily changes that boost metabolism, the study found. The authors noted that the research might not ever produce any "magic pill" for populations of people who were only mildly obese, but one could imagine marketers of probiotics seizing on this study to sell a cure-all anyway. A Web search will already reveal numerous claims that consuming probiotics can shed pounds.
A research paper published in late 2011 argued that beneficial bacteria might be helpful at controlling obesity as well as allergies and asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, and type 1 diabetes, which may have inspired some of those claims. It's not too uncommon for supplements to arrise based on one off studies.
Will weight loss be as simple as consuming microbes? Probably not - for most people.