Could obesity and type 2 diabetes be treated with gut bacteria?

obesityA particular type of gut bacteria has been found to help reverse obesity and type 2 diabetes in animal studies; perhaps paving the way for new treatments for both health problems. Type 2 diabetes is most commonly connected to obesity and maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most effective ways of reducing the risk of developing the disease.

The Research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, demonstrates how mice were given a broth that contained a single species of bacteria, and there were subsequently huge benefits to their health.

The bacteria studied and which was administered to the mice, was the Akkermansia muciniphila – usually comprising of around 3-5% of gut bacteria. However, these levels are found to decrease in obese individuals.

Professor Patrice Cani and his team at the Catholic University of Louvain, in Belgium, wanted to focus firstly on mice that were eating a lot of fat and were obese and/or had type 2 diabetes. Researchers noted that the mice quickly gained two to three times extra fat compared to the leaner mice that were eating a more ‘normal’ diet.

However, giving the unhealthier mice oligofructose prebiotics – a dietary supplement that boosts the number of beneficial bacteria – this helped restore the Akkermansia muciniphila back to healthy levels.

These mice then gained a quicker metabolism and the rodents found themselves losing excess weight, reduced inflammation and lowered their insulin resistance; a symptom associated with type 2 diabetes.

The bacteria had worked at thickening the gut’s mucus barrier. This prevents some material from being transferred into the blood from the gut. In addition, the Akkermansia muciniphila had managed to alter chemical signals emanating from the digestive system, leading to changes in the processing of fat in other areas of the body.

Interestingly, similar findings were also achieved when researchers included a certain type of fibre in the diet of the mice and levels of Akkermansia muciniphila then increased.

Prof Cani commented on the study findings, saying: “Of course it is an improvement, we did not completely reverse the obesity, but it is a very strong decrease in the fat mass. I don’t think it’s feasible that you can eat cream cakes and chips and sausages all day long and then eat bacteria to reverse all that. It is the first demonstration that there is a direct link between one specific species and improving metabolism.”

Prof Cani said it was ‘surprising’ how merely one species of gut bacteria has such a positive impact when there are actually thousands within the gut, adding that the bacteria-based therapy may hopefully be utilised as a prevention method or as a treatment option for obesity and type 2 diabetes in the near future.

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