Obesity and Diabetes – Is Your Gut in Control?

Aug. 21, 2015

By Medical Discovery News

Your body is like a forest, providing a home to microscopic flora and fauna. In fact, your body is home to up to 100 times more microbes than your own cells, which make up your microbiome. While we provide them residence, these microbes help us out by providing a first line of defense against disease trying to invade our bodies, even breaking down food during digestion and producing vitamins. Now, the microbes that live in the digestive tract are helping us understand diabetes better.

According to the Human Microbiome Project sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the microbiome plays a huge role in human health. When the microbiome is altered or imbalanced, it can cause conditions like obesity, irritable bowel syndrome, skin disease, urogenital infection, allergy, and can even affect emotion and behavior.

Recently, scientists from Israel discovered another surprising effect of the microbiome while investigating the use of artificial sweeteners in relation to glucose intolerance and diabetes. Artificial sweeteners such as saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame are commonly used in weight loss strategies because they do not add calories while still satisfying sweet cravings. However, artificial sweeteners are not always effective in managing weight and glucose, and scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science may have figured out why.

Through experimentation they observed that adding artificial sweeteners to the diets of mice caused significant metabolic changes, including increasing blood sugar levels more than mice fed regular sugar. It didn’t matter whether the mouse was obese or at a normal weight, they all reacted the same. Dietary changes can alter the populations of bacteria in our guts, so the study addressed whether those changes affected blood glucose levels as well. After being treated with saccharin for nine days, the populations of gut bacteria in the mice shifted dramatically and corresponded with an increase in their glycemic index. Specifically, the bacterial group Bacteroidetes increased while the group Clostridiales decreased. These changes in bacterial populations is associated with obesity in mice and people.

When they administered antibiotics to reverse this and return the bacterial populations to a healthy state, it also countered the effects of saccharin, returning glucose levels to normal. To take it a step further, researchers took feces from saccharin-consuming mice showing glucose intolerance and transplanted them into other mice that had never consumed saccharin. Remarkably, those mice started showing signs of glucose intolerance.

In a study of 400 people, those who consumed artificial sweeteners had a gut microbiome that was vastly different from those who did not. They had a group of people consume high levels of artificial sweeteners for seven days, and like the rats their glucose levels increased and their microbiomes changed.

Overall, these studies show that artificial sweeteners may induce glucose intolerance instead of preventing it due to the intimate connection between the bacteria that live in our digestive systems and our metabolic state. In the future, expect to see diagnostic and therapeutic procedures that utilize our microbial friends.

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Weight Loss Microbe

Oct. 4, 2013

By Medical Discovery News

John Donne said, “No man is an island.” Scientists would agree – man is more like a forest. And just like the flora and fauna that call the forest home, each human body houses tons of other species in the form of microbes. In fact, most people have 10 times more microbes in and on them than their own cells! These microscopic organisms live on skin, within the gastrointestinal tract, and inside mouths, helping the human body function and keeping it healthy. Now, new research shows that a certain microbe has huge influence on a person’s weight.

Science is just beginning to understand how the relationship between microbes and human cells, tissues, and organs contributes to good health. The key here is mutualism – the cooperation that benefits both the microbes and the human.

Disruption of the relationship of a person’s microbiome can lead to problems. For example, oral antibiotics can upset the microbiome in the gut, resulting in the discomfort some people experience while taking them. While antibiotics are made to be effective against specific types of bacteria, they also disrupt the normal population of bacteria in the intestinal tract. The types and amount of necessary bacteria here are altered. This results in major changes to the interaction between bacteria and cells lining the gut, much to a person’s dismay and inconvenience.

A recent study shows that a bacterium in the intestines appears to control diet-mediated obesity.  Akkermansia muciniphila is a common resident of the human gut, living in the layer of mucus that coats the surface of the intestinal tract. In a healthy person, this bacterium can be 3-5 percent of all the bacteria present – that’s a lot. The amount of Akkermansia muciniphila in a person’s intestinal tract is highly correlated with their weight. That is, people with low numbers of Akkermansia muciniphila are more likely to be obese and have type II diabetes, and those with high numbers are more likely to have a healthy weight.

To figure out this connection, researchers used mice that were fed either a normal diet or a high fat diet and monitored the number of different bacteria in their guts. As expected, mice fed the high fat diet became obese, but their levels of Akkermansia muciniphila were 100 times lower than mice fed the normal diet. Furthermore, when the obese mice on the high fat diet were also given this bacterium, they lost weight and lowered the incidence of diabetes.

This has some remarkable implications and possibilities for future therapies. This interplay between bacterial populations and the host can prevent some major human health issues, like obesity or diabetes. Perhaps Akkermansia muciniphila will soon be an ingredient in probiotics and yogurts and start a new weight-loss trend.

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Keeping That Weight Off

Feb. 1, 2013

By Medical Discovery News

Keep that weight off

Americans don’t lack methods of dieting – South Beach, Atkins, Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, Slim Fast, detoxing, juice cleanses – but not all are healthy. With public health organizations and the media constantly remarking on the obesity epidemic in the U.S., new studies on approaches to start and maintain weight loss couldn’t come at a better time.

A new study conducted at Boston Children’s Hospital and published in the “Journal of the American Medical Association” compared the weight loss and subsequent weight maintenance of three popular dieting approaches: low carb diets, low fat diets, and low glycemic diets. 

When someone decreases the amount of calories they consume, the body’s metabolism slows, reducing the use of calories and contributing to weight gain. This can work against the goal of losing weight and keeping it off. So researchers examined the affect of these popular dieting approaches on long-term weight loss.

The Boston study followed a group of overweight and obese adults aged 18 to 40 for 10 weeks. After achieving an initial 10 to 15 percent weight loss, researchers placed subjects on one of the three diets and looked for changes in their metabolism and weight maintenance. These diets were isocaloric, meaning all subjects consumed the same number of calories despite being on the different diet plans. 

The low carb diet had the most pronounced affect on metabolism with the best resting energy expenditure (REE) and total energy expenditure (TEE). But the low carb diet also resulted in some undesirable side effects, like high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can lead to diabetes, and biochemical markers like CRP, which are associated with inflammation and heart disease.

Similarly, the low fat diet produced the hormone leptin, which is associated with hunger and could lead to weight gain. In contrast, the low glycemic diet allowed stable blood sugar and metabolism levels without elevations in stress hormones and other negative biochemical markers. What type of food a person eats affects their metabolism, and a person’s metabolic index determines how many of those calories will be burned. 

The low glycemic diet derives 40 percent of calories from carbohydrates, 40 percent from fats, and 20 percent from proteins. The diet uses a number of fiber-rich foods like beans, non-starchy vegetables, fruit, and whole grains; lean protein sources like fish and skinless poultry; and healthy fats from nuts, avocados, and certain vegetable oils. These foods require a longer time to digest and absorb, leaving people feeling fuller for a longer time. 

The main conclusion of this study is that a calorie is not just a calorie in the context of weight loss or maintenance. Successful dieting and weight maintenance requires behavioral modifications in addition to caloric restriction, and individuals should consult their physicians about their weight-loss goals and diet plans.

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Motivate Me

By Medical Discovery News

Oct. 27, 2012

The real challenge for all of us is to get to the gym

Anyone with a TV has seen them – the skinny, smiling men and women who claim to have lost weight without breaking a sweat thanks to diet pills. But most diet pills carry health risks like increased blood pressure and heart rate, insomnia, and stomach cramps. Some carry more risks than others, such as Orlistat, which was taken off the market after people developed liver failure.

Yet even that didn’t dash the hopes of dieters searching for a magic pill, which could be pinned on a completely new approach – a hormone that boosts a person’s desire to exercise. Swiss scientists found that when a hormone called erythropoietin (EPO) was elevated in the brains of mice, they were more active.

EPO is the same performance-enhancing hormone banned by various sporting events and leagues including the Olympics and the Tour de France. During the 1998 Tour race, personnel from several teams were caught red-handed with thousands of doses of EPO and other banned substances.

Athletes are tempted to use EPO because it has the ability to increase red blood cells in the bloodstream, which translates to more oxygen circulating throughout the body and consequently better physical performance. The hormone exists naturally, produced by cells in the kidney that can sense when oxygen levels start to dip.

EPO travels in the bloodstream and into bone marrow where it binds with receptors to stimulate red blood cell (erythrocyte) production. Medically, EPO is used to treat certain forms of anemia. Since EPO accelerates erythrocyte production, it increases the blood’s capacity for carrying oxygen.

Even though the body makes EPO, using more of it comes with risks. In the past 15 years, about 18 cyclists have died suddenly in their sleep from using EPO. When injected repeatedly in small doses, EPO stimulates the release of more red blood cells. In some cases, too many red blood cells are produced, which can thicken the blood, clog capillaries, and lead to a stroke or heart attack. Athletes face a greater risk since they tend to become dehydrated, further thickening the blood.

However, researchers at the University of Zurich found that when given in acute high doses (500 – 2,000 times more than what athletes use), EPO crossed the blood-brain barrier and helped mice run better. The mice had not produced more red blood cells nor increased their cardiovascular capacity. So EPO acted as a brain hormone that motivated the mice to exercise more, without changing their physiology.

Beyond helping many Americans who are obese, EPO may quicken recovery for people who have been bedridden and need to rebuild muscle mass. This treatment approach has not yet been tried on humans, so it will take time for researchers to determine its effects and efficacy.

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