Do the bacteria in your gut determine if you are going to be obese or not?
A novel thought. In a recent article a NY Times columnist asked that question. The background is this: ranchers use antibiotics in feed and the livestock are larger than they ever were before. The use of antibiotics among children has skyrocketed and so has childhood obesity. We know the hundred trillion bacteria that inhabit our gut can affect us in a variety of ways – they protect us, have the wrong group in their and life is miserable, and they provide us with vitamins, fatty acids, and gas. I wrote an article about the gut bacteria here.
In the last thirty years ulcer treatment has gone from one of intervention by surgery and drugs to one of eradicating a bacteria H. pylori. No one believed that such bugs could cause an ulcer, but ultimately it was proven – and a Nobel Prize awarded.
But what about bacteria and obesity? What if we could eliminate obesity by changing the bacteria type in your gut? That would be amazing, and wonderful.
Why It May Not Be The Bacteria
The reason antibiotics increase growth rate in livestock is it has reduced disease among livestock. In a similar way, when disease has been diminished among children – by having cleaner water, better sewers, vaccinations, and better food – we have seen the average height of children increase over the years.
My 3 1/2 year old son recently had an ear infection. Providing him with antibiotics avoided potential deafness, meningitis, and prolonged discomfort. The antibiotics, while often over-prescribed to many, are terribly important to fight infectious disease and have contributed to the increased height of people.
If you have never been to a livestock feed lot you will see crowded conditions, often filthy, and they remind you of individuals who live in crowded conditions in the third world. If you examine those individuals who live in third world crowded conditions you will see individuals who have a high mortality rate among old and young from dysentery, and rapid spread of infectious diseases. You will also see that they are physically smaller, shorter in stature, and often thin.
Contrast that with livestock raised in wide-open spaces, where they roam freely and are not in crowded conditions – like Elysian Farms, where the lamb are raised comfortably. No antibiotics are needed, unless an animal becomes ill, and they grow large and fat (and have the best lamb you can order).
The rise of antibiotics and changing of the bacteria that are in the gut may be correlated with childhood obesity but consider the other factors that are correlated with obesity:
(a) More kids go to restaurants where their parents have no idea how many calories are present – see this link.
(b) There has been a steady rise of consumption of sugar and high fructose corn syrup – although it has leveled off recently
(c) Portion sizes have increased
(d) More people are eating out
Weight Loss Surgery and Adolescents – What We Have Learned That Works
When obese teenage children come to me for weight loss surgery those factors are the ones correlated with their weight gain. Our first approach is to get the teenagers to learn to cook, and cook the majority of meals for them and their family and avoid eating out at the mall. This is the basics we require before they undergo weight loss surgery. Otherwise, we have learned from our experience, recidivism after they leave their parents house is quite high (they regain weight when they leave home). Changing that lifestyle is key to weight loss, and successful weight loss surgery.
It would be wonderful if we could find that changing the gut microbiome would change obesity. Somehow, I think we will have to change how we eat, what we eat, and how much we eat first.
Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and received his MD. Dr. Simpson, then became a renowned weight loss surgeon, and a leading advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he advocates teaching people to improve their health through their food. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcom Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.