News article

Intelligent gut inhabitants

Posted:  Wednesday, September 10, 2014

By teaching your children good eating habits, and modeling these behaviors in yourself, you can help your children maintain a healthy weight and normal growth. Also, the eating habits your children pick up when they are young will help them maintain a healthy lifestyle when they are adults.

But do you know gut microbes can influence cravings and food choices. Thus the eating habits of kids is directly linked with these microbes.

In what seems to be a mind boggling insight into human eating behaviour, researchers have found that microscopic bacteria inhabiting the human gut might be controlling our moods and shaping our food choices to benefit their growth.

The article, published in the journal Bioassay, found that the gut micro-organisms are not just passive inhabitants. The authors of the study; concluded from a review of the recent scientific literature that gut microorganisms in fact are manipulative and can influence human eating behaviour to benefit the ecosystem for their survival. They could make humans crave for sugar or fat if it forms a part of their growth substrate and thus push us towards obesity and other diseases.

Although the exact mechanism is not known, researchers hypothesize that the micro-organisms exert these mind controlling properties by releasing signalling molecule in the gut. Since the gut is linked to the immune, endocrine and nervous systems, these signalling molecules could influence our physiological and behavioural responses.

Researchers also suggest that these micro-organisms may affect our eating behaviour by partly targeting the vagus nerves present in the gut. The vagus nerve connects to 100 million nerve cells from the gut to the base of the brain. Microbes shift our dietary preferences by changing the signals in the vagus nerve. For example, bacteria communities might produce toxins, which make us feel bad. Similarly, these bacteria can even send feel-good signals to the brain.

Study authors believe that altering bacterial communities in the gut - via diet, ingestion of probiotics or using antibiotics to kill unwanted bacteria - can all change our dietary habits as well as moods.

If you’re worried about your microbiota composition, know that changing it through diet can take anywhere from a couple of minutes, which is how often the microbiota in your gut evolve, to 24 hours, which is how long it takes the gut flora to restructure itself once dietary changes have taken place. Changing the bacteria in your gut can potentially help change your eating habits, and vice versa.

The good news is we are not mere puppets at the hands of the gut microbiome. The bacterial count and composition can be easily altered by the changing the diet, ingestion of prebiotics and/or probiotics, and antibiotic use. This very possibility could be beneficial say researchers.

“Because microbiota are easily manipulated, altering them offers a tractable approach to otherwise intractable problems of obesity and unhealthy eating. It could also open up possibilities for preventing a variety of disease from obesity and diabetes to cancers of the gastro-intestinal tract. We are only beginning to scratch the surface of the importance of the microbiome for human health”, said the researchers.