Gut bacteria research could help regulate weight and cholesterol

Dr Cormac Gahan and Dr Susan Joyce, Alimentary PharmabioticCentre, University College Cork, have discovered how gut bacteria can regulate weight gain and cholesterol. Pic: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision

Breakthrough research in the role gut bacteria have in regulating weight gain and cholesterol could lead to the design of probiotics for the control of obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

That is according to researchers at the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre in University College Cork whose findings are published this week in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.

Dr Cormac Gahan, who together with Dr Susan Joyce, is leading the UCC team, said they had analysed a protein commonly made by gut bacteria that breaks down bile acids (chemicals produced in the liver) — and found that specifically increasing levels of this protein reduces cholesterol and weight gain in mice.

“We reasoned that in the gastrointestinal tract that if bacteria influence bile acids, they might have an influence on the host’s [mouse] weight gain and metabolism,” Dr Gahan.

“So we went about looking at it experimentally and we basically showed if bacteria can break down bile acids then it influences weight gain in mice,” Dr Gahan said.

However, even though they had shown that a specific mechanism exists by which bacteria in the gut can influence the host’s metabolism, Dr Gahan said they now needed to determine if the same mechanism existed in humans before embarking on the development of probiotics to target this mechanism to regulate weight gain or high cholesterol. Their research meant that they “now have the potential for matching probiotic strains with specific end-user needs”, Dr Joyce said. “Work is under way to determine how this system operates in humans,” she added.

Researchers in China have also looked at what impact gut bacteria have on people’s weight.

Their research has led them to believe that changing the type of bacteria found in the gut may be more effective at helping people to shed weight than cutting calories alone.


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