New research has found that the human microbiome, which consists of various microorganisms, may have significant effects on our health. The gut microbiota, in particular, varies between individuals and is influenced by factors such as BMI, exercise, lifestyle, cultural and dietary habits, and antibiotic use. Studies have shown that people with obesity tend to have less diverse gut microbiomes compared to leaner individuals, but consistent associations have not been established. However, a recent study from China suggests that intermittent energy restriction (IER) may not only help people with obesity lose weight but also alter their gut microbiota.
The study involved 25 participants with a range of BMIs, who followed a regular diet for four days and then alternated between regular energy intake and severely restricted energy intake. On average, participants lost 7.8% of their body weight by the end of the study. The analysis showed that gut microbial diversity increased from baseline after two months, but there was no significant difference at the end of the study. Some changes in the species of gut microbiota were observed, including a decrease in Escherichia coli and an increase in Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, Parabacteroides distasonis, and Bacteroides uniforms.
Registered dietitian Kelsey Costa explained that these changes in gut bacteria could have positive effects on health. For example, F. prausnitzii is associated with good health and immunity, while P. distasonis helps break down carbohydrates and B. uniformis has anti-inflammatory properties. However, further research is needed to fully understand the long-term effects of these changes in gut microbiota.
The study also found that the changes in gut microbiota were associated with reductions in the activity of brain regions involved in appetite and addiction regulation. The researchers suggest that the gut microbiome communicates with the brain in a complex, two-directional way, and that the brain controls eating behavior while nutrients from the diet alter the composition of the gut microbiome.
While this study cannot establish a causal relationship between IER, weight loss, and the gut microbiome, it adds to the growing body of evidence suggesting a link. The researchers recommend further research to explore the relationship between the gut microbiome, the brain, and long-term weight loss maintenance. Costa agrees and suggests that future studies should focus on identifying critical gut microbiome components and brain regions that contribute to successful weight loss.
In terms of maintaining a healthy gut microbiome, Costa advises following a plant-rich diet and adopting an active and healthy lifestyle. It is believed that the balance and diversity of gut bacteria are more important than the presence or absence of specific species.