Prebiotics — Too Good to Be True?


One of the enduring scientific archetypes is the researcher who experiments on the nearest, most available subject — the self. Such a pioneer is Liping Zhao, Ph.D., whose many titles include that of Distinguished Professor of Microbiology.

Zhao had an almost 15-year history of obesity, with hypertension and metabolic syndrome. In other words, he was well on the way to developing type 2 diabetes when he read a paper on fat storage in relation to the microbiome. It seems that, once the wrong kinds of bacteria are introduced into their bodies, lean lab mice become obese after only two months.

The Ministry of Health has issued a publication called “Traditional Chinese Medicine or Food.” With that as a guide, Prof. Zhao changed his diet to feature prebiotic fermented foods, lost around 45 pounds, and saw his blood pressure and lipid levels drop.

This personal experience set him on the path of investigating the interactions between host genetics, diet, and the microbiome. Briefly,

There are specific bacterial strains in the human gut which have the genetic capacity, given the right environmental conditions, to directly contribute to obesity induction and development.

Because of their byproducts and excretions, the microbiota leave traces in the urine and blood. Their presence can be tracked by DNA sequencing, data mining and pattern recognition technology, and metabolomics, which studies the set of metabolites present within an organism, cell, or tissue.

Gram-negative bacteria cause grievous health problems and tend to resist antibiotics. The constant presence of pathogenic bacteria insures that endotoxins are produced continuously, causing chronic low-grade inflammation that leads to insulin resistance and obesity.

Pippa Stephens, who interviewed Prof. Zhao for BBC News, wrote:

He says higher levels of toxin-producing bacteria, such as enterobacteria, in the gut can lead to insulin resistance, which means people would not feel full after eating one bowl of rice, instead needing five, 10 or 20 bowls to feel full.

“Their bodies were not telling them they are satisfied,” he says.

As research has shown, the healthy microbiome is characterized by diversity and balance. When an overreaching bug attempts a coup, the resulting battle sends out ripples of consequence that affect the entire body. Prof. Liping Zhao explored a bacterium called enterobacter cloacae and discovered a specific strain of it, called b29, so aggressive it will, if allowed, take over almost one-third of a person’s gut microbiome.

The obese volunteers who were full of b29 followed a specific diet based on traditional medicinal foods, which killed off the b29 bugs within a month. After 23 weeks, some of the subjects had lost 100 pounds, “and recovered from diabetes, inflammation, hyperlipidemia and hypertension.”

Furthermore, this was accomplished with no exercise. Except for sticking to the recommended foodstuffs, the patients did not have to put in any work.

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “#123: Liping Zhao, PhD: Changing Gut Bacteria Ecology w/ Chinese Medicines and Berberine,”, 12/08/15
Source: “Weight loss: Is the secret in your bacteria?,”, 04/29/14
Photo credit: Kevin Poh via Visualhunt/CC BY

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