Another Look at the Role of the Microbiome in Addiction

Why is food an addictor for some people? How is food addiction similar to or different from other addictions? Childhood Obesity News constantly explores those and other questions. A very timely subject of many questions is the gut microbiome, which appears to be linked to addiction.

Obesity is also linked to addiction. Is the microbiome able to influence obesity or its absence? If the microbiome can influence addiction or its absence, then the answer is yes, because it indirectly influences obesity through addiction.

Each human body plays host to vast hordes of bacteria and other microorganisms, especially in the intestinal tract. They do things for us, like make amino acids, short-chain fatty acids, neurotransmitters, and enzymes.

That list was compiled by Michael Pollan, who points out that chemicals manufactured in the body have a great influence on people’s stress levels. The potions created by our bug populations are capable of signaling such body-governing entities as the metabolic system and the immune system. They pretty much are the boss of us.

The microbiome is intimately connected with stress. Just ask anyone who ever got diarrhea before a stage appearance or an exam. Addiction is extensively connected with stress. People who use substances to alleviate stress often wind up with addictions.

Neurologist David Perlmutter published the book Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain — for Life. How much protection and healing are we talking about here? Can we work with the gut microbes to repair whatever goes haywire in the brain and causes addiction?

How much power do they wield?

Nutritionist Julie Daniluk, using her own failing body as a laboratory, embarked on the reconstruction of a destroyed gut lining and devastated microbiome. Drawing on that experience, she wrote a book called Meals that Heal Inflammation. It is widely accepted that allergy and addiction are related, and that for the same person a substance can be both an allergen and an addictor, which brings to mind a Daniluk quotation:

Two of the most common food allergens are the proteins found in wheat (gluten) and milk (casein). When these proteins try to pass through the gut, they often hit the security guards of the digestive tract. These guards flag the proteins, set off an alarm, and release histamine, which is a powerful messenger that sends a signal to the rest of the body to indicate a breach in defense. The body goes on red alert, telling you that something is wrong. What is the result? You experience pain caused by an inflammatory immune reaction.

Research has linked systemic inflammation with obesity. Now consider gluten and casein, two of the most common food allergens. Coincidentally, two of the biggest classes of food that people become addicted to are bread and cheese.

Daniluk’s theme is that healing starts with the gut. But it does not end there, of course. She also says, “Full healing can take place only when the mental and emotional aspects of illness are addressed.”

This observation pinpoints the frustration felt by so many health practitioners, Dr. Pretlow among them, who offer wonderful programs that, for motivated people, can make all the difference in the world. But even the best programs are often abandoned by patients, because of other factors in their lives and minds. To bring a particular person to where she or he is able to totally commit might require years of psychotherapy for every member of the family.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Some of My Best Friends Are Germs,”, 05/15/13
Source: “Say hello to your little friends: Making sense of gut bacteria,”, 06/07/15
Source: “Meals That Heal Inflammation,”
Photo credit: andrewmalone via Visual Hunt/CC BY

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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