What Else Might a Microbiome Study Accomplish?

Childhood Obesity News looked at the possibility that working with the microbiome could make anorexia obsolete. There have been tantalizing glimpses of what might be in store for the fields of addiction and autism, and hope for the possibility of banishing even such an unromantic condition as Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

There is some kind of link between the microbiome, food allergy, and addiction. In the realm of food, bread and cheese are two monstrously powerful addictors. By strange coincidence, gluten and casein are two of the most common food allergens. The allergic reaction triggered in the digestive tract is partly the work of the resident bacteria. The immune system goes nuts, and next thing you know, inflammation is widespread. Systemic inflammation has been seen to connect with obesity.

Alcohol increases the permeability of the intestinal lining, a circumstance that can’t help but impact the microbiota. When opiates hit the system, gut bugs demonstrate their objections in dramatic ways. Throw into that mix the fact that stress affects the bugs, and the bugs affect stress.

The microbiome can affect the thought processes and emotions. The mind and emotions have a great deal to do with a person’s proneness to addiction. There are powerful indications that, when science finally puts it all together, an inexpensive, organic cure might be found for at least some addicts — which is much better than none.

Some studies approach either obesity or addiction by way of cravings. A very recent ScienceDaily.com headline states that “Cravings for high-calorie foods may be switched off in the brain by new supplement.”

This is the kind of news that people want to hear. The supplement is inulin-propionate ester. When it hits the intestines, it releases more propionate than inulin does. Propionate is a molecule that signals the brain to reduce appetite.

Where does it come from? It is excreted by gut bacteria after they ingest inulin, which is a fiber. The researchers hypothesize that some people naturally produce more propionate than others, and have an easier time staying slim. This suggests that modifying the microbiome could make a difference.

It was a small experiment, believed by co-author Dr. Douglas Morrison to shed new light on how the gut microbiome, the diet, and individual’s general health are all “inextricably linked.” The subjects drank shakes that contained either inulin or inulin-propionate ester. Then, they had MRI scans while being shown pictures of high-calorie or low-calorie foods.

The author of the original article that was reprinted on ScienceDaily.com Kate Wighton says:

The team found that when volunteers drank the milkshake containing inulin-propionate ester, they had less activity in areas of their brain linked to reward — but only when looking at the high calorie foods. These areas, called the caudate and the nucleus accumbens, found in the centre of the brain, have previously been linked to food cravings and the motivation to want a food.

In other words, inulin-propionate ester reduces cravings for high-calorie foods, and appetite in general. Senior author Prof. Gary Frost says the supplement, available in powdered form, “can decrease activity in brain areas associated with food reward at the same time as reducing the amount of food they eat.”

Inulin-propionate ester is also produced by gut bacteria, but in a laboratory. It might turn out to be the next “silver bullet” cure, or just another daydream.

In a bravura display of diverse talents, the microbiota can also apparently cause malnutrition, because certain bacteria in malnourished children lack “both the ability to synthesize vitamins and the ability to digest complex carbohydrates.” Dr. Jeffrey Gordon says:

[…] bacteria might cause malnutrition even in someone whose diet would otherwise be sufficient to sustain him. It might thus be possible to treat quite a lot of malnutrition by rejigging a sufferer’s gut bacteria.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Cravings for high-calorie foods may be switched off in the brain by new supplement,” ScienceDaily.com, 07/01/16
Source: “Me, myself, us,” Economist.com, 08/18/12
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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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