Early Days of Microbiome Consciousness


The accumulated information about the microbiome grows every day. The bugs that colonize us have a lot going on, and figuring them out is tricky, because many of them can’t even be cultivated in a laboratory.

It is useful to compare our microbiome knowledge to an old-fashioned connect-the-dots puzzle. A lot of things seem to be in contact with each other, but it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Then, suddenly, with the last couple of lines drawn, everything falls into place and the picture is clear. We haven’t come to that part yet.

Study of the microbiome can also be compared to how, millennia ago, shepherds stared up at the night sky, connected the starry dots, and saw pictures. Sometimes, a person only needs to look at it from the correct angle, and it all clicks. Research hasn’t quite gotten there yet.

What we do know, is that the bugs have been implicated in everything from autism to chronic pain and obesity. Today we go back and pick up on some of the dots that may not yet be perfectly connected, but which show tantalizing promise.

The earlier microbiome research

In 2008, the idea that the microbiome could influence energy storage was not new. Researchers devised experiments to show that overweight is often preceded by “aberrant compositional development of the gut microbiota,” and they carefully considered the applicability of any discoveries to the child obesity problem in particular.

When an unwelcome intruder tries to gain power by creating artificial hunger, that is certainly obesity-related. A decade ago, many academics had already begun to wonder if our gut flora are secretly running our lives. The GI tract commonly contains both bacteria and yeast, and it is part of both their jobs to keep each other under control. When the candida organism reaches critical mass, everything goes haywire and anxiety becomes chronic.

Steven Kotler wrote:

This happens because, when the body is anxious it craves the fuel needed to react quickly to negative situations. Sugar breaks down fast, so sugar is what’s craved. But the reason the body is really craving sugar is because candida feeds on it. This means, at least under these circumstances, that your emotions are really just another’s hunger.

In 2012 a study came out with evidence that insufficient bacteria in the large intestine could slow down the burning of brown fat, and promote obesity, while other studies also suggested that the gut bacteria influence body weight in a number of other ways.

For instance, they digest complex carbohydrates for us, because we don’t have the right enzymes. The microbes transform these substances into fatty-acid molecules “whence they are fed into biochemical pathways that either liberate energy from them… or lay them down as fat.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Early differences in fecal microbiota composition in children may predict overweight,” AJCN.Nutrition.org, 2008
Source: “You Are Not You: The Conundrum of the ‘Me’,” PsychologyToday.com, 08/26/10
Source: “The gut microbiome: how does it affect our health?,” MedicalNewsToday.com, 03/11/15
Source: “Me, myself, us,” Economist.com, 08/18/12
Photo credit: whitney waller via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

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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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