CDC reports more than 93-million US adults are obese, and health issues related to obesity include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancers

In recent years, the role of the human microbiome in weight loss or weight gain has been studied by different research groups. There is keen interest in this subject because of the high rates of obesity, and diagnostic companies know that development of a clinical laboratory test that could assess how an individual’s microbiome affects his/her weight would be a high-demand test.

This is true of a study published this year in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Researchers at Mayo Clinic looked at obese patients who were in an active lifestyle intervention program designed to help them lose weight. It was determined that gut microbiota can have a role in both hindering weight loss and supporting weight loss.

Gut Microbiota More Complicated than Previously Thought

The Mayo researchers determined “an increased abundance of Phascolarctobacterium was associated with [successful weight loss]. In contrast, an increased abundance of Dialister and of genes encoding gut microbial carbohydrate-active enzymes was associated with failure to [lose] body weight. A gut microbiota with increased capability for carbohydrate metabolism appears to be associated with decreased weight loss in overweight and obese patients undergoing a lifestyle intervention program.”

How do bacteria impede weight loss? Vandana Nehra, MD, Mayo Clinic Gastroenterologist and co-senior author of the study, explained in a news  release.

“Gut bacteria have the capacity to break down complex food particles, which provides us with additional energy. And this is normally is good for us,” she says. “However, for some individuals trying to lose weight, this process may become a hindrance.”

Put another away: people who more effectively metabolized carbohydrates were the ones who struggled to drop the pounds, New Atlas pointed out.

Vandana Nehra, MD (left), and Purna Kashyap, MBBS (right), are Mayo Clinic Gastroenterologists and co-senior authors of the Mayo study. “While we need to replicate these findings in a bigger study, we now have an important direction to pursue in terms of potentially providing more individualized strategies for people who struggle with obesity,” Nehra noted in the news release. Thus, precision medicine therapy for obese individuals could be based on Mayo Clinic’s research. (Photo copyright: Mayo Clinic.)

Mayo Study Provides Clues to Microbiota Potential in Weight Loss

The Mayo researchers wanted to know how gut bacteria behave in people who are trying to lose weight.

They recruited 26 people, ranging in age from 18 to 65, from the Mayo Clinic Obesity Treatment Research Program. Fecal stool samples, for researchers’ analysis, were collected from participants at the start of the three-month study period and at the end.  The definition of successful weight loss was at least 5% of body weight.

Researchers found the following, according Live Science:

  • 2 lbs. lost, on average, among all participants;
  • Nine people were successful, losing an average of 17.4 lbs.;
  • 17 people did not meet the goal, losing on average just 3.3 lbs.; and,
  • More gut bacterial genes that break down carbohydrates were found in stool samples of the unsuccessful weight loss group, as compared to the successful dieters.

The researchers concluded that “An increased abundance of microbial genes encoding carbohydrate-active enzyme pathways and a decreased abundance of Phascolarctobacterium in the gut microbiota of obese and overweight individuals are associated with failure to lose at least 5% weight following a 3-month comprehensive lifestyle intervention program.”

Purna Kashyap, MBBS, Mayo Clinic Gastroenterologist and co-senior author of the study, told Live Science, “The study suggests there is a need to take the microbiome into account in clinical studies (on weight loss), and it also provides an important direction to pursue in terms of providing individualized care in obesity.” The very basis of precision medicine.

Future Weight-Loss Plans Based on Patient’s Microbiota

The Mayo Clinic researchers acknowledged the small sample size and need for more studies with larger samples over a longer time period. They also noted in their paper that Dialister has been associated with oral infections, such as gingivitis, and its role in energy expenditure and metabolism is unclear.

Still, the study suggests that it may soon be possible to give people individualized weight loss plans based on their gut bacteria. Clinical laboratory professionals and pathologists will want to stay abreast of follow-up studies and replication of findings by other research teams. A future medical laboratory test to analyze patients’ microbiomes could help obese people worldwide as well as lab business volume.

—Donna Marie Pocius

Related Information:

Gut Microbial Carbohydrate Metabolism Hinders Weight Loss in Overweight Adults Undergoing Lifestyle Intervention with a Volumetric Diet

Gut Microbiota from Twins Discordant for Obesity Modulate Metabolism in Mice

CDC: Adult Obesity Facts

Makeup of an Individual’s Gut Bacteria May Play Role in Weight Loss, Mayo Study Suggests

Struggle to Lose Weight? Your gut Bacteria May Be to Blame

Your Gut Bacteria May Make It Harder to Lose Weight

Diet Hit a Snag? Your Gut Bacteria May be Partly to Blame

Can’t Lose Weight? Your Gut Bacteria Could be to Blame, According to Study

Richness of Human Gut Microbiome Correlates with Metabolic Markers

Annual Medical Spending Attributable to Obesity: Payer- and Service-Specific Estimates

5 Ways Gut Bacteria Affect Your Health

Cornell Researchers Identify Gut Microbes That May Help Some People Remain Thin; Findings Could Result in Clinical Laboratory Tests to Analyze Microbiomes of Individuals

Clinical Laboratories Might Soon be Diagnosing Obesity and Guiding Therapies that Utilize Engineered Microbes