Gut bacteria could hold key to obesity

Eating Chicken Burger

Gut bacteria may play a bigger part than thought in a person’s ability to regulate blood sugar following a meal, an Israeli study claims. 

People misunderstand how obesity affects our bodies as gut bacteria can metabolise – or break down – similar foods differently, the research team from the Weizmann Institute says. How we metabolise food can affect our post-meal blood sugar levels. 

The findings could shed light on why certain people respond better than others to weight loss diets.

Tracking blood sugar levels

The study tracked the blood sugar levels of 800 people over a week through their glycaemic index (GI). GI ranks foods in relation to their ability to cause a slow or sharp rise in blood sugar levels.

The participants were all give a standardised breakfast containing 50 grams of carbohydrates. 

While blood sugar levels correlated closely with the age and BMI of the person, different people’s blood sugar levels responded to similar foods in very different ways. 

The scientists concluded that GI was not related to the food but to the individual. 

For example, an obese and pre-diabetic middle-aged woman discovered tomatoes – considered a ‘healthy’ food - were actually causing her blood sugar levels to spike. 

Lead scientist Dr Eran Elinav says a diet can now be created for her without tomatoes, to control her blood sugar levels and slow the progression of her pre-diabetes. 

Gut bacteria

The different versions of gut bacteria are important in influencing what happens to blood sugar levels after meals, the study claims. 

The research team were able to reshape gut bacteria colonies based on their study and level out post-meal blood sugar spikes. 

Dr Elinav says the study “enlightened” the team on the effects of diet and nutrition in people’s daily lives. 

Co-author Dr Eran Segal says experts are "conceptually wrong" in how they approach the obesity and diabetes epidemics, suggesting we are giving people the wrong advice. 

The research is published in the journal Cell.

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