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Does my gut bacteria control my appetite?

ANIKA ROUF

Accredited Practising Dietitian, Anika Rouf, uncovers the recent research that explores how our food cravings may not be 'ours' after all.

Ever felt hungry and wondered whether the signals are coming from your brain or your stomach? We’ve all heard our stomach growl when we are hungry but it turns out there may be other reasons for this.

Most of us know that we have a strong desire to eat when we get hunger signals from our body and we stop when our body tells us we are satisfied. The science behind this lies in the hormones released by our body. These hormones dictate our eating and give us a feeling of satiety. However, recent research reveals that it may not be as simple as it sounds.

We all have a unique type of bacteria living in our gut; the given term for this community is gut microbiome.  Each person’s microbiome will be uniquely different depending on many factors. The microbes we have in our body see us as the ‘host’ and want to flourish just like any other bacteria. They will try to manipulate the ‘host’ so we eat foods that work well in their favour. Research suggests that they may be doing this by getting us to crave for particular foods. We are often left with a sense of dissatisfaction (also known as dysphoria) until we eat the foods they prefer us to. For example, if you have a diet rich in sugar, your gut may be dominated by sugar-loving bacteria which would result in craving for more sugary foods. Depriving them of sugar often produces bacterial toxins which can leave you feeling poorly.

Lab experiments with mice and rats suggest that the gut microbiome sends out certain signals to the brain when they have received a satisfactory amount of nutrients. These signals turn our hunger on and off and this was not known until recently. “We never thought that the bacteria we were carrying could be part of that signal, but this new work provides evidence that is what is occurring” says Martin Blaser, the director of NYU's Human Microbiome Program and author of Missing Microbes.

In summary, the research suggests your gut bacteria may have the ability to send signals to your brain telling you to stop eating. But as the experiments were conducted in animals, further research is needed until we know the mechanisms of how these signals work in humans. For now, we can say that our gut bacteria may have a critical role in controlling our appetite. But the good news is we are not completely at the mercy of our gut microbes, just yet!

 

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