That “Gut” Feeling


It is no secret that a large percentage of the American population faces a major obesity/dietary problem. Many of us (myself included) are constantly battling that sweet tooth, and losing yet another war of will to our cravings. But what if it were that those cravings are not simply a matter of willpower, but rather a matter of science…more specifically ecology?


I recently read an article in the journal BioEssays on a study conducted between UCSF, UNM and ASU, which suggested that the slew of microbes that occupy the human digestive tract (often referred to as the gut microbiome) might be under some degree of selective pressure to manipulate the eating behavior of their hosts in order to increase fitness. There are a number of reasons why they might to do this: either they are manipulating us to eat the foods on which they will thrive the most, or they are pushing for us to eat more of the foods that will suppress their competitors by inducing either chemical “rewards” or toxins that produce a dysphoric feeling.


And so it would seem, that an understanding of ecological interactions is the elusive key to a healthier lifestyle. Ecosystems with more diversity might experience higher competition for resources, whereas a less diverse ecosystem may contain species with higher population numbers, allowing them to more easily manipulate a host. This follows the hypothesis of the study that lower diversity in gut microbiomes should be associated with unhealthy eating and obesity.


Although there is no definite solution yet it would seem that making a change to a healthier way of eating may be as simple as that “magic pill”. Perhaps not a diet pill, but rather probiotics to enhance the diversity of microbiota in our digestive tracts. We must simply respect our bacterial tenants for the ecosystem that they are and understand that the key is to alter the balance of powers among the various species. There is an entire ecosystem that lies within us, and it is evolving on very small time scales, so there is hope for change.


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