25 January 2016

Is calorie counting over? Part II

Our microbiota is responsible for the extraction of calories and therefore energy from the food we ingest (more about this here).

This calorie intake will depend on how our small intestine is working but also on the type of microbes that have settled in our large intestine which will help digest the indigestible bits of food.

The diversity in micro-organism species we are harbouring will depend on the diet that our body is used to. For someone who is not used to eating a cookie, his bugs will extract less calories than bugs hosted by a person who loves his one cookie-a-day' (Read Part I).

It’s not how much but how well you eat that will determine your in/out calorie traffic – Would you like to tweet this?

But what happens next to these extra calories depends on a different set of processes with different objectives:


Indeed, what we eat can be either used immediately (brain food, muscle energy, or in time of cold weather to keep us warm) or stored for later use, you know… in case of famine and shortage of food…

What determines the faith of our calorie trafficking will depend on various factors including gene switching.

When we talk about genes, we automatically think about something we inherit from our parents. But the reality is that, it is also not the complete story as genes can be turned on and turned off, notably by our own body-controlled signals. What is now known, however, is that our gut microbiota can also contribute to this gene modulation.

Our gut microbiota influences genes responsible for the conversion of energy into fat – Would you like to tweet this?

Unfortunately for the cookie lover, the genes responsible for the transformation of energy into fats are hyper-activated i.e. the cookie lover doesn’t only extract more calories out of his cookie, but his body also tells him to store it as fat.

That is because in obesity the rules and regulations of energy storage are fundamentally changed.

Although microbiota has an influence, which I will hopefully fully explore later, there are many more on and off switchings that contribute to this whole disease – many known, but many more so unknown…

That is why sudden exercise and a healthy diet are just not enough to control a healthy weight!

Did you know the bugs inside your gut control your calorie intake? Do you like your one-a-day cookie?
I certainly do
Winking smile

If you’d like to share your thoughts, feel free to leave me a comment, I’d love to read them.

18 January 2016

Dieting in January for a healthy new you?

You know what I hate about January? 'New Year, New You' type-slogans and detox diets that will make you believe that you are full of toxins and extra poo that you need to evacuate at all cost for a healthy new you.
I wish it was that simple to be honest but let's face it, there's no miraculous quick fix to a healthy body, it's a long-term no breaks-allowed job. I covered 'detox diets' on my other sciencey blog 'Science is So Sexy' a while back and unfortunately it's still true.

And why January? It's not just because it's the beginning of the year but also because we feel so guilty about all the December binge eating. It feels natural to believe that it would be a good idea to go on a lighter diet full of healthy stuff.

I recently came across a study* done on mice whereby they compared the gut flora from mice on a healthy diet with mice on a 'plentiful' diet, and interestingly with mice on an alternate diet reminiscent of our human habits around December/January.

Researchers found that when presented with delectable rich food would binge eat while clearly under-eating when then presented with their healthy chow. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? I doubt it was a conscious decision as it is for us, nevertheless the following results are quite scary:

And because I try to walk the walk, here is me doing leg exercises, aka seesaw for my son, while typing this!
When they analysed the poos from mice on the rich diet or the alternate diet, they found their microbiota species were similar  to one another but also to the species that are usually found in obese mice. The mice on a constant and healthy chow diet had completely different species, associated with being lean.

What it means for us (if you translate this research from mice) is that after eating amazing and rich food during the holidays, dieting in January (or any other time after a Sunday lunch, an office party, a wedding, a birthday, etc...) makes no difference to your gut flora!

In a previous post, we saw that it really is our microbiota that ultimately determines how many calories we extract from food and that species in 'obese' people are just better at it than species in 'lean' people.

Harbouring the right kind of species in your gut is essential for a lean you and is dependent on what your normal diet consists of. However occasional dieting won't make a difference at all because it takes time for your gut species to understand and accept changes (lean species have to fight for their space and obese species have to be restrained in numbers - it really is a jungle in there).

Ultimately this means that healthy eating should be a forever and ever constant in our life if we want to keep a healthy and constant weight. I'm not saying anything new here but including microbiota in our reasoning is inevitable now that more and more research shows their influence on not only what they make out of our food but also on how we choose our food (coming soon).

Are you a January detox person? Or a healthy-eating-after-heavy-eating-repeat person?
If you'd like to share your thoughts, please feel free to leave me a comment, I'd love to read them.

* The study is Kaakoush et al. Mol Nutr Food Res 2016.

11 January 2016

Is calorie counting over?

We are not all equal when it comes to food. We’ve known this for a few years now, some people are just not equipped with the best genes. However, it seems that we may have missed a major player in the digestion equation, namely our microbiota.

Our gut microbiota have a formidable secondary role in extracting energy from food that ends up undigested in our gut.

Having passed through the small intestine, it is then our microbes’ turn to chew leftovers and extract as many calories as possible from them for their, as well as for our, benefit.

But, knowing that microbiota species identities are different from person to person, is extracting calories from food a unique and tailored process for each one of us?


Indeed, some of these micro-organisms are just better than others. Peter Turnbaugh was a PhD student when he conducted an experiment on mice that would change the way scientists think of calories-in/calories-out:

What he did was simple enough, he transferred the gut germs of obese mice into lean germ-free mice (let’s call them Batch O), he also transferred the gut germs of normal lean mice into lean germ-free mice (Batch L). He then fed Batch O and L with exactly the same food. Two weeks later, Batch O had gained a lot more weight than Batch L. Since he used recipient mice with no germs that could influence the results, the effect was directly linked to the germs from obese mice (see figure, excuse the mice's coat colours please).

Turnbaugh's experiment in 2006
Turnbaugh calculated that Batch O was getting 2% more calories from food because the germs from obese mice were better at extracting energy. For each 100 calories Batch L would get, Batch O would get 102 calories. Not much of a difference but think about it in the long-term: it all adds up!

Other experiments have been conducted in humans that reach the same conclusion:

It is our gut microbial content that determines how much energy we extract from food – Do you want to tweet this? 

This has some serious implications, imagine food labels for example: a 145 calories chocolate cookie may mean 148 for someone with an unfortunate set of gut bacteria super good at extracting energy.

This said, the set of microbiota that we are hosting is directly influenced by our day-to-day dietary habits. For example, someone who is not used to eating fats will not harbour the germs that are good at extracting energy from it, so the fat will go through undigested; whereas someone who’s used to a high fat diet, has the ‘right’ set of germs to deal with fat and get the most out of it.

Effectively, it means that the odd cookie won’t affect a no-cookie diet person the way it will affect a cookie lover who indulges frequently in cookie eating.

But this is only the first step, calories in. Calories out is the next step.  All that energy that has been kindly extracted by our microbiota needs to have a purpose: either it is used immediately, or it is stored away for later use.

But that is another story…

Are you a calorie counter? Will you change your attitude towards food labels?
I’d love to read your thoughts, feel free to leave me a comment, I’d love to read them.

The fascinating results from Peter Turnbaugh were published in the famous Nature paper in 2006 (yep, and we’re only catching up now!). Although it is unfairly hidden behind a pay wall, you can read its abstract here.

4 January 2016

A cure for obesity?

The past two years have seen a boom in scientific publications about our gut microbiota and most importantly their impact on our health. It seems that despite our own collection of genes being able to adapt to short-term situations, our collection of microbes have just taken it a little bit further, including helping us out digesting our food.

Throughout our life, we are hosting different bacteria depending on our age, environment, and diet. Where we live and where we are from also has an influence on their diversity.

What we are now learning is that hosting the right species at the right time has an influence on how our body will behave and convert our food.

Many experiments have shown that certain classes of bacteria are just better at extracting calories from food than others. Some then influence how those calories are used: into immediate energy, or energy to be stored as fat.

Where we live and where we are from have an influence on our microbiota diversity.
Where we live and where we are from have an influence on our microbiota diversity - Do you want to tweet this?

Two of the most abundant classes of bacteria are called Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes. They only exist in our gut, and conveniently for researchers, in mice's guts:

There is a species of mouse that has a faulty leptin gene (the satiety hormone). As a consequence, those mice keep being very hungry, eat constantly, and become obese.
If you compare the gut microbes of these obese mice, they have more Firmicutes and less Bacteriodetes than normal lean mice who have more Bacteriodetes and less Firmicutes.

Interestingly, if you transfer the gut microbes from an obese mouse into a special, lean, and germ-free mouse, the latter becomes obese.*
Gut microbiota transfer from an obese mouse to a lean germ-free mouse makes the lean mouse obese - Do you want to tweet this?

Now, I know what you would like to know, and I would like to know it too:
  • Does the opposite experiment work i.e. would transferring lean mice microbiota into obese mice make obese mice lean?
  • Would it work in humans too?
Don't cancel your gym membership just yet though, I think for now it's too early to say, but rest assured there are avenues being explored...

If you could know the composition of your microbiota, what would you like to know?

If you'd like to share your thoughts, please feel free to leave me a comment, I'd love to read it.

* The amazing discoveries I shared were reported in Turnbaugh PJ, et al. 2008.

Thank you to everyone who visited My Bugs And I today on our launch day, for leaving comments, liking/sharing our FB page and articles. 

MBAI articles will now be published every Monday.
Feel free to subscribe by email, you will only receive one article per week with always the option of one-click unsubscription.  

Our fantastic giveaway is not over yet, you still have until Monday 18th to enter it for a chance to win a  beautiful and sleek Kindle Fire. Good luck!

Why is our generation overweight?

We live longer than we used to, and we don't die of nasty diseases such as cholera or plague. Our medical knowledge allows us to protect ourselves from infections like measles, small pox, cholera, and polio. We are much more hygienic than we used to, especially since the discovery and acceptance that germs can be passed on by skin contact as well as via sneezes and coughs. We know we need to be careful about what we eat (5-a-day, anyone?), and we need to exercise to stay fit.

And yet, we are more and more obese as a generation, we get more cancers, and our children develop more and more allergies and weird diseases.

It stands to wonder: what happened? What did we do to ourselves?

fruit and vegs
WHO recommends eating 5 fruit and vegs everyday
The usual saying is that because our life expectancy has increased, we have more time to develop diseases. Other explanations include: we are better at recording incidence of diseases, we eat more processed food and drink sodas, and we watch way too much TV and play video games.

While our Western lifestyle is certainly at fault, are we absolutely certain that it is all there is? That we can't do anything else? That our obesity generation is just lazy at re-establishing a healthier lifestyle?

In one of the most successful obesity clinics in Mumbai in the 80's, Dr Dhurandar always felt highly frustrated: his patients returned again and again, having always regained the lost weight or failing to lose any weight at all.

And frankly, who hasn't experienced this weight yo-yo phenomenon?

Dr Dhurandar's motto was the same we hear over and over again: 'eat less and move more'.
But he realised that, perhaps, eating more and moving less wasn't the only cause of overweight!

activity toddler
Being active from an earlier age will help us keep fit

Some people say it's a question of metabolism rate. How many times have we heard skinny people say that they have a fast metabolism and can't put on weight?

Well, it seems all this fast metabolism is not exactly true: overweight people who can't shift their extra weight don't have a slow metabolism, in fact they have a faster metabolism - simply because it takes more energy to run a big body than a small one.
Overweight people have a faster metabolism than lean people because it takes more energy to run a big body - Do you want to tweet this?

Instead, being overweight and obese seems to be more about a dysfunction of the body's energy-storage system. So how do we get about to restore the balance? Some scientists now believe the answer is in our microbiota composition.

What is the right balance to a healthy and lean life?
As we discover more and more about our inhabitants, some scientists believe they know which species are more prevalent in overweight bodies and which are in lean bodies (if you'd like to know more, come back in 2 hours, I will be publishing a new article that will focus on the exact species involved in obesity HERE).

Maybe this is the avenue that our fad diets have missed. Maybe, we have finally found where to look? And soon we'll find a way to understand how our body signals (leptin and ghrelin, the famous satiety and hunger hormones) work in tandem with our microbes to make us look the way we look.

What diet have you tried? Have you also experienced this yo-yo phenomenon?

Would you like to share your thoughts? Feel free to use the comments box, I'd love to read them.

Stay tuned, I will be publishing one more article today to celebrate our launch day. 

Feel free to subscribe by email, you will only receive one article per week with always the option of one-click unsubscription.

Our fantastic giveaway is not over yet, you still have until Monday 18th to enter it for a chance to win a  beautifully sleek Kindle Fire. Good luck!

We are not alone...

A bit like Orion the cat - in Men in Black - carrying his home galaxy on his necklace, more and more specialists in gut biology agree that our gut flora represents a whole new organ that lives independently from, as well as in association with us.

For centuries, we have been so fascinated by the sky and its stars, by  the wonderfulness and weirdness of galaxies, by the possibility of an extra-terrestrial life that we forgot to explore the fabulous microscopic world inside of us.

Our microbiota represents a whole new organ in the human body - Do you want to tweet this?

So why haven't we heard more about our inner galaxy? It's not like we've never been interested in invisible little buggers, in fact their existence was hypothesized thousands of years ago.
However, it's not until 1676 that one serious Dutch geek called Anton Van Leeuwenhoek built his own microscope and finally got the evidence of their existence.

Despite all these early efforts, work on our bug's collection of DNA genes only began some 340 years later, in 2008, way after work on the human genome started.

Well, yes, I can hear you say, we didn't know about DNA (discovered in 1869) and its structure and role (observed and proved in 1953) or even how to sequence it before the 70's!

Our fascination for the skies

But did you know that before embarking on the whole human genome sequencing, scientists worked on tiny species? The first ever genome to be fully analyzed was the one of a virus, by Sanger's team in 1977. I guess they chose that one because it was kind of a smallish job to start with - a story of only 11 genes.

Armed with the best techniques, scientists then turned ther attention to our own genome thinking it would give us the key to understand how we function. But it turned out that our own story is told with only 20,500 genes and isn't providing the answers to our most pressing questions!

While our genome is 1863 times bigger than Sanger's virus, we are 50 million time bigger than that virus! Does this mean we may not be in charge of all of our functions? That something else is helping us along the way, and in turn would be responsible for diseases?

With this mind, scientists are now shifting their attention to our gut microbes to find answers.

So, what about the microbiota genome then? How big is it? Well, with 100 trillion bacterial cells belonging to up to 1000 species, it is estimated that it may cover close to 3 million genes!

Three million genes of microbes in and on our body when we, ourselves, are only composed of 20,500? Pretty exciting... or frankly scary...

I can't wait to discover more about our inhabitants, and how we can help them to help us stay in shape, safe and sane! Stay tuned today, I will be publishing more articles throughout the day to celebrate MBAI launch. 

What questions would you like scientists to finally find answers to? 
Would you like to share your thoughts? Feel free to use the comments box, I'd love to read them.

Don't forget you can subscribe by email, you will only receive one article per week with always the option of one-click unsubscription.

Our fantastic giveaway is not over yet, you still have until Monday 18th to enter it for a chance to win a  beautifully sleek Kindle Fire. Good luck!

Introducing our remarkable best friends

Welcome to My Bugs And I, I'm very excited to finally unveil this new blog focused on our friendly micro-organisms that live and work with us.

Our fantastic giveaway is not over yet, you still have until Monday 18th to enter it for a chance to win a  beautiful and sleek Kindle Fire.

I would like to introduce to you our very best friends, the ones that help us stay safe and sane: our friendly bacteria, our collection of body micro-organisms: our microbiota.

We all know that we have friendly bacteria that populate certain regions of our body, but did you know there are ten times more microbial cells than there are human cells?

We may have thought so far that we were the clever ones, the ones dictating the rules, but more and more research reveals that the real brains governing our being may not be in our cranium but populating our gut instead.

It's time we treat ourselves and our inhabitants with respect - Do you want to tweet this?

If you have kids, you are probably familiar with Julia Donaldson. She taught us a lesson in her famous 'Room on the broom': we are stronger together! In this blog, I will share the latest news on our fantastic companions and everything they do for us.

Holy grail
Happy and healthy, our holy grail?

As we are quickly learning, our creepy crawlies can do wonders for us but only if we treat them well. We are only understanding now what we can do to help them to preserve us and make us happy and healthy.

With the so-called 20th century diseases worrying us endlessly (obesity, type 2 diabetes, autism, eczema, asthma,...) and their direct link with microbiota imbalance, it's about time we treat ourselves and our inhabitants with respect.

So, what if the answer was in our gut? Stay tuned today, I will be publishing more articles throughout the day to celebrate My Bugs And I (MBAI) launch.

Would you like me to cover a specific topic related to a disease and its possible link to our friendly bacteria? Do you believe our gut may have the answers to health questions? 

Let me know your thoughts in the comment box, I'd love to read them. 

Feel free to subscribe by email, Only one article will be sent to you per week, always with the option of one-click unsubscription. You can also follow me on FB, Bloglovin, Twitter, or Google+. See you soon.

My bugs and I Published @ 2014 by Ipietoon