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Fat Loving Bacteria May Be the Cause of Your Love Handles

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Researchers announced today that eating a high-fat diet may be encouraging the selection of strains of specific gut bacteria that in turn increases the amount of fat calories absorbed from your food and stored in your cells.

Gut bacteria play an important role in the digestion of food and the absorption of micronutrients to cells in the body. While the breakdown of complex carbohydrates by gut bacteria is well understood, less is known about what effect gut bacteria have on the breakdown and absorption of fats.

To learn more about bacteria-assisted fat absorption, collaborating researchers from the Carnegie Institution for Science, University of North Carolina and University of Colorado at Boulder have recently published an article describing their discovery of how one strain of gut bacteria actually increases the amount of fat absorbed from a diet as opposed to other strains of gut bacteria.

The researchers report their discovery of increased fat absorption by using larval stage zebrafish that are visually transparent as their animal model of study. The zebrafish were grown in the presence of a strain of bacteria called “Firmicutes” that had previously been associated with obesity due to their increased presence in the guts of obese individuals.

Once the researchers were able to incorporate the Firmicutes bacteria in the digestive tract of the early stage zebrafish, the zebrafish were then fed a diet that included fluorescently tagged fatty acids that allowed the researchers to be able to directly observe the absorption and transport of fats in the intestinal lining and body cells of live zebrafish.

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According to a press release issued by the Carnegie Institution for Science:

“This study is the first to demonstrate that microbes can promote the absorption of dietary fats in the intestine and their subsequent metabolism in the body,” says senior study author John Rawls of the University of North Carolina. “The results underscore the complex relationship between microbes, diet and host physiology.”

What the researchers discovered was that the Firmicutes bacteria stimulated the fatty acid uptake and formation of lipid (fat) droplets in both intestinal and liver cells. Furthermore, their data also showed that consuming a diet rich in fatty acids increases fat absorption in a diet-dependent manner—in other words, the more fat consumed, the more fat actively absorbed by the cells via the Firmicutes bacteria. In addition, a high fat diet actively selects for increased numbers of Firmicutes bacteria in the gut. Therefore, eating a lower-fat diet should in theory reduce the number of Firmicutes bacteria in your digestive system.

“The unique properties of zebrafish larvae are helping us develop a better understanding of how the intestine functions with the goal of contributing to ongoing efforts to reduce the impact of diseases associated with altered lipid metabolism, such as diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease,” says co-author Stephen Faber of the Carnegie Institute. “Our collaboration with the Rawls lab is now focused on how specific gut bacteria are able to stimulate absorption of dietary fat. We hope to use that information to develop new ways to reduce fat absorption in the context of human diseases,” says Farber.

Follow this link to an informative and fun article about how a celebrity advocated colon cleansing treatment may affect your gut bacteria and your weight.

Image Source: Courtesy of Wikipedia

Reference: “Microbiota Regulate Intestinal Absorption and Metabolism of Fatty Acids in the Zebrafish” Cell Host & Microbe, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp. 277-288 (13 September 2012); Ivana Semova et al.



Those love handles look hot. Eat fat loving bacteria, girls!