Are gut bacteria dictating our appetite?

Bacteria might be deciding when we have eaten enough

Bacteria might be deciding when we have eaten enough

Bacteria in our stomachs might be deciding when we’ve eaten enough and switch off appetite, according to new research.

Rather than stopping eating because we have decided to, scientists suggest eating starts a population growth of more than a billion microbes in the gut which, after 20 minutes, reaches critical mass and puts on the brakes, making us feel full.

Researchers from France, Sweden and England published their findings in Cell Metabolism.

They looked at the proteins produced by Escherichia coli bacteria, common in the human gut. They found that after 20 minutes of feeding and a resulting growth in bacteria numbers, the bacteria switch from pumping out one set of proteins to pumping out another, one of which releases a hormone that acts to decrease appetite.

The findings build on evidence that bacteria play a key role in the regulation of appetite and ultimately could lead to a better understanding of treatments for eating disorders, such as obesity.

Dr Ivor Ebenezer from the University of Portsmouth and one of the co-authors of the study said: “It appears that the bacteria switch off hunger. It seems to be no coincidence we feel full and tired 20 minutes after we have eaten.”

The research was led by Professor Serguei Fetissov from Rouen University in France.

Professor Fetissov and his team injected tiny doses of those post-meal proteins into rats and mice. The animals’ appetites decreased and further experiments revealed that the bacterial proteins stimulated the release of an intestinal hormone known as Peptide YY (PPY) that acts in the brain to reduce appetite and produce satiety. In addition, the researchers found that another of the bacterial proteins called ClpB also acts within the brain to regulate food intake.

It is thought that Escherichia coli might be hijacking the signals that make animals feel full, and that doing so may be a way for the bacteria to control their own numbers.

Professor Fetissov told journalists in the US that it appears it isn’t the host animal who dictates the number of bacteria in their own gut, it’s the bacteria themselves which multiply to a certain number then stop: “We provide the nutrients to these bacteria, and they will produce, more or less, a billion more bacteria and then they will stop growing. Why they stop after producing about one billion, I have no idea. But in only 20 minutes they produce this new one billion bacteria and then they start producing new proteins that have some inhibiting effect on appetite.”

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