Some guts are better than others at harvestin

Associate Professor Henrik Roager

picture: Associate Professor Henrik Roager in the lab.
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Credit: University of Copenhagen.

New research from the University of Copenhagen shows that a portion of the Danish population has a composition of gut microbes, and on average Danes draw more energy from food from microbes in their guts. The research is a step towards understanding why some people gain more weight than others, even when they eat the same thing.

While it may be unfair, some of us seem to gain weight just by looking at a plate of Christmas cookies, while some of us can eat without gaining an ounce. Part of the explanation may have to do with the composition of our gut microbes. That’s according to new research conducted in the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sport at the University of Copenhagen.

To estimate how effective gut microbes are at extracting energy from food, the researchers examined residual energy in the stools of 85 Danes. They also mapped the composition of gut microbes for each participant.

The results show that roughly 40 percent of the participants belonged to a group that, on average, extracts more energy from food compared to the other 60 percent. The researchers also observed that those who extracted the most energy from food gained, on average, 10 percent more weight, reaching an extra nine kilograms.

“We may have found a way to understand why some people gain more weight than others. However, this needs further research,” says Henrik Roager, Associate Professor in the Department of the University of Copenhagen. Nutrition, Exercise and Sport.

May increase risk of obesity

The results show that being overweight may not just be about how healthy a person eats or the amount of exercise they do. It may also have to do with the composition of a person’s gut microbes.

Participants were divided into three groups based on the composition of their gut microbes. The so-called B-type composition (predominant Bacteroides bacteria) is more effective at removing nutrients from food and was observed in 40 percent of participants.

After the study, the researchers suspect that some of the population may be at a disadvantage by having gut bacteria that are a little too effective at extracting energy. This activity can result in more calories being obtained from the same amount of food for the human host.

“It’s basically a good thing that our gut bacteria are great at extracting energy from food, as the bacteria’s food metabolism provides extra energy, for example, in the form of short-chain fatty acids, which are molecules our bodies can take. But if we consume more than we burn, the extra energy that gut bacteria provide can increase the risk of obesity over time,” says Henrik Roager. .

Short journey time full of surprises

From the mouth to the esophagus, stomach, duodenum and small intestine, the large intestine and finally the rectum, the food we eat takes a 12 to 36 hour journey and passes through many stations along the way, all the nutrients of the food are absorbed by the body. .

The researchers also looked at the length of this journey for each participant, who all had similar eating patterns. Here, the researchers hypothesized that those with long digestive travel times would be the ones who gathered the most nutrients from their food. But the study found the opposite.

“We thought a longer digestive journey time would result in more energy being extracted. But here we see that the participants with the B-type gut bacteria that extract the most energy also have the fastest passage through the gastrointestinal tract. That gave us something to think about,” says Henrik Roager. .

Confirms previous study in mice

The new study in humans confirms previous studies in mice. In these studies, germ-free mice that received gut microbes from obese donors gained more weight than mice that received gut microbes from lean donors, despite being fed the same diet.

Even then, the researchers suggested that the differences in weight gain could be attributed to gut bacteria from obese people being more efficient at extracting energy from food. This is the theory now confirmed in a new study by the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sport.

“It’s very interesting that the group of people who have less energy in their stools weighs more on average. However, this study provides no evidence that the two factors are directly related. We hope to investigate this further in the future,” says Henrik Roager.

About gut bacteria:

  • Everyone has a unique combination of gut bacteria shaped by genetics, environment, lifestyle and diet.
  • The collection of gut bacteria, called the gut microbiota, is like an entire galaxy in our gut, with a staggering 100 billion bacteria per gram of stool.
  • Intestinal bacteria in the colon serve to break down food parts such as dietary fiber that our body’s digestive enzymes cannot make.
  • Humans can be divided into three groups based on the presence and abundance of the three main groups of bacteria found in most of us: type B (Bacteroides), R-type (Ruminococcaceae) and P-type (prevotella).

about the study

  • The energy content of stool samples from 85 overweight Danish men and women was examined.
  • Participants included men and women ages 22 to 66.
  • Forty percent of the participants fell into a special group that had less gut bacteria diversity and faster travel time for food in their digestive tracts.
  • This group was also found to have less residual energy in their stools compared to the other two groups, which could not be explained by differences in habitual diet.
  • The researchers also observed that the group with less energy in their stools also weighed more than the other groups.

To contact:

Henrik Roager

Associate professor

Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports

University of Copenhagen

[email protected]

+45 35 32 49 28

+45 25 48 06 99

Michael Skov Jensen

Journalist and team coordinator

faculty of Science

University of Copenhagen

+45 93 56 58 97

[email protected]


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