Being overweight is unfortunately very common. In fact about 70% of Americans are either overweight or obese. We all have heard the mantra about exercising and following a healthy diet. Yes. genetics plays a role too. Just when we thought we knew what to do, along comes some very interesting research, which in a nutshell, suggests that the type and diversity of bacteria within our gut matters in terms of being overweight.

A recent study brought home this point. Some researchers (with parental consent one hopes) extracted bacteria from the stomachs of sets of otherwise healthy twins: one overweight; the other normal weight. These researchers then took the bacteria and transplanted the microbes into mice, who presumably had no bacteria similar to humans. The mice who had the misfortune of receiving the heavy twins’ bacteria became overweight, while the lucky mice, who got the thin twins’ microbes remained thin.

Then to drive home the point, the scientists let the fat mice live with their svelt cousins. Mice, it turns out eat each other feces (yet another reason not to have them as pets) so the gut bacteria became mixed. Guess what happened? The fat dudes lost weight and could prance around thin just like the others! The mice were finally fed an all too typical American diet high in saturated fat and low in fiber. The bacteria that were extracted from their stomachs were less diverse and resembled those from the obese mice.

This study opens up the possibility of treating obesity with bacteria.  After all, bacteria aid in the digestion of foods.  A diverse, healthy selection of gut bacteria could help us slim down and reduce  the risks for obesity related complications such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.