Obesity results from alterations in the body's regulation of energy intake, expenditure, and storage. Recent evidence, primarily from investigations in animal models, suggests that the gut microbiota affects nutrient acquisition and energy regulation. Its composition has also been shown to differ in lean vs obese animals and humans. In this article, we review the published evidence supporting the potential role of the gut microbiota in the development of obesity and explore the role that modifying the gut microbiota may play in its future treatment. Evidence suggests that the metabolic activities of the gut microbiota facilitate the extraction of calories from ingested dietary substances and help to store these calories in host adipose tissue for later use. Furthermore, the gut bacterial flora of obese mice and humans include fewer Bacteroidetes and correspondingly more Firmicutes than that of their lean counterparts, suggesting that differences in caloric extraction of ingested food substances may be due to the composition of the gut microbiota. Bacterial lipopolysaccharide derived from the intestinal microbiota may act as a triggering factor linking inflammation to high-fat diet-induced metabolic syndrome. Interactions among microorganisms in the gut appear to have an important role in host energy homeostasis, with hydrogen-oxidizing methanogens enhancing the metabolism of fermentative bacteria. Existing evidence warrants further investigation of the microbial ecology of the human gut and points to modification of the gut microbiota as one means to treat people who are overweight or obese.
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