Always craving junk food? Now you can blame it on the millions of bacteria that live in your gut - At least that's what some researchers from UC San Francisco, Arizona State University and University of New Mexico, have concluded after reviewing the latest scientific literature about microbes. According to Athena Aktipis, one of the authors of the study, which was published in the journal Bio Essays in mid-August, these microscopic organisms are extremely bossy and have the power to influence not just our food cravings but also moods and overall well-being.
But before delving into how gut bacteria control us, it may be worth noting that thanks to the number of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live inside our bodies, humans possess more foreign cells than human cells. Scientists estimate microbes outnumber human cells by a ratio of 10:1! While that may sound a little scary, the truth is that without this vast array of organisms that are collectively referred to as microbiomes, we would not be able to survive.
What's even more interesting is that most microbiomes are situated in our guts - The smart little creatures have long recognized the benefits of living in our intestines where all the yummy food we consume flows to get digested before being absorbed into our bloodstream. Fortunately, we have a positive symbiotic relationship with the organisms: they help break down our food, while we provide them with nutrients and shelter.
However, herein lies the problem. According to the scientists, each bacterial species has a different nutritional need. Some prefer fat, while others love sugar. So they not only fight each other to satisfy their cravings, but also manipulate us into consuming more of what they want. While the researchers are not completely sure about how this occurs, Aktipis and her team speculate that it could be by changing the expression of our taste receptors such that certain foods taste better than others or by releasing hunger stimulating messages or even, manipulating the vagus nerve that connects to stomach to the brain. Evidence has shown that obese people possess a vastly different gut microbiome compared to healthy people, which may explain why they tend to seek out the wrong foods.
Gut bacteria are even able to control our moods when it comes to eating. This is supported by how infants cry when they are hungry. The word hangry was added to the dictionary this past year for a reason; people are naturally more hostile when they are craving food, and this is all because our gut microbiome knows how to use our body’s emotions to get the nutrients they want.
But before you reach out for that fourth cookie to satisfy your naughty gut bacteria, do note that you can turn tables on them by eating some healthy fruits or vegetables instead. According to the paper's co-author Carlo Maley, this could result in measurable changes in the microbiome that dwell inside your gut in less than 24 hours! For those people that have a harder time doing that, she suggests ingesting 'good' bacterial species in the form of probiotics or killing targeted species with antibiotics.
Hence, while eating fruits and vegetables may be low on your list of favorites, providing your body with the right nutrients is the only way you can remain healthy and ensure that the tiny organisms inside your body do not control you!