If anyone but Dr. Mirkin wrote an article about a Magic Weight Loss pill, I wouldn't bother reading past the title. However, it might really be true this time.
(Dr. Mirkin puts out an interesting and intelligent e-Zine on health and fitness. If he were cranky as well, we'd have to just hang up our hats and go home, leaving him to do all the health reporting for us. He's really good.)
Quick biology review, stolen from Dr. Mirkin's article
You have two absorption systems in your body. You absorb most of your food as it passes through your small intestines. Food that is not absorbed in the small intestine goes to your colon. The colon contains a huge colony of bacteria that work to ferment undigested carbohydrates such as soluble fiber into short chain fatty acids and simple sugars that can then be absorbed through the colon walls into the bloodstream. Most people get about ten percent of their total calories from food absorbed through their colons.
That wasn't too long, was it?
Scientists have found that one of two different types of bacteria is dominant in mice. If the mouse is obese, it has a different type of bacteria in its system than a lean mouse has. The bad bacteria are called Firmicutes, which I swear sounds like a name thought up by a Marketing department to describe a new diet that gets rid of cellulite and makes you want to wear really short shorts. The good bacteria are called Bacteroidetes. (They really need to re-think their PR strategy.)
When I first skimmed this article, methought the findings were simply cause and result. In other words, it seemed to me that if you eat a mostly high fat diet, the "bad" bacteria proliferate because they've got more food that they like to eat. It's like providing a moist enclosed environment and then seeing a lot of very happy mildew all over the walls.
That's what I was thinking, until I got to this sentence:
"Transplanting Firmicutes bacteria into the guts of lean mice made them fat."
If that's true, perhaps the reverse is also true? If transplanting the Bacteroidetes bacteria would make fat mice thin, then there really could be such a thing as a magic weight loss pill.
Until then, I suppose we could stick with the eating-healthy-food strategy. It's not only helpful to keep the weight off, it also keeps you healthy in other ways, such as reducing the levels of inflammation in the body. Researchers in Buffalo have published studies suggesting that if a fat person and a thin person both eat a high-fat fast food meal, the obese person suffers ill effects longer than the person who is not overweight.
But that's so boring! A nice simple pill would be much nicer, preferably one that's all sparkly and cool looking. Or at least one that costs a lot of money. Since if it's cheap, well, it must not be very good, right? Maybe that's one reason no one is interested in the eating-healthy-food strategy -- it's cheaper than the fancy pills you see advertised on television.