Overeating and obesity could be triggered by specific gut bacteria, study finds

Binge eating disorder concept with woman eating fast food burger, fired chicken , donuts and desserts, over eating obesity
Overeating and obesity has been linked to specific gut bacteria. (Getty Images)

Obesity and compulsive overeating could be triggered by a specific type of gut bacteria, a new study has suggested.

Scientists say that the new revelations could lead to further treatments for food addiction and other eating disorders.

"A number of factors contribute to food addiction, which is characterised by loss of control over food intake and is associated with obesity, other eating disorders and alterations in the composition of bacteria in the gut – the gut microbiome," one of the study’s authors Professor Elena Martín-García, from Pompeu Fabra University in Spain, said. "Until now, the mechanisms underlying this behavioural disorder were largely unknown."

The study was first conducted on mice and then on humans, the latter of which were sorted into two groups: those who are addicted to food, and those who aren’t.

Decreases in the bacteria Actinobacteria phylum and Blautia were seen in those who were food-addicted, along with increases in Proteobacteria phylum.

Dr Vijay Murthy, leading functional medicine doctor and co-founder of Harley St clinic Murthy Health tells Yahoo UK that the study reveals a "significant connection between obesity, overeating, and gut bacteria".

Man holding decorative model intestine. Close up
The bacteria in our gut can influence our hunger signals. (Getty Images)

"It identifies decreases in the Actinobacteria phylum and Blautia, and increases in the Proteobacteria phylum, as being associated with food addiction and obesity in both humans and mice," he explains.

"This suggests that the composition of gut bacteria plays a crucial role in influencing eating behaviors and the risk of developing obesity. Researchers discovered that these bacterial imbalances are linked to food addiction, which can lead to obesity, thus highlighting the important role of gut microbiota in managing body weight."

Gut bacteria can control overeating impulses through the gut-brain axis. "This is a sophisticated communication network that links the gut and brain," Dr Murthy explains.

It’s through this axis that the gut bacteria can produce neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, both which are essential for regulating mood and appetite.

"When the balance of these bacteria is disrupted, it can lead to increased cravings and overeating," he continues.

"For example, an imbalance in gut bacteria can affect the release of hormones that signal satiety, making it harder to feel full and satisfied after eating. This connection underscores how gut health can directly influence brain function and behavior, including eating habits."

This could be why some people are more inclined to overeat than others, as individuals with a higher proportion of the Proteobacteria may experience stronger food cravings and are less likely to feel satisfied and full.

"This indicates that biological factors, such as the microbiome, can significantly influence eating behaviors and obesity risk," Dr Murthy says.

"For example, someone with a higher proportion of Proteobacteria may have a more challenging time controlling their appetite compared to someone with a more balanced gut microbiota, illustrating the inherent variability in predispositions to overeating."

Obese Woman with fat upset bored of dieting Weight loss fail  Fat diet and scale sad asian woman on weight scale at home weight control
Some people are more predisposed to this gut bacteria than others. (Getty Images)

As much as we have made waves with the body positivity movement, there is still stigma surrounding obesity – but this new study could show that some people are just wired differently to others, and are most susceptible to overeating.

"Obesity is a complex disease influenced by various genetic, environmental, psychological, and biological factors, including gut bacteria," Dr Murthy says.

"To recognise this complexity, public education campaigns should highlight the multifaceted nature of obesity, [such as] informing people about the role of gut bacteria and the gut-brain axis can help shift the narrative away from simplistic notions of self-discipline towards a more compassionate and informed perspective.

"Understanding that obesity involves a range of influences beyond individual control can help reduce stigma and promote more effective and supportive approaches to treatment. Educational initiatives that explain the biological underpinnings of obesity can help foster empathy and a more nuanced understanding of the disease."

While it is not yet known if you can rectify this specific bacteria, there are ways that you can re-balance your gut bacteria in general.

Dr Murthy suggests dietary changes such as increasing fibre intake through fruits, vegetables, and whole grains as this can promote the growth of beneficial bacteria.

"Incorporating probiotics found in yogurt, kefir, and other fermented foods may also help," he adds. "Making dietary adjustments to support a healthy microbiome can be a practical and accessible way for individuals to improve their gut health and potentially manage obesity."

Additional reporting SWNS.