It turns out that one of the major benefits of a gastric bypass may have nothing to do with the actual operation.
In a surprising study, gastroenterologists at the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Weight Center report in the March 27th issue of Science Translational Medicine that the success of gastric bypass surgery may in part be due to the microbes that colonize the intestines after surgery.
The researchers qualify their statement, because so far they have only proven this to be the case with mice, however their experiments were fascinating and rigorous.
Unfortunately for the mice, this study involved a lot of unnecessary surgery.
Two groups of rodents were fattened up to simulate your average corn-fed American. Then one half of the rodent patients were given gastric bypass surgery.
Just imagine how difficult it must be to rework the plumbing of a full-sized human being. Now shrink that effort and complexity down to the size of your average lab rat. This was no simple research study.
The other half of the mice population were given surgical operations that did nothing at all, so that their experience would mimic the test cohort.
Soon the mice with gastric bypass surgery lost weight, as you would imagine. The control subjects did not.
But the truly interesting part of the experiment came later, when the doctors transplanted bacteria from the intestines of the rats who had undergone gastric bypass into the bodies of mice who had not had any surgery at all.
These mice ended up losing on average 5% of their body weight! The mice who were given bacteria from those who’d undergone the false surgery ended up gaining weight.
Doctors believe that the gastric bypass operation altered the microbiology of the rats’ intestines, encouraging bacteria that promote intestinal health and increase fat burning. Soon they hope to investigate if the same phenomenon may be taking place in human beings.
Of course the American obesity epidemic won’t be solved by an injection of intestinal bacteria, but this study helps to shed light on the complex interdependency of human beings and their bacterial symbionts.
It also underscores how unpleasant life is as a lab rat.