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Genes Nutr. 2011 Aug;6(3):241-60. doi: 10.1007/s12263-011-0230-1. Epub 2011 May 11.

Obesity and the gut microbiota: does up-regulating colonic fermentation protect against obesity and metabolic disease?

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Nutrition and Nutrigenomics Group, Research and Innovation Centre, FEM-IASMA, 38010, S. Michele a.A, Trento, Italy,


Obesity is now considered a major public health concern globally as it predisposes to a number of chronic human diseases. Most developed countries have experienced a dramatic and significant rise in obesity since the 1980s, with obesity apparently accompanying, hand in hand, the adoption of "Western"-style diets and low-energy expenditure lifestyles around the world. Recent studies report an aberrant gut microbiota in obese subjects and that gut microbial metabolic activities, especially carbohydrate fermentation and bile acid metabolism, can impact on a number of mammalian physiological functions linked to obesity. The aim of this review is to present the evidence for a characteristic "obese-type" gut microbiota and to discuss studies linking microbial metabolic activities with mammalian regulation of lipid and glucose metabolism, thermogenesis, satiety, and chronic systemic inflammation. We focus in particular on short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) produced upon fiber fermentation in the colon. Although SCFA are reported to be elevated in the feces of obese individuals, they are also, in contradiction, identified as key metabolic regulators of the physiological checks and controls mammals rely upon to regulate energy metabolism. Most studies suggest that the gut microbiota differs in composition between lean and obese individuals and that diet, especially the high-fat low-fiber Western-style diet, dramatically impacts on the gut microbiota. There is currently no consensus as to whether the gut microbiota plays a causative role in obesity or is modulated in response to the obese state itself or the diet in obesity. Further studies, especially on the regulatory role of SCFA in human energy homeostasis, are needed to clarify the physiological consequences of an "obese-style" microbiota and any putative dietary modulation of associated disease risk.

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