The human body is host to a vast number of microbes, including bacterial, fungal, and protozoal microorganisms, which together constitute our microbiota. Evidence is emerging that the intestinal microbiome is intrinsically linked with overall health, including obesity risk. Obesity and obesity-related metabolic disorders are characterized by specific alterations in the composition and function of the human gut microbiome. Mechanistic studies have indicated that the gastrointestinal microbiota can influence both sides of the energy balance equation, namely, as a factor influencing energy utilization from the diet and as a factor that influences host genes that regulate energy expenditure and storage. Moreover, its composition is not fixed and can be influenced by several dietary components. This fact raises the attractive possibility that manipulating the gut microbiota could facilitate weight loss or prevent obesity in humans. Emerging as possible strategies for obesity prevention and/or treatment are targeting the microbiota to restore or modulate its composition through the consumption of live bacteria (probiotics), nondigestible or limited digestible food constituents such as oligosaccharides (prebiotics), or both (synbiotics) or even fecal transplants.
Cindy D. Davis, PhD, is director of grants and extramural activities at the Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland.
The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose.
Correspondence: Cindy D. Davis, PhD, Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health, 6100 Executive Blvd, Ste 3B01, Bethesda, MD 20892-75173 (email@example.com).