Eat yourself slim? Molecules found in plants linked to reduced risk of obesity

6th July 2020 – Paz Garcia

Eating polyphenols improves your gut health and could lead to a lower risk of obesity, according to the latest research from TwinsUK.

Polyphenols are molecules found in in high quantities in foods such as fruits, nuts, tea, coffee, vegetables, olive oil and even red wine.

Previous studies have found that higher polyphenol intake is linked with improved gut bacteria diversity and reduced risk of obesity. It has not been clear however whether these associations are due to the polyphenols themselves or the fibre content of the food.

In this study, the researchers investigated whether polyphenol intake was linked with a reduced risk of obesity independently of fibre content. This builds on other recent work led by Professor Tim Spector on the health effects of polyphenols.

The team analysed gut bacteria data from stool samples and food frequency questionnaires from 1,810 female TwinsUK participants.

They found that higher polyphenol intake was linked with a 20% lower chance of obesity, after accounting for fibre content. This was in part due to increased gut bacteria diversity.

First author Olatz Mompeo explained:

“Our findings highlight the potential importance of polyphenol consumption to keep our gut bacteria happy and our bodies healthy. We now need nutrition trials to test these associations and see if they hold true across different ages in men and women.”

Senior author Dr Cristina Menni said:

“Thank you very much to our selfless twins for regularly filling in food questionnaires and donating stool samples. They may not be the most glamorous of tasks, but they make this health research possible, for everyone’s benefit.”

Mompeo et al. Consumption of stilbenes and flavonoids is linked to reduced risk of obesity independently of fibre intake. Nutrients, 2020.

Can bacteria beat the belly fat?

5th July 2019 – by Paz Garcia

Man measuring his waist with a tape measure

Gut bacteria play an important role in the accumulation of fat around the midriff, a new TwinsUK study has found.

This makes gut bacteria a prime target for developing effective weight-management strategies.

Currently, over 12% of the global population is considered obese, up from 5% in 1975. In the UK, nearly 25% of the population is obese. Existing weight loss strategies however that focus on diet or exercise have not been very effective.

TwinsUK researcher Dr Caroline Le Roy explained:

“We know that fat that sits around the organs in the abdomen is harmful and can lead to heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. Our research shows that gut bacteria play a key role in fat accumulation. We hope our findings will lead to more effective weight-loss strategies.”

The work was published today in Scientific Reports .

What did they do?

The gut is home to trillions of bacteria which help us to digest our food.

The team wanted to find out the role of gut bacteria in the accumulation of visceral fat – which surrounds the organs in the abdomen – and how it relates to diet.

The researchers analysed stool samples and diet questionnaires from over 1,700 TwinsUK participants.

What did they find?

They found that certain diet nutrients and gut bacteria affect the accumulation of visceral fat in different ways.

The team identified 93 groups of bacteria linked to visceral fat levels. Of these, 85 groups were linked with lower fat levels and 8 with higher fat levels.

Nutrients such as protein and cholesterol were associated with greater visceral fat. Other nutrients, including fibre, magnesium and vitamin E however were linked with lower visceral fat.

Further analysis found that the effect of fibre, magnesium and vitamin E on fat might be partly mediated by gut bacteria.

Intriguingly, the role of certain nutrients on visceral fat depended on the presence of gut bacteria, but in contrast, specific gut microbes appeared to affect fat accumulation regardless of dietary intake.

What does this mean?

Overall, differences in gut bacteria explain differences in visceral fat levels to a greater extent than nutrients alone.

The researchers stress in their paper that their findings do not prove causal relationships. Further research will need to check whether and how certain nutrients and gut bacteria actively cause accumulation of visceral fat, accounting for differences in lifestyle.

This work however brings us one step closer to understanding the importance of good diets and a healthy gut for overall health.

TwinsUK researcher Dr Jordana Bell said:

“I’d like to thank our twins who so generously give up their time and samples to make this research possible. It’s because of them that we’re beginning to unravel the relationships between food, gut bacteria and abdominal fat.”

 

Do different types of cells in fat matter in health research?

28th May 2019 – by Paz Garcia

Cartoon of doctor measuring person's waist

The variability of cell types found in fat are partly under genetic control and need to be taken into account in health research, according to new TwinsUK research.

Fat is made up of a variety of different types of cells, including ones that store fat and others that form the immune system.

Researchers from the Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology investigated the mixture of cells that make up fat in samples from over 1,000 donors.

The work was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Why did they do this research?

While we may not usually think of it in such terms, fat is actually the largest organ in the body that releases hormones.

We know that fat plays a role in the development of various health conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Many researchers have therefore focused on studying fat.

Researchers however have largely not considered the proportions of the different types of cells in fat in their analyses.

The TwinsUK team therefore decided to investigate the different types of cells present in fat.

What did they do?

The researchers analysed fat samples collected from 766 twins from TwinsUK and 326 donors from another study.

The team used computational methods to estimate the relative proportions of four different types of cells in each fat sample.

They also looked at whether the proportions of cells were genetically inherited and linked with traits of obesity.

What did they find?

There is a lot of variation between people in the proportions of different cells they have in their fat.

The team found that proportions of cell types in fat is genetically inherited and is linked to body fat distribution.

What does this mean?

Researchers studying the links between fat and health conditions will need to take into account the variety of different cells present in fat. Dr Craig Glastonbury, first author on the study, explained:

“Our results indicate that it is critical to account for cell-type composition on a range of standard analyses.”

In addition, the findings could help us understand why some people are at greater risk of certain conditions. Dr Kerrin Small, who worked on the study, explained:

“The results suggest that some people are genetically predisposed to have more cells that store fat, which could lead to greater fat accumulation and greater risk of conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.”

What’s next?

In their paper, the researchers say that more research will be needed to understand the relationship between genetics, cells in fat and the impact on health and disease.

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