Could gut bacteria help rein in your sweet tooth?

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Delectable desserts are among the many food options on site at Brookfield Place, a luxury shopping center in Battery Park City in lower Manhattan. (Sara Bauknecht/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)

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When I was growing up, I used to heap loads of sugar into my bowl of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies cereal. I couldn’t wait to scrape up the little mound of milk-soaked sugar left over at the bottom.

My sweet tooth abated somewhat in adulthood, but I still get a hankering for that bowl of vanilla ice cream and Hershey’s syrup I don’t need at 10 o’clock at night. Now, however, there may be a solution to that nagging sweet tooth that entices us to eat nutrition-bereft, high-calorie snacks.

Preliminary findings from researchers at Augusta University show that slightly changing the makeup of the billions of bacteria in the gut could help suppress a person’s sweet tooth. The findings could play an important role in the ongoing battle against obesity.

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As part of their research, the scientists introduced a small dose of E. coli (not one of the few strains that makes us sick) into the guts of mice. The result: levels of leptin — a hormone that tells us when we’re full — went up. And within seven days, the taste for sweets and number of sweet receptors on the tongue went way down, said Dr. Lynnette McCluskey, a neuroscientist at Augusta University.

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Dr. Lynnette McCluskey, neuroscientist in the Department of Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.

Advancements in technology have allowed scientists to begin studying the billions of bacteria in our gut — or microbiome — that allow us to digest food. How is it different in an obese person, versus someone who is lean? Can a person’s gut bacteria affect how long she lives?

Scientists are just beginning to understand how our gut bacteria affects us.

“They play a big role in obesity, inflammatory bowel disease,” McCluskey said. “And now people are even looking at how they affect the brain for psychiatric disorders like depression.”


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