Scientists continue to discover more and more processes that the gut microbiome influences. This population of microbes – including bacteria, fungi, viruses, and their genes – naturally live inside animal guts, interacting with the host body and each other to regulate processes.
Researchers have discovered the microbiome is involved in a range of processes in humans, from regulating anxiety to memory, and even impacting chemotherapy side effects. A new study, from the University of Pittsburgh, has uncovered a new link between these microbes and animal food cravings.
What influences food cravings?
We make decisions every day regarding food: yogurt or eggs, potato chips or veggies? To investigate what drives these food choices, the team studied 30 mice with different microbiome compositions to see if they would influence the animals’ food choices.
“We all have those urges — like if you ever you just feel like you need to eat a salad or you really need to eat meat,” explained Kevin Kohl, who worked on the project. “Our work shows that animals with different compositions of gut microbes choose different kinds of diets.”
The link between gut and brain
Many papers have shown gut microbes are constantly releasing molecules that travel up to the brain and interact with it to change the animal behavior. However, this research is the first of its kind in mice to look at how they influence dietary choices.
Studying the molecules released by the gut microbes revealed they prompt cravings for different types of foods, releasing specific proteins which bind to receptors in the mice brains.
The purpose of these signals is to communicate that both the mice and the microorganisms living inside of them need certain types of nutrients to function healthily. This symbiotic relationship provides beneficial regulation of the mice’s diet while supplying the microbes with the nutrients they need to survive, basically hijacking the host body for mutual gain.
The future of microbiome research
There is much more to discover in the realm of microbiome research. As mice are a lot simpler than humans, further studies need to be carried out before we can confidently say how more complex organisms are impacted.
The future in this area of science is bright, with new research regularly being released that tweaks our knowledge on the subject matter. “I’m just constantly amazed at all of the roles we’re finding that microbes play in human and animal biology,” Kohl said.
Source study: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – The gut microbiome influences host diet selection behavior