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How Does Your Brain Know When Your Stomach’s Full?

The holiday season is well on its way and even though most of us have the best intentions to make this year the year when we don’t overeat, it’s likely that at some point we’ll suffer those feelings of having stuffed too much into our stomachs. However, this year as you sit back in your chair unable to eat another morsel, give thanks to the army of microbes that are helping to digest the food you’ve just eaten, as scientists have discovered that it’s the bacteria in your gut that signals to the brain when THEY’RE full.

Eating causes the growth of the E. coli population in our gut

When we eat, we not only feed ourselves, but we feed the bacteria lurking in our stomach, triggering an enormous bloom, with up to a billion new E.coli bacteria emerging when we tuck into a feast. However, approximately twenty minutes after you first start eating your meal, the bacteria reach critical mass, stop reproducing and enter a state of rest. It’s during this state that the E. coli secrete appetite-suppressing proteins.

In lab experiments mice injected with E. coli proteins ate less per meal

Researchers have now been able to harvest these proteins from E.coli and have introduced them to the colons of lab rats, where they appeared to interact with the gut’s endocrine cells. This had the effect of initiating the production of hormones that tell the brain that we’ve eaten enough. Furthermore, the scientists observed a reduction in the amount eaten by mice which had been injected with the E. coli proteins, although they did eat more often. This evidence leads the researchers to suggest that the proteins secreted by E. coli can influence our feelings of satiety.

Maybe we should pay more attention to the bacteria in our gut

While the researchers don’t intend to create bacterial appetite suppressants for humans, at least not in the near future, if our gut bacteria does have a part to play in determining when we’re full and is able to regulate our appetite, it might be worth paying closer attention to their health and composition by taking probiotic supplements. Or maybe we should just stick to our plans to eat a little less.

The results of the study were published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

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