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A multi national research team led by Jiao Tong University scientists has recently reported a successful clinical trial of a gut microbiota-targeted nutritional therapy for children morbidly obese with a genetic condition, known as Prader-Willi Syndrome (PWS). Because of a genetically conditioned food-craving behavior, bodyweight management of children with PWS has previously proven to be extraordinarily difficult.

During the hospitalized 12-week dietary intervention trial, children with PWS lost nearly 20% of their bodyweight without the need for rigorous exercises. They achieved better behavioral control of food cravings, which made it easier for parents to help them continue the diet at home. A 14 year-old PWS volunteer experienced a significant weight loss from 140 kg to 73 kg after 430 days of adherence to the diet.

The interventional diet was based on whole-grains, traditional Chinese medicinal foods and prebiotics. It contained balanced macro- and micro-nutrients to meet the children’s nutritional needs. It also provided large amounts of complex carbohydrates that are non-digestible by humans but that feed beneficial bacteria in the gut, allowing them to thrive.

Researchers showed that the pre-intervention gut microbiota induced more fat accumulation than the post-intervention one from the same PWS volunteer when both were transplanted into germfree mice. The team found that the interventional diet significantly improved the gut microbiota and reduced the amount of obesity-related toxins in blood and urine produced by gut bacteria. Particularly, this diet promoted the growth of a beneficial species called Bifidobacterium pseudocatenulatum, which may work as a “foundation species” to promote other beneficial bacteria and reduce toxin-producing ones. Such foundation species are just like tall trees for a rainforest, which can cover the ecosystem and create a unique environment to support the thriving of all other members of a healthy gut microbiota.

All the evidences provided in the paper strengthen the notion that the diet-induced changes of the gut microbiota may have contributed to health improvement of the human hosts. This study opens the possibility of developing an effective nutritional therapy for childhood genetic obesity with the gut microbiota as a primary target.


The paper was published in EBioMedicine.

Contact: Prof Liping Zhao, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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