The Surprising Connection Between Your Gut Microbiome and Food Addiction

Science is teeming with good stuff about your gut – your second brain – and how it impacts just about everything. I’ve been working on improving my gut health for quite some time. We’re learning that your gut is your second brain and has a significant impact on almost everything. The gut microbiome is linked to obesity, food addiction, sugar cravings, and addiction in general, according to a number of recent studies. I want to share what I have learned so far.

Bad breath bacteria
bad bacteria

Could our cravings and addictions to food be linked with an imbalance in the gut microbiome?

Recent research points towards this being a possibility.

This might explain why some of us have such strong urges for unhealthy foods – perhaps these powerful impulses are rooted within our own bodies!

Assortment of various unhealthy junk food.
food cravings

Food addiction and your microbiome

Several studies indicate that there is a connection between gut microbiota and your relationship with food. Let’s explore these studies further

In the first study I looked at, a distinct microbiome was found in females with food addiction.

In this study, stool samples from women who were food addicted, obese women who did not score high for food addiction, and healthy volunteers were compared. It was observed that females with food addiction had a different gut microbiome than those without. Researchers also found that certain bacteria in the gut were higher in women with food addiction. Thus, a gut “dysbiosis” results in an increase in communication between certain reward centers within the brain (Dong, et al., 2020).

In another article I read, I found more background information on the emerging evidence.

It was super long and honest with my ADHD was a struggle to read, but here’s the important stuff I gleaned and wanted to share.  

Back to school, anatomy
Enteric Nervous System

Sugar cravings and gut microbiota

Did you know the gut has its own nervous system?

I’m a nurse. I probably learned this, but I sure forgot if I did. By way of the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system communicates with the brain’s central nervous system. One of the most important sources of neurotransmitters is the intestinal microbiota, which produces serotonin, GABA, and 5-HT to name a few. Through the vagus nerve and neurotransmitters, the enteric nervous system regulates hunger, satiety, stress, and mood. According to Novelle (2021), these reward pathways are crucial to the regulation of eating behavior.

An additional study examined stool samples collected from food-addicted women

Another study explored stool samples collected from a group of women. Again, this study identified differences in the microbiomes of women with uncontrolled eating behaviors. More specifically, these women’s microbiomes showed a low variety of bacteria in them (Barone, et al., 2020).

Working with test tubes at the laboratory
stool sample research

Is disordered eating a cause or effect of a bad microbiome?

Although I won’t spend too much time discussing whether disordered eating is a cause or effect of a bad microbiome, I will speculate that your gut biome is influenced by your mother’s diet during pregnancy and then by what you were exposed to as a child. Your relationship with food is likely to be shaped by your microbiome from birth and in early childhood.

Paradox of the Chicken and the Egg
Which came first? The bad microbiome or the food addiction?

Could improving your microbiome treat food addiction and change your relationship with food?

I’m not sure if it can fix your binge eating or food addiction, but there are both human and mouse studies to support this concept. To me, hell, it’s sure worth a shot.

Let’s move on to more research.

A fecal transplant reverses symptoms of overeating in mice.

Additionally, I looked at mice research. Although it was not conducted on humans, it was still intriguing. They treated mice with antibiotics to kill off their microbiome, and then compared them to control mice. A significant increase in the consumption of high-sucrose pellets was observed in mice treated with antibiotics.

House mouse (Mus musculus)
mice study

What’s more interesting is that they were able to reverse the mice’s overconsumption of food. By transferring feces into the mice being treated with antibiotics, they reverted this behavior. The mice now consumed the same amount of highly palatable food as their control group (Ousey, Boktor, & Mazmanian, 2022).

Fecal transplants in humans?

Honestly, there isn’t enough data on this one. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was studied in human subjects in the future. The articles I did find mentioned fecal transplants improving insulin sensitivity in humans, and there was information on fecal transplants treating and reversing C-diff infections. However, that’s about all I could find. There isn’t much research on the subject.

That’s not a practical solution and you probably aren’t interested in poop swapping.

Reversing food addiction

Next, we’ll look at using probiotics and prebiotics to treat obesity and food addiction.

Herb supplement capsules in hand. Lingzhi mushroom or Reishi mushroom supplement capsules.
Probiotic supplement

The authors report multiple studies on the use of probiotics and prebiotics in a review of clinical trials on probiotics. The review indicates that many of these studies demonstrate the potential for prebiotics and/or probiotics to increase the effectiveness of current obesity treatments (Wiciński, Gębalski , Gołębiewski, & Malinowski, 2020). I found several other articles reporting similar findings, but I’ll go on to reduce redundancy.

So maybe I have convinced you, what can you do with this information?

Now, there is no easy breezy solution to obesity, food addiction, disordered eating, etc. However, I believe a great deal can be gleaned from this that can be applied to practical use. You can improve your gut microbiome. There are many, many ways to do this that are actually far more effective than pills or supplements. I believe improving your gut microbiome will improve the health of your mind and body.

notebooks and lowercase letters with the words Coming Soon
Stay tuned

Improving gut microbiome

Stay tuned as I’ll be writing a subsequent article about improving your gut health and diversifying your microbiome. I’ll edit and post the link here when I finish the second part of this article.

I am also keeping track of my consumption of “highly palatable foods” in the coming year. I set a goal to be Sugar Free in 2023. I am as always, a work in progress and will report the impact of my gut health and mental health next year.

If you liked this article, also see my article on sugar and pain. Your gut microbiome may play a part in how sugar can cause pain.

References
Barone, M., Garelli, S., Rampelli, S., Agostini, A., Matysik, S., D’Amico, F., . . . Turroni, S. (2020). Multi-omics gut microbiome signatures in obese women: role of diet and uncontrolled eating behavior. BMC Med, 20, 500. doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-022-02689-3

Carpenter, S. (2012). That gut feeling. Monitor on Psychology, 43(8). Retrieved from American Psychological Association: https://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/09/gut-feeling

Dong, T. S., Mayer, E. A., Osadchiy, V., Chang, C., Katzka, W., Lagishetty, V., . . . Gupta, A. (2020). A Distinct Brain-Gut-Microbiome Profile Exists. Obesity, 1477-1486.

Novelle, M. (2021). Decoding the Role of Gut-Microbiome in the Food Addiction Paradigm. Int J Environ Res Public Health, 18(13):1685. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390%2Fijerph18136825

Ousey, J., Boktor, J., & Mazmanian, S. (2022). Gut microbiota suppress feeding induced by palatable foods. Current Biology, 33, 1–11. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2022.10.066
Wiciński, M., Gębalski , J., Gołębiewski, J., & Malinowski, B. (2020). Probiotics for the Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Humans—A Review of Clinical Trials. Microorganisms. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/microorganisms8081148

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