Yo yo dieting is an all-too-familiar condition. You go on a diet and reach your target weight – but as the months go by, the pounds creep back on, no matter how much you strive to maintain your new healthier lifestyle.
Some dieters manage to keep the weight off, but many others fail – up to two-thirds, according to one major study. This phenomenon can have serious consequences in the form of obesity-related diseases like Type 2 diabetes.
Now, an Israel-based team of scientists may have found the reason for yo yo dieting. It seems to be the fault of our gut microbes – the “microbiome”.
The microbiome seems to “remember” obesity
Studies on mice revealed that after a period of obesity followed by weight loss, most of the body’s systems returned to their post-obese state – but not the microbiome. The gut microbes seemed to retain the obesity-driven patterns for about six months after weight-loss.
The effect of the change was accelerated weight gain when more high-fat foods or excessive food consumption were introduced. When two groups of rodents were fed identical amounts of high-fat food for the same amount of time, the mice on the high-fat/low fat cycle gained more weight than mice that had consistently eaten normally.
And when the gut microbes from the yo yo dieting mice were introduced into “germ-free” mice with no gut microbes, those mice also experienced accelerated weight gain.
“We’ve shown in obese mice that following successful dieting and weight loss, the microbiome retains a ‘memory’ of previous obesity,” said Dr Eran Elinav, Primary Investigator at the Department of Immunology, Weizmann Institute of Science.
A plant-based solution?
Further research from the team revealed that the post-diet changes in the gut seemed to reduce levels of two flavonoids, or plant compounds: apigenin and naringenin. Why is this important? Apparently it can interfere with a gene expression that plays a role in energy expenditure, or the rate of calorie burning.
The team tested this theory by supplementing the post-diet mice with flavonoids – and the result was that their calorie expenditure returned to normal levels.
So while apigenin and naringenin are not being suggested as miracle weight loss cures, they might help people who have lost weight stop the pounds piling back on again.
Apigenin is found in chamomile flowers
Naringenin is the predominant flavanone in grapefruit. It has low bioavailability – only 15 percent of the amount ingested will be absorbed into the gut.
Naringenin is also found in oranges