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When efficient gut microbes go bad

With the latest news from the Ministry of Silly Walks, is it time for humans to embrace all things inefficient? Maybe.

Illustration of the bacterial mocrobiome within the gut ChrisChrisW/Getty Images

Turns out that individuals with more efficient digestive systems – those that extract more energy from the fuel supplied to them by the busy mouths above – tend to gain more weight than those with less efficient guts, even when they eat the same food, according to a recent study published in Microbiome.

The researchers took a look at the composition of gut microbes in a group of 85 volunteers and found that about 40% had microbiomes dominated by Bacteroides bacteria, which are more effective at extracting nutrients from food. That group also weighed 10% more on average, amounting to an extra 9 kg.

In a rather blatant demonstration of efficiency, the investigators also measured the speed of the participants’ digestion, as they had hypothesized that those with the longest digestive travel times would be the ones who harvested the most nutrition from their food. That was not the case.

The study subjects with the most efficient gut bacteria “also have the fastest passage through the gastrointestinal system, which has given us something to think about,” senior author Henrik Roager of the University of Copenhagen said in a written statement.

You know what gives us something to think about? Stool energy density and intestinal transit time and faecal bacterial cell counts, that’s what. Ick. Sometimes science is gross.

Here’s another thought, though: Seeing faecal instead of fecal is kind of funny to our American eyes, but adding that extra letter is also inefficient, which could mean that it’s good. So, in the spirit of embracing the inefficient as a new year begins, we’re resolving to wrap our editorial arms around faecal and the faeces it represents. Well, not literally, of course. More like we’re embracing the spirit of faeces.

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