A new study shows that the microbes in our gut may be as much guided by the human circadian clock as the rest of our bodies.
That means when our internal clocks are disrupted – by daylight savings time, shift work or cross-country business flights – gut bacteria may shift too, elevating the risk of obesity.
Researchers at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science said their findings could explain why shift workers and travelers plagued by jet lag often gain weight.
“These surprising findings may enable us to devise preventive treatments for these people to lower their risk for these complications,” said senior study author Eran Elinav in a press release.
Researchers discovered the link when analyzing microbes found in the feces of humans and mice. They found found that they followed a rhythmic cycle during the day, one dependent on eating habits and the personal circadian cycle of the subject being analyzed.
When exposed to changes in exposure to light and dark and altered eating habits, the microbes were disrupted, and the levels of those linked to metabolic problems increased, hiking the risk of weight gain.
“Targeting the harmful changes in the microbiota in these large human populations with probiotic or antimicrobial therapies may reduce or even prevent their risk of developing obesity and its complications,” said Elinav, adding that future studies could determine how to normalize the microbes for those at risk.
The study appeared in the journal Cell.