The cravings of trillions

To eat a second piece of cake or not to eat a second piece of cake? That is the question, but who decides the answer?

That sneaky voice in the back of our minds telling us it’s ok may actually be a chorus of trillions of voices coming from the hungry (and selfish) bacteria in our gut.

Recent research suggests our microbiome may be prodding us to eat those extra potato chips if the bacteria need more salt or fat or some other delicious aspect of potato chips. Carl Zimmer covers the original article, published this month in BioEssays, in an unsettling blog for The New York Times that highlights some of the ways tiny invaders like to manipulate their hosts’ brains.

In the blog, neuroscientist John Cryan from the University College Cork in Ireland tries to ease some of the mind-control creepiness of the research by reminding us that the bacteria may have our best interests at heart. “It’s probably not a simple parasitic scenario,” says Cryan. Remember, their survival depends on our health!

Cryan joined Sarkis Mazmanian, a microbiologist from the California Institute of Technology, on Science Friday last week to further discuss the mind-control behavior of bacteria and answer listeners’ questions. The podcast goes into anxiety and depression, which, for many, are tightly linked to food cravings.

This idea of bacteria contributing to food cravings is not new. In 2006, chocoholism was connected to differences in microbiota. At the time The Washington Post covered a small study in the Journal of Proteome Research headed by Sunil Kochhar of the Nestlé Research Center. Unfortunately, there is still no 12-step program for our chocoholic bacteria.

If you are interested in more ways to scapegoat your baked good needs, justify your bacon addiction, or want an explanation to your late night nacho missions, join our food cravings mailing list here.

Next time you hear that hungry little voice in your head, think of all the trillions of bacteria in your gut and consider, “what are they trying to tell me?”

To learn more about which bacteria in your gut may be whispering in your ear, try our single sample gut kit or be a scientist and try correlating your cravings over time with our gut-over-time kit.

Contributed by Brooke Anderson-White, PhD, uBiome Scientist