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Surprising Science

Unhealthy gut bacteria tells you to eat when you’re not hungry

What makes you want to eat even when you’re not hungry? Scientists at UCLA now know exactly why.
Homer Simpson in a sea of snacks, c/o fair use

Increased amounts of certain microbiomes could be causing you to binge-eat, or eat “hedonistically.” That’s the news from a recent UCLA study about how your gut’s bacteria contributes to your overall health. It’s no secret that a healthy diet can promote a faster, sharper brain, and it’s also no secret that your brain views junk food and drugs similarly. What wasn’t known is which particular metabolites were making all the difference. 

For those about to eat or have recently eaten, this article has the word “poop” in it four times. Five if you count that one in the last sentence. Anyway. Here we go. 

According to the study, available here, it’s a metabolite called indole that’s the main culprit in overeating. In a 67-person study, by using a combination of MRI brain scans and fecal matter analyzation—both ends covered, so to speak—the researchers were able to look not only at the end results (the poop) but also the brain activity of the participants to see what messages their guts were sending their brains. Higher amounts of indole meant more “pleasure eating” and lower indole populations meant better regulation.

There’s a lot about indole you should know. It’s among several microbiota that gives your poop that, um, poop smell, but it’s also used in perfumes as it is found naturally in certain flowers in low amounts. In some cases, it can actually smell like jasmine. The higher the indole, the more it smells like poop

Your gut produces indole (and leagues of other microbiota), but that ability gets thrown out of whack if you don’t eat right or take too many antibiotics. Indole is also naturally found in veggies such as broccoli, sprouts, cabbage, collards, cauliflower, kale, mustard greens, turnips, and rutabagas, just to name a few.

Our best advice? Eat probiotic-rich foods and veggies. Over-the-counter probiotics may help rebalance your gut after a round of antibiotics. Over 25 million people in the U.S. alone suffer from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), so you’re not alone if your gut culture isn’t in tip-top shape. 

And cut back on the snacking. Snacking, i.e. eating when you’re not hungry—while fantastic fun—isn’t healthy. In fact, it may be a direct cause of types of cancers and other diseases. Sorry if that ruined your evening. If it helps, I just crushed a bag of chips right before writing this, so we’re all in the same boat. 


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