A hot topic in Kailua and the news concerns the role of our intestinal bacteria in maintaining optimal weight and health. “Take a probiotic!” is becoming a popular refrain. Is it really that simple though? How much probiotic? What kind? Lactobacccilus? Acidophilus? Bifidobacterium? Saccharomyces? Faecalibacterium? How should these be dosed, and when?
It’s all extremely confusing to say the least, and at this point, no one really knows.
Enter Shanghai-based microbiologist, Dr. Zhao Liping, whose laboratory is at the forefront of research in the field, although somewhat by serendipity. His physicians had urged him to lose weight to fix a number of his metabolic problems, including hypertension and high cholesterol. Dr. Liping adopted a regimen involving Chinese yam and bitter melon—fermented foods that in traditional Chinese Medicine are believed to change the growth of bacteria in the digestive system—and monitored not just his weight loss but also the microbes in his gut.
Using this regimen, Dr. Liping lost 20 kilograms (over 44 pounds) in 2 years. His blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol level came down as well. The changes persuaded him to focus on the microbiome‘s role in his transformation. He started with mice but has since expanded his research to humans. Using such techniques as DNA sequencing and spectroscopy of metabolites present in subjects’ urine, Dr. Liping aims to find individual-specific strains of gut bacteria that can be tailored to aid in weight-loss and health goals.
I had the great fortune of personally meeting with Dr. Liping at the John A. Burns School of Medicine just last week, when he visited to lecture us and to discuss his data and findings. I truly hope he will be able to expand his research to Hawaii’s unique, ethnically-diverse population! We will all have much to learn from this visionary scientific leader.
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