Targeting gut microbiota in obesity: effects of prebiotics and probiotics

Nat Rev Endocrinol. 2011 Aug 9;7(11):639-46. doi: 10.1038/nrendo.2011.126.


At birth, the human colon is rapidly colonized by gut microbes. Owing to their vast number and their capacity to ferment nutrients and secrete bioactive compounds, these gastrointestinal microbes act as an environmental factor that affects the host's physiology and metabolism, particularly in the context of obesity and its related metabolic disorders. Experiments that compared germ-free and colonized mice or analyzed the influence of nutrients that qualitatively change the composition of the gut microbiota (namely prebiotics) showed that gut microbes induce a wide variety of host responses within the intestinal mucosa and thereby control the gut's barrier and endocrine functions. Gut microbes also influence the metabolism of cells in tissues outside of the intestines (in the liver and adipose tissue) and thereby modulate lipid and glucose homeostasis, as well as systemic inflammation, in the host. A number of studies describe characteristic differences between the composition and/or activity of the gut microbiota of lean individuals and those with obesity. Although these data are controversial, they suggest that specific phyla, classes or species of bacteria, or bacterial metabolic activities could be beneficial or detrimental to patients with obesity. The gut microbiota is, therefore, a potential nutritional and pharmacological target in the management of obesity and obesity-related disorders.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / metabolism*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Metagenome / physiology*
  • Obesity / diet therapy
  • Obesity / metabolism*
  • Obesity / microbiology*
  • Prebiotics*
  • Probiotics / administration & dosage*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Prebiotics