Understanding the role of gut microbes and probiotics in obesity: how far are we?

Pharmacol Res. 2013 Mar;69(1):144-55. doi: 10.1016/j.phrs.2012.10.021. Epub 2012 Nov 9.


Obesity has been associated with structural alterations in the gut microbiota, suggesting potential causality between specific microbial taxa and this disorder. Studies in animal models have also provided evidence for plausible gut microbiota mechanisms of action underlying body weight regulation. Yet evidence identifying which specific microbes contribute to or predict obesity is not completely consistent across studies. More recently, diet has also been shown to be primarily involved in regulating the microbiota structure initially related to obesity, suggesting that the role of microbes in energy balance is under the influence of diet. Controversy over the role of components of the gut microbiota in obesity has extended to bacteria, which although weakly related to body weight in observational and human intervention studies, are of interest due to their use as probiotics. This review focuses exclusively on human observational studies and probiotic intervention trials, excluding animal studies and studies in infants at early developmental stages, since such results cannot be extrapolated to human obesity at later stages in life. In this context, evidence for relationships between the gut microbiota composition and obesity and the possible role of probiotics is reviewed, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the studies conducted to date.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / metabolism
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / metabolism*
  • Gastrointestinal Tract / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Metagenome / genetics
  • Metagenome / physiology
  • Obesity / etiology*
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Obesity / microbiology*
  • Probiotics / pharmacology*