Skip to main page content
Access keys NCBI Homepage MyNCBI Homepage Main Content Main Navigation
Review
. 2014 Oct;36(10):940-9.
doi: 10.1002/bies.201400071. Epub 2014 Aug 8.

Is Eating Behavior Manipulated by the Gastrointestinal Microbiota? Evolutionary Pressures and Potential Mechanisms

Affiliations
Free PMC article
Review

Is Eating Behavior Manipulated by the Gastrointestinal Microbiota? Evolutionary Pressures and Potential Mechanisms

Joe Alcock et al. Bioessays. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

Microbes in the gastrointestinal tract are under selective pressure to manipulate host eating behavior to increase their fitness, sometimes at the expense of host fitness. Microbes may do this through two potential strategies: (i) generating cravings for foods that they specialize on or foods that suppress their competitors, or (ii) inducing dysphoria until we eat foods that enhance their fitness. We review several potential mechanisms for microbial control over eating behavior including microbial influence on reward and satiety pathways, production of toxins that alter mood, changes to receptors including taste receptors, and hijacking of the vagus nerve, the neural axis between the gut and the brain. We also review the evidence for alternative explanations for cravings and unhealthy eating behavior. Because microbiota are easily manipulatable by prebiotics, probiotics, antibiotics, fecal transplants, and dietary changes, altering our microbiota offers a tractable approach to otherwise intractable problems of obesity and unhealthy eating.

Keywords: cravings; evolutionary conflict; host manipulation; microbiome; microbiota; obesity.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
Like microscopic puppetmasters, microbes may control the eating behavior of hosts through a number of potential mechanisms including microbial manipulation of reward pathways, production of toxins that alter mood (shown in pink, diffusing from a microbe), changes to receptors including taste receptors, and hijacking of neurotransmission via the vagus nerve (gray), which is the main neural axis between the gut and the brain.

Comment in

  • At the mercy of our microbes?
    Moore A. Moore A. Bioessays. 2014 Oct;36(10):905. doi: 10.1002/bies.201400146. Bioessays. 2014. PMID: 25205250 No abstract available.

Similar articles

See all similar articles

Cited by 74 articles

See all "Cited by" articles

References

    1. Flegal KM, Carroll MD, Ogden CL, Curtin LR. Prevalence and trends in obesity among US adults,1999–2008. JAMA. 2010;303:235–41. - PubMed
    1. Calle EE, Kaaks R. Overweight, obesity and cancer: epidemiological evidence and proposed mechanisms. Nat Rev Cancer. 2004;4:579–91. - PubMed
    1. Manson JE, Colditz GA, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC, et al. A prospective study of obesity and risk of coronary heart disease in women. N Engl J Med. 1990;322:882–9. - PubMed
    1. Anderson JW, Kendall CW, Jenkins DJ. Importance of weight management in type 2 diabetes: review with meta-analysis of clinical studies. J Am Coll Nutr. 2003;22:331–9. - PubMed
    1. Kurzban R, Aktipis CA. Modularity and the social mind: are psychologists too self-ish. Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 2007;11:131–49. - PubMed

Publication types

LinkOut - more resources

Feedback