The gut microbiome may be a mediator between obesity and health outcomes. However, it is unclear how intentional weight loss changes the gut microbiota and intestinal permeability. We aimed to systematically review and quantify this association. We searched Medline, Embase, CINAHL, Cochrane databases, and trial registries until June 2020 (PROSPERO: CRD42020205292). We included trials of weight loss interventions (energy-restricted diets, pharmacotherapy, bariatric surgery) reporting on the microbiome. Two reviewers independently completed screening, extraction, and risk assessment with the ROBINS-I tool. Pooled standardized mean differences (SMDs) were obtained from random-effects meta-analyses. Forty-seven trials with 1,916 participants (81% female) and a median follow-up of 6 months (range: 2-24) were included. Based on imprecise evidence but with fairly consistent direction of effect, weight loss was associated with a statistically significant increase in α-diversity [SMD: 0.4 (95% CI: 0.2, 0.6], p < .0001, I2 = 70%, n = 30 studies) and a statistically significant reduction in intestinal permeability [SMD: -0.7 (95% CI: -0.9, -0.4), p < .0001, I2 = 83%, n = 17 studies]. Each kg of weight loss was associated with a 0.012 (95% CI: 0.0003, 0.024, p = .045) increase in α-diversity and a -0.017 (95% CI: -0.034, -0.001, p = .038) reduction in intestinal permeability. There was clear evidence of increases in the relative abundance of Akkermansia, but no clear evidence of changes in individual phyla, species, or fecal short-chain fatty acids. Restricting the analyses to the studies with lower risk of bias did not materially alter the estimates. Increasing weight loss is positively associated with increases in gut microbiota α-diversity and reductions in intestinal permeability.
Keywords: Weight loss; diversity; intestinal permeability; meta-analysis; microbiota.