Impact of a very low-energy diet on the fecal microbiota of obese individuals

C. D. Simões*, J. Maukonen, K. P. Scott, K. A. Virtanen, K. H. Pietiläinen, M. Saarela

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Study how the dietary intake affects the fecal microbiota of a group of obese individuals after a 6-week very low-energy diet (VLED) and thereafter during a follow-up period of 5, 8, and 12 months. Additionally, we compared two different methods, fluorescent in situ hybridization (FISH) and real-time PCR (qPCR), for the quantification of fecal samples. 

Methods: Sixteen subjects participated in a 12-month dietary intervention which consisted of a VLED high in protein and low in carbohydrates followed by a personalized diet plan, combined with exercise and lifestyle counseling. Fecal samples were analyzed using qPCR, FISH, and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis. 

Results: The VLED affected the fecal microbiota, in particular bifidobacteria that decreased approximately two logs compared with the baseline numbers. The change in numbers of the bacterial groups studied followed the dietary intake and not the weight variations during the 12-month intervention. Methanogens were detected in 56 % of the participants at every sampling point, regardless of the dietary intake. Moreover, although absolute numbers of comparable bacterial groups were similar between FISH and qPCR measurements, relative proportions were higher according to FISH results. 

Conclusions: Changes in the fecal microbial numbers of obese individuals were primarily affected by the dietary intake rather than weight changes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1421-1429
Number of pages9
JournalEuropean Journal of Nutrition
Issue number6
Early online date31 Dec 2013
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2014

Bibliographical note


Ms. Jennifer Martin and Ms. Marja-Liisa Jalovaara are greatly acknowledged for the excellent technical assistance. The authors acknowledge the support of the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT; Grant SFRH/BD/40920/2007) and the European Science Foundation (ESF), in the framework of the Research Networking Programme, The European Network for Gastrointestinal Health Research (ENGIHR), Helsinki and Turku University Hospital Research Funds, Finnish Diabetes Research, Novo Nordisk, Biomedicum Helsinki, Jalmari and Rauha Ahokas Foundation, and the Finnish Foundation for Cardiovascular Research.


  • Human fecal microbiota
  • Obesity
  • Very low-energy diet
  • Weight loss


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