Can your gut bacteria help you burn fat?
Can your gut bacteria help you burn fat?
How the balance of your gut flora is a missing link in weight loss.
In case you don’t know the microbiome is our collection of normal bacteria, yeast, fungi, viruses and other microorganisms that live on and in our bodies – most of which are in our gut. The microbiome contributes to normal digestion, immune function, brain function and even has the ability to impact weight gain through fat storage. The good news is that there’s a way to correct an imbalanced microbiome and reverse symptoms like weight gain.
How the microbiome affects digestion and fat storage
What we see with the microbiome and weight gain is interesting lets look at a normal, ideal situation for a natural shift in the microbiome, pregnancy. Pregnancy creates a shift that results in a much higher efficiency of microbe digestion of food. This means that a pregnant woman’s gut flora are helping her to access more calories(energy) out of the same food. A natural result of this is weight gain and food cravings, which is actually a good thing for a mother growing a baby. There’s even studies showing when you take this new composition of gut flora and implant it into another host, the new host will then gain weight (they did this in mice). This shows there is a clear link with the microbiome and weight gain. This is a normal part of pregnancy but it’s not necessarily normal or healthy outside of pregnancy.
What’s most likely happening is that this shift has a big effect on blood sugar, and can lead to bigger spikes of increased blood sugar and even insulin resistance. This might be why gestational diabetes is a common condition with pregnancy, and it’s certainly a contributor in weight gain. Insulin is one of the hormones in our body that signals our cells to build and store fat, which is why any blood sugar issues have weight gain as a common symptom.
When things go wrong, possible sticking points
There is of course the question of how this happens in non-pregnant individuals. There are some very common things that can shift the microbiome into it’s fat storage mode. A few things that definitely disrupt our microbiome are poor diet, antibiotics, pharmaceuticals and even stress. Poor diet causes a microbe shift due to processed foods, refined sugars and carbohydrates levels that are too high and create an overgrowth of yeast and/or bacteria in the small intestine alongside overall changes through the entire digestive tract. Between the lack of fiber and the refined carbs all of the microbes at the front end get lots of food but the microbes lower down are being starved.
Another culprit, antibiotics, kill bacteria and in the case of our gut targets some species and leaves others alone. This means imbalances and overgrowths, which leads to the fat storage microbiome imbalance if not corrected. Other drugs that have an impact on the gut flora are heartburn medications, specifically proton pump inhibitors. This class of drug lowers the acidity of the stomach, which makes it hard for the normal stomach bugs to live as it creates new competition from other microbes that can tolerate the less acidic stomach and compete with the normal acid loving stomach bugs.
Stress can inhibit digestion in different ways, being high stress for long periods inhibits normal peristalsis – the muscle contractions that move food from your stomach down to your colon. When this happens there is too much time for food to hang out and microbes to grow, leading to imbalance. Chronic stress also inhibits acid production in the stomach and digestive enzymes from the pancreas and liver. Overall this means you’re not digesting your food or moving it through your body quickly enough to cultivate a healthy gut flora.
There are actually very few things in our lives that don’t have some effect on our gut flora. Even simple things like travelling, your spouse, kids, pets and water sources have the ability to nudge our microbiome in one direction or another.
How to identify and correct the problem
There are some common signs of microbiome imbalance, most commonly gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and digestive symptoms in general. It’s helpful to know there are integrative lab tests that analyze the stool for the composition of gut flora which are fantastic to get a read on the good and bad microbes present in what levels. The best way to identify this problem is to work with your doctor, specifically one who’s integrative and is knowledgeable on the microbiome. Once you know what’s out of balance the next step is to fix it.
One of the fastest ways to reliably shift the microbiome, for good or bad, is diet.We already talked about poor diet for the microbiome so an example of a good diet is one that has minimal (ideally none) processed foods and refined sugars. It should be high in raw and cooked organic vegetables and legumes with good amounts and varieties of fiber and organic meats raised without antibiotics. Diets higher in raw plant foods are shown to have a major impact on correcting the blood sugar imbalances of diabetes, which is a great thing to focus on if the goal is weight loss. Going 100% raw is difficult for most of us, but incorporating more raw vegetables like salads, nuts, seeds, sprouts etc is completely achievable and an excellent step in the right direction.
If there are high levels of opportunistic microbes, there are many options for natural or prescription antimicrobials that can lower them. But killing them isn’t enough, there needs to be a rebalance of the other microbes through proper digestion and diet including probiotics, prebiotics, and fermented foods.
Understanding the microbiome, and specifically working with a doctor who understands can make a big difference in your health, especially if you’ve dealt with weight issues. Integrating things like healthy diet, fermented foods and probiotics into your life is an easy way to support your gut flora and prevent or work towards correcting an imbalance. This is just one more simple way to support your health and longevity, I hope you all find it useful and please post any questions or comments below.
- Stress’ impact on microbiome http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15800998