You’re unlikely to hear a brass band when you grab the carrot sticks instead of the cookies, or fierce applause when you lace up your shoes for an evening stroll instead of collapsing on the couch. That is, all the little decisions you make to manage your Body Weight and health can seem downright disappointing.
But you have an encouragement section for these actions, even if it’s invisible. Every lifestyle choice, no matter how small, is noticed and celebrated by a crowd of trillions of people: the diverse community of microorganisms that inhabit your instincts.
New research shows that while the microbes in your digestive tract may not cause you to gain or lose weight directly, they are thought to influence your metabolism and mediate between your lifestyle choices and your body weight.
The ecosystem inside
Communities of tiny living organisms exist in different habitats of the human body. “Microbiota” is the name given to the microorganisms themselves – mainly bacteria, but also fungi (including yeasts), archaea and viruses – while the whole environment in which they thrive is called the microbiome. The most complex microbial ecosystem in the human body is found in the digestive tract, particularly in the colon.
Scientists have found that the gut microbial ecosystem is in part shaped by our lifestyle choices, carrying traces of everything from your food choices and medications to whether or not there is any pets.
And just as no two thriving forests have the same proportion of organisms, no healthy gut microbial community is exactly alike. A greater diversity of microbes, however, is associated with better health.
A healthy metabolism takes guts
At all times, there are many factors contributing to our metabolism and body weight, and in recent years, scientists have attempted to find out whether our personal gut microbiome is a contributing factor.
To begin with, they compared gut microbes in lean people to those with a body mass index above 30 – the cutoff for obesity. Taken together, these studies revealed no consistent difference in gut microbiota between these two groups.
Oddly enough, the weight of some animals can be altered by changing their gut microbes: in some older studies, groups of mice consuming the same diet gain different amounts of weight, depending on their gut microbiota.
In one study, researchers collected gut microbes from identical human twins (one obese, one skinny); mice receiving microbiota from an obese twin increased their body weight more than mice receiving that from a lean twin, even though all mice consumed the same number of calories.
Some scientists have gone straight to the point in humans, testing whether it is possible to lose weight by “resetting” the gut microbial community through a fecal microbiota transplant, by transferring a sample of gut microbiota from the colon from one person to another. other. However, receiving germs from a thin person does not appear to reduce the weight of an obese recipient.
Beyond body weight, the gut microbiota is definitely involved in other aspects of metabolic health. Manipulating the gut microbiota through diet or probiotics, for example, can improve blood sugar control in type 2 diabetes.
Gut microbes can also influence food intake by modulating our appetite: a chain of events triggered by our gut bacteria produces hormones that help us feel full. This means that gut microbes could have an indirect influence on our body mass index, essentially serving as intermediaries between our lifestyle choices and our weight.
While it’s important to remember that gut microbes function as a complex ecosystem, scientists have managed to identify a few gut insects that may be especially important in maintaining a leaner physique.
These bacteria thrive in the layer of mucus that lines the inside of the intestine. Numerous studies have linked them to metabolic benefits and obesity prevention, and they appear to work by strengthening the intestinal barrier.
These bacteria, which are linked to a lower body mass index in humans and appear to prevent weight gain, are “free” if you have a particular genetic makeup. So, these insects may be one of the ways genes manage to contribute to weight.
Shaping your gut microbiota for weight management
Even though gut microbes don’t directly dictate the number on the scale, we may be able to take advantage of them to help us reach or maintain a healthy weight. New lines of research show that they are often a key element that enables us to enjoy our healthy lifestyle choices. Here’s how to get your gut microbiome to support you and your weight management goals.
Mind your diet
Counting calories is a classic strategy for weight management—but the different macronutrients supplying those calories definitely matter to your gut microbes. Through diet, we may shape our gut microbes in a way that facilitates a healthy weight: fibre (think vegetables, fruits, and whole grains) is paramount.
Akkermansia, in particular, is boosted through fructo-oligosaccharides, a type of prebiotic found naturally in banana, onion, artichoke, asparagus, and other plant foods, or through polyphenols such as grape and cranberry extract.
In general, a diversity of plant foods—30 or more types per week—promotes a diverse, well-functioning gut microbiota, while large amounts of red meat and processed foods (especially those containing emulsifiers and artificial sweeteners) are believed to have a detrimental effect on the gut microbiota and may even sabotage weight-loss goals.
Maintain cardiorespiratory fitness
Exercise is a well-known way to keep weight in check, and recent evidence suggests that higher cardiorespiratory fitness in humans goes hand-in-hand with gut microbiota diversity and health-promoting gut microbiota functions.
Aim to keep stress to a minimum
Healthy eating is notoriously difficult when an individual is experiencing stress; moreover, the body’s stress response induces intestinal permeability. Research on the microbiota-gut-brain axis has shown the gut microbiota changes in association with different stressors. It pays off, weight-wise, to manage stress and mental health as much as possible.
Avoid sleep disruptions
It’s well established that people who experience sleep disruptions; including sleep apnea and the “jet lag” induced by night shifts or staying out too late, have a harder time maintaining a healthy weight.
The changes in gut microbiota composition induced by sleep disturbances could be responsible for the metabolic problems that occur; showing the critical importance of getting enough shut-eye to help your bugs take care of you.
Our gut microbes not only bear the traces of our lifestyle choices but may also be an essential part of how these choices lead to a healthy weight. The exciting new area of science linking gut microbes with health could; over time, yield ways to manipulate microbial ecosystems for targeted health effects; offering each one of us personalized strategies for weight management based on our unique collection of gut microbes.
Inflammation: A consequence of poor gut health
Maintaining gut health is crucial for overall health; and one of the main reasons for this is the close link between gut health and inflammation.
Inside our bodies, the walls of the digestive tract cover an enormous surface area. With closely packed cells separated by protein structures called tight junctions; these work as “gates” to let in essential molecules and keep out harmful substances.
When the tight junctions fail to close properly, the intestinal wall becomes too permeable (a phenomenon sometimes called “leaky gut”). Bacterial components get through the gut wall and start to circulate throughout the body; kicking the immune system into high gear and creating a constant low-grade inflammation.
Scientists have linked systemic inflammation with obesity and metabolic dysfunction; and while cause and effect aren’t quite clear yet; this inflammation could be part of what triggers excessive weight gain in the first place.
Supplements for better gut health
Remember that more is not always better in the finely tuned gut environment; so check with a health care practitioner about the dose that’s right for you.
|probiotics||reduce inflammation and improve digestive symptoms|
|inulin||helps feed the cells of the gut|
|fibre (diverse sources)||strengthens gut barrier function|
|B vitamins||helps maintain healthy gut immunity|
|curcumin||reduces inflammation generally|
|zinc||supports gut barrier function|
|berberine||regulates energy metabolism and produces food for gut cells|
|licorice root||reduces inflammation generally|
|peppermint||eases digestive symptoms such as abdominal pain|
|camomile||promotes better sleep and aids digestion|
|L-glutamine||supports the gut barrier and reduces inflammation|
Can probiotics and prebiotics help with weight management?
Probiotics and prebiotics are sometimes employed to manipulate gut microbiota. But despite the health benefits these substances may offer; studies show they may not be especially good for helping us shed the pounds.
Whole-food-based prebiotics, though, may indirectly affect weight by increasing feelings of satiety after eating. One study, for example; found a diet containing high amounts of prebiotic-rich vegetables made people feel fuller while reducing their cravings for sweet; salty, and fatty foods.
Many ongoing clinical trials are testing novel probiotics and prebiotics for weight loss, so watch this space.
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