Manipulating your Gut Microflora for Weight Loss 

Scientists are now beginning to understand that when taking the numbers into consideration, we are only about 30% human! The rest of us is made up of microorganisms, mainly bacteria. We have about 40 trillion cells in our body and about 20-30,000 human protein-coding genes, whereas we have about 100 trillion microorganisms living in our tissues and fluids (about three times the amount of cells we have). Together these microorganisms are called our microbiome. Our microbiome includes a whole range of microorganisms estimated from 700-1000 different species with about 3 million microbial genes! They outnumber our genes by an estimated 10-fold! 

The microbes in our bodies weigh about 2-3 kilograms (5.5 lbs). The microorganisms that colonize our body compete with our cells for nutritional resources which we get from our diet. 

We have a very close relationship with these microbes. Some microbes help us in many ways, and yet other microbes are harmful to us through the metabolites they produce. One thing is for sure; our microbiome affects us in ways we are only beginning to understand.

Each and every one of us has our own unique and special microbiome template. Our microbiome functions to ensure proper digestive functioning of our foods, especially foods that the stomach and small intestine have not been able to digest. Our microbiome also helps with the production of some vitamins (Vitamin B12 and Vitamin K) and plays an important function in our immune system. Our microbiome begins colonizing our intestine right after birth and evolves as we grow in result to different environmental influences and our diet. Our microbiome adapts to changes in our diet and environment although in extreme cases of neglect, nutritional deficiencies, stress, and a very sedentary lifestyle, steer to a loss of balance in gut microbiome leading the harmful bacteria to flourish while beneficial bacteria to decline in numbers. This loss of balance is linked to health problems such as obesity, bowel disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, certain cancers, allergies and diabetes.

But How Do These Small One-Cell Microbes Influence Our Health So Dramatically? 

It’s correct that they ARE small, but in large numbers, they markedly influence our health, in fact, microbes have systems in place to determine whether they are in minority or in majority at all times. 

The microbes can stay dormant in our body and wait until they are in sufficient numbers, and when they reach sufficient numbers, they turn on group behaviors that either support or harm our health. They also have a mechanism in place by which they can “count” our cells, so they always know who is the majority and who is in the minority. Through this information, they decide which behaviors to take part in as a group.

Our microbiome directly influences our health and weight.

Microbes in our gut can manipulate our brain,  our eating behaviors, and our mood to support their needs. When they live in our body, they rely on the foods that we eat to support their needs, and when the microbes are in sufficient numbers, be they healthy or unhealthy bacteria, they will influence our eating patterns depending on their needs.

Some bacteria feed on sugar and simple carbohydrates, others prefer fiber, and others feed on substances found only in meat and dairy. The population of microbes we support in our gut is therefore dependent on the foods we eat on a regular basis.

Gut bacteria support their own survival through two mechanisms: 

  1. The bacteria generate food cravings for foods that promote their survival or for foods that suppress their competitors survival.
  2. The bacteria induce unhappiness until we eat the foods that support their survival. They do this by producing toxins that influence our mood, change our taste receptors (1) to crave certain foods, and they are even capable of “hijacking” our vagus nerve, the long nerve that runs between our gut lining and our brain. 

Evidence suggests (2) that the vagus nerve regulates eating behavior and body weight. 

Certain bacteria stimulate vagus nerve activity which appears to drive excessive eating behavior (3) even when we are full.

These results suggest that microbes control our eating behaviors!

We now know that lean individuals, tend to have a wider variety of bacteria in their microbiome whereas overweight individuals have less diversity of their microbe population.

The more diverse the group of microbes we have in our gut, the healthier and thinner we will be!

Because more bacteria compete with each other for space and nutrients. This situation is better for us, because highly diverse populations of gut microbes expend more energy and resources on competition with each other, in comparison to a less diverse microbial population which becomes very powerful over us and can manipulate our eating behaviors more readily and with much more impact. Put simply, the larger the microbial community is, the more power it has to manipulate our dietary choices and influence unhealthy food consumption patterns and weight gain so the more diverse our microbial population is, the better our health.

Obesity has been linked to a harmful microbiome. In a study published in the journal Diabetes in 2007 (4) researchers identified that harmful bacteria produce toxins called lipopolysaccardies (LPS) which trigger inflammation as well as insulin resistance thereby promoting weight gain. Furthermore,  gut microbes are thought to be key players in fat absorption and in the gain of more energy from the diet. (5)

Although early exposure is the key determinant of an adult microbe population, we do have control over the composition of our gut microbiome through our diet, our lifestyle choices and our environment. 

An unhealthy diet, obesity, psychological stress, vitamin D deficiency, and pollution will influence our microbiome. 

We can easily manipulate the composition of our gut bacteria with the following recommendations:

1. Prebiotic rich foods – 

Prebiotic rich foods provide nourishment for the good bacteria which helps them to thrive and multiply. A diet rich in prebiotics leads to a reduction in the amount of fat and energy absorbed from food.

Prebiotics include Inulin, Xylo-oligosaccharides, Arabinogalactan, Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS). Prebiotics do not digest in the stomach or small intestine, and are accessible to the good bacteria once the food source reaches the large intestine. Prebiotics have been shown to prevent colorectal cancer. (620) Harmful microbes also affect the brain. The toxic metabolic by-products, and inflammatory molecules produced by the harmful bacteria in the gut adversely affects the brain. 

Prebiotics occur naturally in different plant-based foods. Prebiotic rich foods include: all types of onions, garlic, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, artichokes, chicory root, dandelion greens, whole grains, soybeans and other pods vegetables, beans, plums, bananas, and black grapes, raisins, as well as fresh honey, nuts, seeds, fermented foods including sauerkraut, fermented soybeans such as miso and raw apple cider vinegar.

Consuming prebiotic rich foods will help create a beneficial gut microbiome to help ward off many modern day diseases.

2. Outdoor time – 

Also, spend more time outside and open some windows while in the house or office to help increase the diversity of your microbiome. But best of all (6) is to get out into nature at least once a week to do some kind of physical activity like a walk in nature so that you fill your body with healthy microbes from the air you breath. The airborne microbiome of the built environment is very different (7) from the microbiome in the outdoor nature environment.

3. Reduce Antibiotic Use – 

I also recommend you reduce the use of antibiotics (use only when absolutely necessary). Broad spectrum antibiotics kill your microbiome which may take months to rebuild again.

Also cut nonorganic meat, dairy and poultry products from your diet as much as possible. The animals are given antibiotics on a regular basis due to their confined living conditions and the easy spread of disease. 

4. Lower Animal Products In Your Diet – 

In general, lowering the amount of animal products you consume will help you maintain a healthier microbe population. Animal products encourage the growth of specific bacteria that are harmful to your health. Animal products increase the abundance of bile-tolerant microorganisms (Alistipes, Bilophila and Bacteroides) and decrease levels of Firmicutes that metabolize dietary plant polysaccharides. The amounts and activity of Bilophila wadsworthia on the animal-based diet support a link between dietary fat, bile acids and the outgrowth of microorganisms that may trigger inflammatory bowel disease. (8)

5. Get dirty – 

I also recommend that you allow yourself to get dirty from time to time, and the same goes for your kids. Constant washing, sanitizing and keeping the kids out of the dirt and sand will reduce their microbial diversity not only by killing off the bad bacteria, but also by killing off the good bacteria. We have always been in direct contact with dirt and soil and our foods were taken directly from the ground. We need not be hysterical about a little dirt.

6. Vitamin D – 

In a 2016 study, A hypothesis was raised that Vitamin D deficiency changes the intestinal microbiome reducing vitamin B5 production in the gut adversely affecting the immune system, producing a “pro-inflammatory” state associated with atherosclerosis, autoimmunity and obesity. (9) Check out my article here to determine whether you have a vitamin D deficiency and what you can do to prevent it.

7. Natural Birth and Breastfeeding – 

And lastly, if you have a choice of the method of giving birth to your children, choose natural childbirth through the birth canal as opposed to going for a caesarean birth. And opt to breastfeed your children at least up until solid foods are introduced to their diet at around 7 months. When newborns traverse the birth canal, they come into contact with microbes from their mother that help them to digest the milk and also provide nutrients solely for the microbe population, without having any nutritional value for the baby. C-section babies skip this stage, and babies raised on formula milk face the disadvantage of not getting substances in breast milk that support the growth of beneficial microbes and limit the colonization of the gut with harmful ones. 

According to a recent Canadian study, babies drinking formula milk in the early months, have microbes in their gut that are not seen in breast-fed babies until solid foods are introduced. The presence of these microbes at an early age, before the gut and immune system are mature, may be one reason (10) these babies are more susceptible to allergies, asthma, eczema and celiac disease, as well as obesity in later years.

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