Have you ever considered that it may be your gut function that is contributing to your weight gain? It may surprise to know there are about 100 trillion microorganisms in your gut, and this is ten times greater than the total number of cells in your body. Many studies suggest the composition of microbiota or microbial flora in your gut may be the cause of obesity, type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome and other chronic conditions. Interesting enough, studies have shown that gut microbiota composition responds to the changes in body weight, and differs between thin people and those who are obese.
In fact, each of us has unique gut microbiota just like our fingerprint. A healthy and balanced gut microbiota is the key to maintaining proper digestive function. Furthermore, it performs as a barrier in the gut and plays an important role in the immune system. Microbiota also ferments indigestible nutrients and aids the production of micronutrients such as vitamin B and Vitamin K, and reduces harmful toxins. In fact, human enzymes cannot break down most complex carbohydrates and plant polysaccharides such as starch and fiber. They are fermented in the gut by its microbiota to produce energy for microbial growth and short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which not only serve as an energy source but also play an important role in the regulation of inflammation, gut motility, and wound healing.
The image below indicates how the gut maintains different levels of homeostasis and regulation.
The composition of human breast milk is an amazing example to demonstrate how nature works for a diverse and resilient human gut microbiota. We know that babies do not have the necessary enzymes to digest certain complex carbohydrates such as oligosaccharides in human breast milk, but there is one particular gut bug called Bifidobacterium infant is in an infant’s digestive tract, which helps break down oligosaccharides to nourish a baby. It also provides nutrients to the lining of a baby’s intestine to support its growth and plays an important role in the development of a healthy digestive system and immune system. Human breast milk nourishes a baby and also feeds the healthy bugs in the gut.
Research indicates that obesity is associated with the relative abundance of two dominant bacterial flora in the human gut: the increased proportion of Firmicutes and the decreased proportion of Bacteroidetes. Firmicutes dominated microbiota demonstrates a lower level of functional diversity of the gut than Bacteriodetes-dominant microbiota, and this leads to decreased metabolic diversity of the by-products that are generated by gut microbiota and also impacts gut function. Furthermore, Firmicutes promote fatty acid absorption, which may be the cause of obesity.
Several recent studies suggest that dietary composition and caloric intake appear to regulate intestinal microbial composition and function. A high fat diet induces changes in the gut microbiota and inflammation in the small intestine, and these changes and inflammation in epithelial barrier – the lining of the intestine may lead to obesity. Evidence indicates that a chronic increase in dietary fat is associated with the changes of gut epithelia cells, which speeds up gastric emptying, affects gastrointestinal hormone secretion, and increases the energy intake of the host.
Some gut epithelial cells are specialized enteroendocrine cells, which function to synthesize, store and release several different hormones and other bioactive molecules. These gut hormones are important in many different functions both within the gut and acting as true hormones at distant sites, such as the pancreas and the central nervous system. More important, gut hormones can both stimulate and inhibit food intake, and play a critical role in the gastric emptying and appetite control, and also, affect the digestive and absorptive capacity of the small intestine.
How to promote a healthy gut function to prevent weight gain?
Reduce the use of antibiotics:
The use of antibiotics is well known to disturb the gut microbiota flora and change its composition. Antibiotics also increase the inflammation in the gut and lead to increased risk of obesity, and obesity is a condition of chronic inflammation. Moreover, the widespread use of antibiotics in the livestock industry to increase the production may potentially affect our food chains. The use of antibiotics increases resistant organisms and multiple-antibiotic resistance has become a major concern in our health care system.
Include prebiotics and probiotics in your diet:
Prebiotics such as oligofructose and inulin are non-absorbed fermented short-chain carbohydrates that facilitate the increase of beneficial bacteria in the gut such as bifidobacteria. They also improve glucose tolerance and normalize inflammatory markers. Probiotics are living microbes that provide therapeutic effects when ingested in sufficient amounts. Oral supplementation of probiotics such as bifidobacteria, which are one of the major genera of bacteria in the human gut flora, exhibits a broad range of beneficial health effects, including regulating the intestinal microbial balance, inhibiting pathogens and harmful bacteria in the gut mucosa, improving immune function, and producing vitamins and other micronutrients.
Foods that are rich in prebiotics are chicory root, artichoke, garlic, leek, onion, asparagus and dandelion greens. Foods that contain probiotics are yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, dark chocolate, pickles, temph and miso soup.
For more information about how to select appropriate probiotics and how to maximize their health benefits, read How to Use Pre/probiotics to Guard Your Gut and Improve Your Health.
Increase fiber and plant-based food in your diet: Studies indicate that rural populations have a greater biodiversity of microbes compared to those who live in the big cities. Rural populations mainly consume whole grains, plant fiber such as fruits and vegetables and very little meat and processed food. People in North America are exposed to environmental toxins and overly consume processed food. This may help explain why rural populations tend to have lower rates of food allergies, asthma, type-2 diabetes and heart disease. Fiber not only helps remove the waste and toxins from your body but also serves as a fuel to feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut and improves your gut function. Make sure to add more high-fiber foods to your diet such as dark leafy vegetables, leek, artichoke, berries, beans, asparagus, and onions.
Reduce saturate fat intake especially animal fat intake: High dietary fat intakes have been linked to increased energy intake and the development of obesity. Research has shown that lipopolysaccharide (LPS) is a gut microbiota-derived molecule that is produced in the gut from certain dead bacteria. It is a key molecule involved in inflammation and metabolic diseases. A high-fat diet increases serum LPS levels and alters gut microbiota composition, which in turn promotes inflammation and oxidative stress in the gut.,
Reduce the intake of simple sugar and sugar substitutes: Sugar increases the production of inflammatory prostaglandins, which promotes chronic inflammation. Studies indicate that sugar substitutes such as sucralose can alter the gut microbial flora by decreasing beneficial bacteria and promotes glucose intolerance, which indicates that artificial sweeteners may have a detrimental effect on glucose metabolism in the body and lead to weight gain.
Why should you give up sugar for good? Read Why You Should Give Up Sugar and the Best Tips to Stop Sugar Cravings.
Add omega-3 fatty acids and anti-oxidant rich foods to your meals: Omega-3 fatty acids such as DHA and EPA can reduce the inflammatory process by reducing the formation of pro-inflammatory prostaglandins. Foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids are salmon, sardines, tuna oyster, mackerel, hemp seeds, flax seeds, and walnuts. Berries are rich in antioxidants such as flavonoids and anthocyanins. Flavonoids are the most widely distributed antioxidants from plants, and help reduce the chronic inflammation process and protect healthy cells from damage caused by free radicals and oxidative stress. Your gut may gain protection from dietary antioxidants. According to researchers, the high concentration of flavonoids has been observed in the stomach and intestinal lumen, which provide direct protection for the gut.
Chia Seed is an amazing functional food that is rich in omega-3 healthy fat and fiber.
For more information about super-foods that are loaded with anti-oxidants, read A Super Charged Anti-aging Diet Part One.
Practice mindful eating: Mindful eating helps you enjoy the present moment by paying attention to the eating process and engaging your senses such as taste, smell, sight and feeling while eating, so you can fully appreciate your meals. Mindful eating helps build connection and coordination between your body and brain and prevents overeating. It also helps to prevent indigestion due to fast eating.
How to practice mindful eating? Read How to Get Rid of Mindless Eating and Food Cravings Once for All with These 19 Cool Tips!
Last, go fresh and eat clean, choose organic food, remove toxins, preservatives, and pesticides from your diet.
What are your thoughts? Please share with us.
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- Gut microbiota, epithelial function and derangements in obesity. H. E. Raybould. 1 February 2012 The Journal of Physiology, 590, 441-446.
- Gut microbiome, obesity, and metabolic dysfunction. Herbert Tilg, Arthur Kaser, et al. J Clin Invest. 2011;121(6):2126–2132. doi:10.1172/JCI58109.
- A core gut microbiome in obese and lean twins. Turnbaugh, P. J., M. Hamady, T. Yatsunenko, B. L. Cantarel, A. Duncan, et al. 2009. Nature 457:480–484.
- Selective increases of bifidobacteria in gut microflora improve high-fat-diet-induced diabetes in mice through a mechanism associated with endotoxaemia. Cani PD, Neyrinck AM, Fava F et al. Diabetologia 2007;50:2374–2383.
- Human gut microbiota community structures in urban and rural populations in Russia. Alexander V. Tyakht, Elena S. Kostryukova, et al. Nature communications 4. Published on 16 September 2013. Article number: 2469. doi:10.1038/ncomms3469.
- 6. Amandine Everard, Patrice D. Cani, et al. Diabetes, obesity and gut microbiota. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bpg.2013.03.007.
- Gut microbiota, epithelial function and derangements in obesity. Helen E, Raybould. 27 January 2012. DOI: 10.1113/jphysiol.2011.222133
- Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Suez et al. Nature. doi:10.1038/nature13793, 2014.
- Functional interactions between the gut microbiota and host metabolism. Valentina Tremaroli, Fredrik Bäckhed. 13 September 2012Nature. 489, 242–249, doi:10.1038/nature11552
A”The road to health is paved with good intestines!” ~ Sherry A. Rogers