Overly fat has been an obvious problem for those of us reading (and writing) this article. Not so obvious is that if our excess body fat has been a chronic problem for so long, then it actually can create conditions that prevent us from dropping our fat.
Studies suggest that the diversity of bacterial species in our guts (gut bugs) partially determines how efficiently our cells process and store food and that, in a feedback loop, what we eat alters the demographics of the bacteria in our intestines. While scientists are still figuring out the rules, it’s evident that our guts are not entirely our own—they are composite organs, part-human, part-microbe, which evolved, and continue to function, as communities whose many minute members are sometimes cooperative, sometimes combative and always hungry. Case in point, the new volume of Diet, Microbiome and Health discusses gut microbiota in GI disease, obesity, metabolic disease, autism, and neuropsychiatric disorders.
The bottom line is: If you’ve engaged in a disciplined and healthy lifestyle but still have belly fat, then gut bugs (bacteria) may be the hidden medical cause that’s keeping you fat. So say researchers at three prestigious institutions: Emory University, Cornell University, and the University of Colorado Boulder.
They maintain that intestinal bugs may be an important factor in weight gain.
Gut Bacteria’s Effect on Calorie Absorption
If you are among the majority of people who give little thought to gut bacteria then you need to start tuning-in. Your many miles of ignored gastrointestinal tract (gut for short) perform vital functions to maintaining proper health, regardless of you tuning them out for so long.
There are a growing pool of people who are paying attention to their guts — and rightfully so. Multiple trillions of organisms, mostly bacteria, live in the gut. And these make up between three to five pounds of our body weight. These gut bacteria work around the clock to digest sugars and proteins, absorb minerals, stimulate the immune system, metabolize and recycle hormones, and exert anti-cancer effects — to name but a few vital functions.
…if two people eat identical foods the effects within their bodies will be different. One person will absorb more calories and add on pounds while the other will not.
However, what has been discovered is not all gut bacteria are created equal. And it is this inequality that effects how people absorb calories differently.
As it turns out, some gut bacteria are more adept at digesting fat and carbohydrates than are others. And why this is important is that, if two people eat identical foods the effects within their bodies will be different. One person will absorb more calories and add on pounds while the other will not.
Gut Bugs That Make Us Fat
Researchers at the aforementioned learning institutions noticed a relationship between gut bacteria and weight differences in mice. Some of the mice lacked the protein toll-like receptor 5 and had more intestinal bugs than the other mice. The result was that these bugged-up mice were about 15% heavier than the bug-appropriate mice.
It was also notice that the fat mice had higher levels of inflammation which can cause metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome, in turn, can cause weight gain, high cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure.
The researchers believe that people may be eating too much because their appetite is stronger due to a low-grade inflammation, which could be due to changes in their gut bacteria.
Firmicutes That Make Us Fat
Bacteroidates and Firmicutes are microbiota that are found in the gut. The Firmicutes have a particular affection for fat and a real talent for extracting carbohydrates from food. And something amazing happened when the researchers extracted Firmicutes from the fat mice and transplanted them into the bacteria-free guts of slim mice raised in a sterile environment. These slim and trim mice with the transplanted Firmicutes grew fat like their fat cohorts.
…one reason people might be eating more is because of changes in their intestinal bacteria.
They began eating more and developed the same metabolic-syndrome symptoms that their donors had. In other words, the obesity profile of the fat mice had been transferred to slim mice. Applying this to humans, the researchers surmised, “We know that to gain weight and become obese, requires you to eat more. The question is, Why do people eat more? Our results suggest that one reason people might be eating more is because of changes in their intestinal bacteria.”
Ways to Lower Firmicutes and Increase Bacteroidates
Like the study mice, obese people also have more Firmicutes and fewer Bacteroidates than do slim people. Previous research has shown that a proper ratio between the Fimicutes and the Bacteriodetes is necessary in order to maintain good health.
Some good news is that fat reducing diets have been shown to increase the amount of Bacteriodates as weight is lost. Because Firmicutes are needed to absorb fats, higher fat diets cause you to have more of them, leading to weight gain.
And because Firmicutes are very well-suited to grow on sugars, avoiding sugars and processed carbs will lower your Firmicute load.
Dr. Alan Christianson, a naturopathic medical doctor, says to raise your intake of beans since they are among the very best foods to raise your Bacteroidetes. If you cannot digest beans then this may be a sign that you have too few Bacteroidetes. Dr. Christianson offers a method to train your bacteria to digest beans well.
Also, probiotics are effective for restoring proper digestive flora and may aid weight loss — and “travel packs” like this brand require no refrigeration. In fact, bariatric surgeons are beginning their patients on probiotic therapy prior to weight loss surgery. Fermented foods contain nutrients that aid this process, as well. This includes foods such as dairy products of yogurt and kefir, as well as pickles, sauerkraut, miso, and chutney. On the other hand, antibiotics can hurt our good bacteria and may actually trigger obesity.
What to read next: Trust Your Gut? Bacteria and Weight Gain.
Living larger than ever,
My Bariatric Life