In our July article on weight loss, weight gain and everything in between, I mentioned the role of gut bacteria in influencing our appetite, metabolism and body weight. In this article today, I want to go into more detail on the topic, as establishing a healthy and diverse microbiome is integral to feeling well and maintaining a healthy body weight.
It is well known that certain strains of probiotics can help reduce inflammation, prevent allergic conditions like asthma and eczema, support digestion and improve moods. But did you know probiotics may also affect the amount of fat stored around the abdomen? For example, a 2010 study found administration of Lactobacillus gasseri to overweight individuals helped reduce abdominal fat. Specific bacteria have also been found to promote the production of leptin; a hormone that reduces appetite to keep hunger at bay.
Inflammation is an area that we often find has been overlooked when patients are trying to solve their weight issues. It is now widely recognised that inflammation can be a big contributor to weight gain. Once again – our friends down below can play a key role. A large body of research has demonstrated the beneficial effects of probiotics on reducing systemic inflammation. One way probiotics do this is by improving the integrity of the gut wall, to stop inflammatory molecules from entering the blood. This is a fantastic finding, as systemic inflammation is a widely recognised risk factor for conditions like type 2 diabetes and obesity. Studies also suggest certain strains of probiotics can improve insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar levels, which can assist weight loss and reduce risk of diabetes.
In clinic, if we have a patient that really struggles to lose weight, we may order specific tests that look at the different bacteria in their gut and then work with food, prebiotics and probiotics to help sway the balance to bacteria that reduce inflammation and promote weight loss.
As you can see, there are many ways your gut bacteria help shape your overall health and regulate your appetite and metabolism. For this reason, correcting the balance of bacteria in the digestive system is key to feeling better, looking better and living a healthy life. Follow our tips below to promote the health and diversity of your gastrointestinal eco-system, so you too can reap the benefits.
What Can You Do to Maintain a Healthy Gut Microbiome?
- Consume lots of probiotic-rich foods, such as natural yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, miso and umeboshi plums!
- Consume an abundance of different plant foods, as these contain different types of fibre to promote the health of your microbiome. Examples include legumes, oats, brown rice, root vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds.
- Avoid or minimise foods that disrupt the health of the microbiome, such as refined sugar, alcohol and trans fats.
- Avoid additives that can disturb the health of the gut. This includes artificial sweeteners (like aspartame) and emulsifiers (like lecithin).
- Consume plenty of prebiotic foods; these are foods that feed the good bacteria in your gut. Examples include legumes, raw onions, garlic, artichokes and sauerkraut.
- For babies, breast-feeding for at least 6 months helps colonise the gut with beneficial bacteria, to get them off to a healthy start.
- Speak to your naturopath about whether specific probiotic or prebiotic supplements might be right for you!