Is there a connection between the gut microbiome and obesity? Everywhere we turn, there’s a new fad diet, exercise program, or weight loss supplement promising to help us shed those extra pounds. The weight loss industry is worth billions of dollars, yet, obesity rates continue to climb, and many people struggle to maintain a healthy weight.
Despite all the money and resources poured into weight loss research and development, we still haven’t found a REAL solution to this complex issue. However, recent studies have suggested that our gut health may hold some of the answers we’ve been searching for. In this article, we’ll explore the connection between the gut microbiome and obesity by exploring how the gut microbiome affects our metabolism, cravings, and weight. We’ll also discuss practical steps to promote gut health for weight loss.
The Gut Microbiome and Metabolism
One of the main reasons weight loss and obesity research tools have failed is that they fail to consider what happens to food when it enters the body.
Currently, we take a simple approach to food metabolism. When food enters the body, it gets broken down during digestion, which allows our body to absorb nutrients and calories. Our weight depends on the balance between calories entering our body in the form of food and calories the body burns. In this equation, eating more calories than you burn leads to weight gain while eating fewer calories than you burn leads to weight loss.
But human bodies are far more intelligent than this. When we only consider digestion, we forget that the community of trillions of live microbes in the gut does over 90% of digestion for us. When our gut microbes metabolize food, compounds are made, determining which microbes are more prevalent in the gut.
Studies About the Gut Microbiome and Obesity
The compounds made by our gut microbes help determine our weight. This has been shown in some early microbiome studies. A study took two identical human twins with the same genetic profile. One of the twins was overweight, and the other was normal weight. The study then took mice and wiped out their microbiome using antibiotics.
This was followed by taking the microbiome from the twins and implanting it in the mice. They found that the mouse that received the microbiome from the overweight twin gained weight while the mouse implanted with the microbiome from the normal-weight twin remained the same weight – even though both mice received the same amount of food.
The researchers then wiped out the microbiome of the mice again. They switched which mouse received the microbiome from the overweight twin, meaning that the overweight mouse received the microbiome from the lean twin, and the lean mouse received the microbiome from the overweight twin. The researchers found that the overweight mouse started losing weight after this switch, while the lean mouse started gaining weight.
But why would this happen? Well, it’s thought that weight problems could be due to gut dysbiosis.
Gut Dysbiosis and Weight Gain
Gut dysbiosis, or the disruption of your community of gut microbes, is a root cause and roadblock for your constant struggle with weight. Several things can lead to gut dysbiosis, including:
- Antimicrobial substances in the environment (such as chlorine and fluoride in the water, processed foods containing preservatives, and excessive use of antibiotics).
- Herbicides and pesticides used on food crops.
- Personal care products containing strong antimicrobial chemicals.
The antimicrobial nature of these products can lead to the excess growth of certain types of bacteria that promote weight gain. The weight gain is likely due to the gut-brain connection.
The enteric nervous system, the network of neurons that covers your entire digestive tract, is directly connected to your brain through the vagus nerve. The microbes in your gut create neurotransmitters that make you crave sugar and send them to your brain through the vagus nerve. This can lead to increased sugar consumption, which contributes to weight gain and obesity.
Microbial Factors That Lead to Weight Gain and Obesity
- Increased inflammation due to microbes creating ammonia gas and hydrogen sulphide. This leads to leaky gut, disrupting the mechanisms that tell you when you’re full.
- Differences in energy harvest. Certain microbes will enable you to extract more calories from the food you eat, which can lead to weight gain.
- Not having enough Akkermansia mucinophila. Higher amounts of the bacteria Akkermansia mucinophila are associated with lower body weight and a reduced risk for diabetes and other metabolic diseases. Akkermansia produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which trigger the release of leptin. Leptin is a hormone that tells your brain you’re no longer hungry. Increased levels of leptin lead to lower appetite and less food intake. Increased levels of leptin also activate AMP-K, a signal from your fat to the rest of your body that turns on your body’s ability to burn fat for energy.
Gut Health for Weight Loss
You can do four important things to support your gut microbiome for weight management and to prevent obesity.
Increase the Diversity of Your Gut Bacteria
You can increase the diversity of your gut microbiome by adding a variety of fruits and vegetables to your diet. Variety is important because the different compounds in various fruits and vegetables feed different gut microbes.
Another way to increase your microbial diversity is to spend time in nature. Try hiking in the forest or on the beach rather than in an engineered park or backyard. If you want company on your walks, consider getting a dog. Studies show that people who have outdoor pets like dogs have increased microbial diversity.
Intermittent fasting also promotes microbial diversity. This is because your microbiome is divided into primary digesters and secondary digesters. When you first eat food, the primary digesters break down and digest all the large food molecules, which produce by-products. The secondary digesters then take these by-products and metabolize them, which creates a second set of by-products.
If you’re constantly eating, only the primary digesters get to work. By fasting for 14 to 16 hours (such as between 8 pm and 12 noon), you can promote the growth of the secondary digesters, which improves your overall microbial diversity.
Increase Your Population of Akkermansia muciniphila
One way to increase Akkermansia populations is through intermittent fasting. Another effective strategy is to increase your polyphenol intake. Polyphenols are compounds that are naturally found in plant foods (especially bright-colored fruits and vegetables), as well as in red wine and dark chocolate. Akkermansia likes to feed on polyphenols, so be sure to include a variety of polyphenol-rich foods in your diet.
Increase Short Chain Fatty Acid Production
There are three important SCFAs – acetate, propionate, and butyrate. One way to increase your SCFA production is to include more resistant starch in your diet.
Resistant starches are a type of complex carbohydrate that act as prebiotics (food for your gut microbes). Some good sources of resistant starches are:
- Potatoes and rice that have been cooked and cooled.
- Green bananas.
- Sweet potatoes.
- Raw potato starch.
These foods make their way to the colon undigested. Then, gut bacteria convert them into SCFAs during the digestive process.
Correct Leaky Gut
If you have a leaky gut, you will continue to gain weight. When toxins from your gut leak into your circulatory system, they migrate into the fatty tissue in your abdomen, which causes the fat cells to swell to almost two and a half times their original size.
A leaky gut can be corrected by:
- Eating fiber-rich foods.
- Avoiding processed foods.
- Removing inflammatory foods from your diet.
- Managing stress.
- Taking supplements like L-glutamine, aloe vera, and fish oil.
While there is no denying that there is a connection between the gut microbiome and obesity, taking charge of your gut health for weight loss can be accomplished through several strategies, such as increasing your microbial diversity, increasing Akkermansia mucinophila, increasing SCFA production and correcting leaky gut.
If you want to improve your gut health for weight loss, my gut healing program provides a structured framework and strategies for healing a leaky gut and improving your gut health. Click here to get in touch and schedule a complimentary 15-minute health discovery call to learn how my gut healing program can help you with weight management.
More Blog Posts You Might Like
If you enjoyed this blog post on the connection between the gut microbiome and obesity, then you may also like these blog articles about gut health: