Don’t underestimate the importance of a healthy gut. Research shows that a healthy gut microbiome is integral to human health. What is this entity known as the gut microbiome? It’s a community of microorganisms that live in your intestinal tract, and they’re residing there in no small numbers. Shockingly, there are trillions of microorganisms hiding in your gut, outnumbering human cells in your body by 10 to 1.
The gut microbiome plays a role in many aspects of human health, including digestion, metabolism, and immune function. And this community of microorganisms may even determine your body weight. There is growing evidence that the gut microbiome is important for weight loss and preventing obesity. The gut microbiome influences weight in several ways. The gut microbiome:
- Helps break down food and extract energy from food.
- Affects the way the body processes and stores fat.
- Plays a role in appetite and food choice.
A healthy gut microbiome is key for weight loss and preventing obesity. But what exactly is a healthy gut microbiome? Scientists are still trying to determine the precise make-up of a healthy microbiome that optimizes digestive and immune function and helps you stay lean and healthy.
So far, they believe a healthy gut microbiome is characterized by a diversity of microorganisms. More strains of bacteria are healthier for you than having a limited group of microorganisms. How do you obtain such diversity? The best way is to include a variety of different types of probiotics and prebiotics in the diet to support a healthy gut microbiome. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria you can get by eating fermented foods or taking a probiotic supplement. And then there are prebiotics, which you also get from food sources.
The Role of Prebiotics in Weight Control
Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that serve as a food source for probiotics. Among the foods that contain them are asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory, garlic, onions, and legumes. Why are prebiotics important? By encouraging the growth of probiotics, prebiotics help maintain a healthy gut microbiome. They also aid in the absorption of certain minerals, including calcium, zinc, iron, and zinc. Including probiotics and prebiotics in the diet is a way to build and maintain a healthy gut microbiome and optimize nutrient absorption.
Plus, bacteria ferment prebiotics to form short-chain fatty acids. These fatty acids have a favorable effect on the lining of the intestinal tract and on metabolic health. There’s also evidence that eating prebiotic-rich food reduces appetite. A meta-analysis of multiple studies found that a combination of probiotics and prebiotics supports weight loss and weight control. Since prebiotics are a type of fiber, it’s not surprising that prebiotic foods reduce appetite.
The Gut Microbiome May Affect Body Weight by Its Effect on the Immune System
Researchers believe the gut microbiome plays a role in obesity by its effect on inflammation, an overzealous immune response. Inflammation is a process that occurs when the body’s immune system responds to injury or infection. It is a normal and necessary process, but chronic inflammation is harmful and linked to many diseases, including obesity. As experts point out, inflammation plays a role in every chronic health problem.
So how does the gut microbiome contribute to inflammation? One way is by triggering the release of inflammatory molecules called cytokines. The gut microbiome also affects the way the body responds to inflammation. For example, the gut microbiome can increase the amount of inflammation in the body or make it harder to keep inflammation in check.
Inflammation also changes how cells respond to insulin, leading to insulin resistance. With insulin resistance, cells don’t take up glucose from the bloodstream as easily. So, your pancreas is forced to pump out more insulin and this leads to higher circulating insulin levels. What does insulin do? It helps get glucose into cells, but also tells your fat cells to convert some of the glucose in your bloodstream to fat. That’s not what you want if you’re overweight or obese.
Optimize the Health of Your Gut Microbiome
Gut health matters for health and weight control. Until scientists know more about the exact species that help with weight control, it’s best to keep your gut microbiome as diverse as possible.
What can you do to have a healthier gut microbiome? Some of the most important things include:
- Eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and avoiding processed foods.
- Limiting antibiotic use. While antibiotics can be lifesaving when needed, they can also kill off good bacteria in your gut.
- Consuming more fermented foods with probiotics, beneficial bacteria that help restore the gut microbiome.
- Exercising regularly. Exercise is important for overall health, and it can also help keep your gut microbiome healthy.
- Reducing stress. Stress can have a negative impact on the gut microbiome, so it’s important to find ways to reduce stress in your life.
- Avoid sugar and artificial sweeteners.
These are simple changes that you can make every day to keep and improve your gut microbiome. And over time, they will have a positive impact on your overall health and well-being, including your weight and your risk for obesity and disease.
The Bottom Line
The gut microbiome is a new frontier in health and wellness. Scientists are still learning about its importance. Research so far reveals that taking care of our gut microbiome is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. So aim to keep our gut microbiota balanced by eating a wide variety of whole foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, plenty of fiber-rich whole grains, fermented foods, managing stress, and staying physically active. It all matters for your health and body weight.
- “Gut Microbiome: What We Do and Don’t Know” by Gail A. Cresci PhD, RD, LD, CNSC and Emmy Bawden RD, 8 October 2015, Nutrition in Clinical Practice.
- “Introduction to the human gut microbiota” by Elizabeth Thursby and Nathalie Juge, 16 May 2017, Biochemical Journal.
- “The Influence of the Gut Microbiome on Obesity in Adults and the Role of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics for Weight Loss” by Antoine Aoun, Fatima Darwish and Natacha Hamod, June 2020, Preventive Nutrition and Food Science.
- “Do gut bacteria inhibit weight loss?” 12 February 2021, Harvard Health.