Is Your Gut Preventing You From Losing Weight?
Updated: Mar 28
If you're struggling to lose weight, you may be surprised to learn that your gut health might be part of the problem. The gut is home to trillions of bacteria that comprise the gut microbiome, which plays a crucial role in many bodily functions, including weight management.
In this blog, we’ll explore what the microbiome is, what it has to do with weight loss, and what you can do about it.
What is the gut microbiome?
So often people throw around the word microbiome without truly understanding what the gut microbiome is. The best way to understand the microbiome is to imagine a bustling city on a Tuesday morning, with the sidewalks full of commuters rushing to arrive to work on time. Now, picture this on a microscopic level and you have a vision of what the microbiome looks like inside our guts- an estimated 100 trillion microorganisms of thousands of different species, including bacteria, parasites, viruses, and fungi all hustling to get where they need to go.
In a healthy gut, these microorganisms coexist peacefully and tend to remain in the small and large intestines. Moreover, a healthy gut will have an equal amount of symbiotic (helpful) and pathogenic (disease-promoting) microbes. A balanced number of symbiotic and pathogenic microbes will exist without problems. However, a disturbance in the balance caused by illness, dietary choices, or the prolonged use of antibiotics can lead to dysbiosis (an imbalance in the gut). Once the gut is out of balance, the body can become more susceptible to disease and other concerns.
The gut microbiome is considered to be an essential organ of the body that we would not function correctly without. It is more complex than the human genome itself and serves a multitude of functions throughout the body, including:
Development of immunity
Defense against pathogens
Synthesis of vitamins and fat storage
Influence on hormones and human behavior
What makes the microbiome even more complex is that everyone’s microbiome is uniquely tailored to them as determined by one’s DNA and is ever-changing. The first microorganisms that you were exposed to depend on the makeup of microbiomes in your mother’s birth canal and breast milk. As you age, environmental exposure and diet will alter your microbiome to be either beneficial or detrimental to overall health.
What does the gut microbiome have to do with weight loss?
Because the gut microbiome is responsible for aiding the digestion of food and absorption of nutrients, the microbiome can have a big impact on your ability to lose weight. The microbiome also plays a role in the production of hunger hormones, like ghrelin, that impact how hungry or full you feel after eating. An unhealthy gut can also lead to an increase in inflammation, which can lead to weight gain or metabolic disease. These reasons might be part of the explanation for why some people have a much harder time losing weight than others.
While poor gut health likely doesn’t cause obesity, it may be part of the reason. Several studies have found that the gut microbiome of people who carry excess weight have different microbial compositions than those who are lean. Further, another recent study found that obese people tend to have less diverse microbiomes with less beneficial bacterial strains. The gut microbiomes of overweight people also tend to contain compounds that increase the risk of hyperglycemia and insulin resistance.
In regards to gut microbiome health and weight loss, a recent meta-analysis suggests that losing weight tends to result in an increase in gut microbe diversity. The researchers also found that more beneficial microbes will grow. These beneficial microbes will work to break down starches and fibers into shorter molecules for the body to use as energy. A healthy and diverse gut microbiome will also influence how fat is stored throughout the body and how much of it is burned for energy. Essentially, a healthy gut microbiome is crucial for weight loss.
Tips for improving the health of your microbiome:
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to improve the health of your gut microbiome and support weight loss. Here are a few tips:
1. Eat a diet high in fiber → Fiber provides the cells in your colon and gut microbiome with fuel to function optimally. The best way to get fiber is through leafy and cruciferous vegetables, berries, and raw nuts and seeds.
2. Avoid processed and inflammatory foods → Processed foods can be harmful to the gut microbiome and can contribute to inflammation. Inflammation in the gut causes many gut diseases, including leaky gut, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. Avoid vegetable oils and most processed foods, which are inflammatory. Instead, increase wild-caught fish and non-starchy vegetables like spinach and green beans, which normalize inflammation levels in your gut.
3. Eat a diverse diet → One study by the American Gut Project found that people who eat 30 plant foods of different colors per week have the greatest microbiome diversity. Moreover, colorful foods tend to be high in antioxidants, which will help to decrease oxidative stress that can damage the gut. Foods high in antioxidants include blueberries, strawberries, artichokes, kale, red cabbage, and beans.
4. Supplement with probiotics → Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help support a healthy gut microbiome. Consider taking a high-quality probiotic supplement or eating foods rich in probiotics, such as yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut. These fermented foods aid digestion and have numerous positive effects on many biological systems including the immune system.
5. Manage your stress → Chronic stress can also have a negative impact on gut health. When your body is stressed, blood is diverted away from the intestines and towards your limbs, which can slow digestion and cause diarrhea. The increased cortisol production that occurs when stressed can also decrease overall gut health and lead to conditions like a leaky gut. Try to decrease stress levels by exercising, meditating, doing yoga, or practicing breathing exercises.
6. Get Enough Sleep: Sleep is essential for gut health and overall health. Several studies have found that sleep deprivation will lead to detrimental changes in microbiome composition. Improving your sleep hygiene will help you to catch more Zzzs and improve your gut health.
7. Avoid non-nutritive sweeteners → Saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame have been shown to have long-term consequences for microbiome composure and glucose intolerance. While they may be lower in calories, non-nutritive sweeteners ultimately do more harm than good for your body. Instead, stick to raw sugar or honey if you need a little sweetening.
8. Consume spices that rid the gut of harmful bacteria like garlic, turmeric, and ginger- These spices are all bioactives- chemicals, chemical molecules, and microbes that create a biological effect on our body. Studies on the effects of bioactives have indicated that high consumption of bioactive-rich foods has a positive effect on human health and could diminish the risk of Alzheimer’s, cataracts, heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes.
By taking steps to improve your gut health, you can support weight loss and improve your overall health. However, the only way to truly know if your gut is healthy is through microbiome testing. A healthy gut will have large biodiversity without an overgrowth of candida or other potentially pathogenetic bacteria that may lead to chronic health conditions.
GI testing will also show inflammation, the ability to absorb fats, digestive enzymes, and immune response. From there, specific therapeutic recommendations can then be recommended based on symptoms and testing.
For more information on improving your gut health or to ask about how you can spur weight loss, click here to contact us or call (276) 235-3205 to schedule your complimentary discovery call.
The Johnson Center for Health services patients in person in our Blacksburg and Virginia Beach / Norfolk locations. We also offer telemedicine for residents of Virginia and North Carolina!