Could Your Gut Microbiome Be The Cause Of Your Weight Gain?
Between probiotics, fiber, gluten-free everything, and dairy, gut health is all the rage these days — and for good reason. As we learn more about our bodies, we’ve learned a ton about the gut microbiome and its importance on overall health. But could a microbiome imbalance or problem be the reason you’re not seeing results at the gym, or why you can’t lose the last 5-10 pounds no matter how hard you diet?
Let’s take a minute to figure out what exactly the microbiome is and what you can do to keep your gut in tip-top shape.
What Is the Microbiome?
Many health and fitness advocates argue that the microbiome is the future of medicine. Surely we’ve all heard about good bacteria and bad bacteria by now, but did you know your body has 10x as many bacteria as it does cells? In other words, we’re comprised of more bacteria than human cells. Sounds scary right?
Before you run off for a bottle of Purell, keep this in mind: not all bacteria are bad. Of course, there are bacteria that cause pink eye and ear infections, but that’s not the kind of bacteria I’m talking about. I’m talking about the good bacteria in the gut that can help ward off disease, improve digestion, and even change your brain chemistry for the better. That’s exactly what the microbiome is — a sophisticated ecosystem of good bacteria, which forms the foundation of a healthy gut and a healthy life. Various strains of bacteria all communicate with one another—even feeding off of each other’s byproducts—to create an environment that fights disease and promotes longevity.
Here’s one last tidbit about the microbiome that’s incredibly interesting. Whenever you hear the words ‘antibiotic resistant bacteria,’ do you shudder for a split second? While that’s certainly something we don’t want happening with dangerous strains, bacteria’s ability to genetically mutate and adapt to its environment is incredibly advantageous for the good forms lining our gut. Compared to our own cells that take generations to permanently mutate, probiotics/good bacteria can mutate and better serve our bodies fairly quickly.
This makes them even more critical when it comes to improving immunity and maintaining good health.
Problems Caused By an Imbalanced Microbiome
Image: Huffington Post
Because bacteria is so important to our overall well-being, we can link a number of problems to an imbalanced microbiome. This isn’t to say that the microbiome is the source of all illness, but you’d be surprised at how many issues are rooted in the gut. They include:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
- Food Allergies and Intolerances
- Celiac Disease
- Crohn’s Disease/Ulcerative Colitis/IBD
- Leaky Gut Syndrome
- Unexpected weight gain
- Hormonal imbalances
- Low energy levels
The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation for America has identified a faulty microbiome as being one potential cause for the increase in diagnoses of various GI problems. If you’re not familiar with SIBO, it’s basically when bacteria from the colon creep up into your small intestine — a part of the gastrointestinal tract that ideally has much lower levels of bacteria (and different strains). This can cause nasty digestive issues, stomach problems, food allergies, and other unpleasant symptoms.
An imbalanced gut can also lead to weight gain. It’s no secret that factory farms have been feeding livestock antibiotics for years. Sure, this might prevent disease, but new evidence suggests that antibiotic use in feed lots also leads to “growth promotion.” In other words, it makes the cows get fatter quicker.
The conclusion many scientists draw from this phenomenon is that the extended ingestion of antibiotics can significantly alter the composition of a cow’s microbiome, which eventually leads to accelerated weight gain. If this is happening in livestock, there’s a very good chance it could be happening to humans as well — and it might be one of the reasons why you’re not seeing results, no matter how clean you eat or how hard you work out.
How to Heal Your Gut
Fortunately, all hope is not lost. If you suspect your weight loss is stalled due to a microbiome issue, or if you’re going through a spectrum of digestive issues—usually characterized by bloating, cramping, abdominal pain, and/or bathroom “issues”—here are a few tips to help heal your gut and feel healthier.
- Eat Clean—You’ve heard it once, but let’s hear it again. One of the leading doctors in functional medicine, Dr. Mark Hyman, talks all the time about how literally every bite of food we consume has an effect on our microbiome and gut. If you’re someone who suffers from a digestive issue, it’s more important than ever that you eat a clean diet. Cut out refined carbs, sugar, and processed foods, and emphasize fiber, fruit, and veggies.
- Determine Food Intolerances—Ingesting foods that you’re actually allergic/intolerant to is one of the leading causes of a microbiome imbalance. Consuming these foods can cause certain bad bacteria to overgrow and get out of hand. Try eliminating the more common food intolerances like gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, nuts, and shellfish for a few weeks and see if your symptoms improve. Then reintroduce them and see what happens.
- Eat Fermented Foods—Foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and other pickled vegetables are incredibly good for building up the good bacteria in your gut. These foods help reintroduce good bacteria into your body, making them a much more natural source of probiotics than a supplement.
- Approach Dairy with Caution—I know many of you love dairy and might be surprised when I say to approach this food group with caution. Yes, products like yogurt and kefir are rich sources of probiotics. But if you’ve got a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance, you might actually be doing yourself a disservice. Try to stick to fermented veggies for a dietary source of probiotics.
- Fill Up on Fiber—Ever wonder what exactly those good bacteria in your gut feed on? The answer is fiber. There’s no point in dumping tons of probiotics into your gut if you’re not going to provide them with an environment to thrive. Adequate fiber consumption is key to helping the good bacteria in your gut grow and develop. Probiotics in particular like root vegetables and tubers, so fill up on sweet potatoes, carrots, yams, plantains, etc.
- Take a Probiotic—It’s an easy, and often inexpensive way to increase the levels of good bacteria in your gut. Use our probiotic guide if you’re looking for a product to take (some are massively overpriced).
- Talk to Your Doctor—Don’t think your gut is something you can only treat with diet and lifestyle modifications. Your doctor can actually provide you with a ton of treatments and therapies to help rebalance your microbiome. See if they’d be willing to give you the drug Rifaximin. The latest studies show that although this drug is meant for people who suffer from traveler’s diarrhea, it can help with IBS and SIBO cases. Unlike traditional antibiotics that wipe all bacteria out of your gut, Rifaximin works by only attacking the bad bacteria in your body, which can help reboot your microbiome.
- Take Your Probiotic At Night—The jury is still out about this last tip, but it’s worth a shot if you suffer from major gut problems. Some health nuts argue that taking your probiotic at night is more beneficial, specifically after a gut friendly dinner with lots of fiber and fermented foods. Supposedly, the probiotics feed off of your dinner at night while you sleep, and the uninterrupted sleep cycle gives them a better time to multiply and grow. Just a little food for thought!
Determining if your weight gain is caused by a microbiome imbalance can be tricky, but if you suspect your gut is the source of the problem there’s plenty you can do. Even if you don’t suffer from overt gut issues, it’s important to maintain good digestive health to keep your body lean, healthy, and fit.
is the founder of We're Talking About Food
. Devoted to democratizing health, Taji believes that anyone CAN live a healthy lifestyle regardless of medical condition, career, budget or other secondary factors.
Besides contributing to Lean it UP, Taji has been published for her health and fitness advice in journals like Thought Catalog. Taji has been supported by numerous health and fitness companies such as Navitas Naturals
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