There is lots of buzz around the bacteria that reside in your gut lately! What is all the excitement about?
Turns out that medical research is finally catching up to what my mentors have been teaching for years: your gut health affects your overall health and yes, even your weight! Why all the published studies in the last year or two? Technology now has the ability to identify the critters that reside in your gut using advanced DNA analysis!
Did you know that you are made up of more bacteria than human cells? Yes, it is true. In fact, you host trillions of organisms! A symbiotic relationship exist with these bacteria (symbiotic = a close and usually obligatory association of two organisms of different species that live together, often to their mutual benefit).
New research shows that your body does best when your gut microflora exhibits more bacteria AND a high degree of biodiversity or richness. A lack of gut bacteria and diversity is a cause for concern. This makes sense since the bacteria living in you produce vitamins, mature and strengthen the immune system, and communicate with your nerve and hormone-producing cells, among many other functions.
A recent Danish study found that Danish individuals with less gut bacteria and less-diverse microflora were more likely to be obese than their peers. In addition, these individuals exhibited more insulin resistance, unfavorable lipid profiles, and more inflammation. The obese individuals in the lower bacteria diversity group also were found to gain more weight over time. Well, this just applies to the Danes, you might say. (1)
But wait, the American Gut Project released on September 17 their first major group of results based on more than 800 people in the U.S. and more than 1,000 different samples. These are initial findings, and have not been published yet in a peer reviewed journal. Nonetheless, the results found incredible diversity among our individual guts!
What makes our guts so different? Is diet a contributing factor? Indeed, individual results showed that variations in diet affected the gut flora.
“For example, those on a paleo diet had lower proportions of Proteobacteria, a phylum that is linked to inflammation. But they also had more Firmicutes, which have been tied to higher rates of obesity.” (2) It's far too early to come to any conclusions about how certain diets affect gut bacteria, but this project is in its infancy and we are going to be hearing a lot more about it in the years to come! Check out the American Gut project here: http://americangut.org.
What do we know already? Certain interventions, such as broad-spectrum antibiotics, can alter the makeup of your gut’s microbiota rapidly and dramatically. And these changes can persist for several weeks. We also know that overgrowth of specific bacteria is associated with certain health conditions. For example, overgrowth of Klebsiella pneumoniae is associated with Ankylosing-Spondylitis and UTIs are commonly associated with overgrowth of Aeromonas caviae. We also know that probiotics can alter the gut flora to some degree, but how much and for how long is debated.
So what can you do right now to support a friendly microflora? A simple stool test can assess whether you have overgrowth of certain bacteria that can become problematic AND if you have enough of the so called “friendly bacteria”. This test can even tell you if you have a certain ratio of certain types of bacteria that contribute to weight loss resistance. And of course, the test will also identify any parasites that might be causing problems for your overall health!
With a stool test, you don’t have to guess at what type of probiotic supplement to take or what foods to eat to support your unique microflora. For example, my test revealed that I had plenty of the lactobacillus species, but was low in another species. This made it easy for me to choose a probiotic and foods that support a healthy gut for me! Talk to your practitioner about possible options for testing your “gut environment”. After all, the health of your gut affects the health of your entire body!
1. Nature. 2013 Aug 29;500(7464):541-6. doi: 10.1038/nature12506. Richness of human gut
microbiome correlates with metabolic markers.
About the Author:
Beth Gillespie is a Certified Nutrition Consultant specializing in natural solutions for increased energy and healthy weight management for women. You can pick up her free resource on the 5 Overlooked Reasons you are tired and can't lose weight at her site, NutritionWithBeth.com.