Why is obesity so much more common today than it was even a few decades ago?
Researchers are starting to find bacterial clues that may point to an answer. There has been a profound shift in our populations of gut bacteria-the little creatures that live in our digestive tracts and studies show the changes as correlated with increased fatness.
There are actually 10 times more bacterial cells in your body than human cells: 100 trillion of them to 10 trillion of you. For the most part, these bugs help us, improving our immune system, providing vitamins, and preventing other harmful bacteria from infecting us. These bacteria also regulate how well we harvest energy from our food.
So far, two primary strains of bacteria have been found to influence fat absorption, almost regardless of diet: Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes. Lean people have more Bacteroidetes and fewer Firmicutes, obese people have more Firmicutes and fewer Bacteroidetes. As obese people lose weight, the ratio of bacteria in their gut swings over confidently to more Bacteroidetes.
This find had such significant implications that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched the multi-year Human Microbiome Project in late 2007. It is like a Human Genome Project for bacteria and intended to explore how some of the 40,000+ species of micro-friends (and fiends) are affecting our health and how we might modify them to help us more.
This could take some time, but you don’t need to wait to act. There are a few things can do now to cultivate healthy and bodyfat-reducing gut flora:
1. Get off the Splenda
A 2008 study at Duke University found that giving Splenda to rats significantly decreased the amount of helpful bacteria in the gut. Once again, the fake sugars turn out just as bad as, if not worse than, the real deal.
2. Go Fermented
Dr. Weston Price is famous for his studies of 12 traditional diets of near-disease-free indigenous communities spread around the globe. He found that one common element was fermented foods, which were consumed daily. Cultural mainstays varied but included cheese, Japanese natto, kefir, kimchi (also spelled “kimchee”), sauerkraut, and fermented fish. Unsweetened plain yogurt and fermented kombucha tea are two additional choices. Fermented foods contain high levels of healthy bacteria and should be viewed as a mandatory piece of your dietary puzzle. I consume five forkfuls of sauerkraut each morning before breakfast.
(Remember that pasteurized products contain no helpful bacteria, look for un-pasteurized fermented products)
3. Consider probiotics and prebiotics
Probiotics are bacteria. I have used Sedona Labs iFlora probiotics both during training (to help accomodate overfeeding) and after antibiotics. Prebiotics are fermentable substrates that help bacteria grow and thrive. In this category, I’ve experimented with organic inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides, commonly referred to as FOS. For a host of reasons, I prefer Inulin, which I get through Athletic Greens. Inulin is about 10% the sweetness of sugar, but unlike fructose, its not insulinemic. In the whole-food realm, garlic, leeks and chicory are all high in inulin or FOS content.
Though the research is preliminary, introducing pre- and probiotics together in the diet could have beneficial effects on allergies, aging, and a range of diseases. I found one potential benefit particularly fascinating, both inulin and FOS improve calcium absorption, and calcium absorption promotes the contraction-dependent GLUT-4 translocation!
If the anti-obesity effects weren’t enough, consider bacterial balance as a crucial step in supporting your “second brain”.
Most of us have heard of serotonin, a wide-acting neurotransmitter that, when deficient, is intimately linked to depression. Prozac and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) act to increase the effects of serotonin. Despite the label “neurotransmitter” which leads most people to visualize the brain, only 5% of serotonin is found in your head. The remaining 95% is produced in the gut, sometimes referred to as “the second brain” for this reason.
In a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study of 39 patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota was found to significantly decrease anxiety symptoms. Probiotics have also been shown as an effective alternative treatment for depression because of their power to inhibit inflammatory molecules called cytokines, decrease oxidative stress, and correct the overgrowth of unwanted bacteria that prevents optimal nutrient absorption in the intestines.
Give your good bacteria an upgrade and get your microbiome in shape. Faster fat-loss and better mental health are just two of the benefits.
Article excerpts taken from “The Four Hour Body” by Tim Ferris.