The Power of Our Microbiome
Losing weight is more complicated than calories in/calories out. We now know that given the same exact food, one person can gain weight and another won't. Much of this has to do with our microbiomes.
What are our microbiomes? These are the billions of micro-organisms that live on and in our body. We acquire them at birth and they change throughout our lives depending on our environment. The human microbiome includes the genes of the microbes. Why is this significant? Because they outnumber our genes by 100 to 1, and while our genome is fixed, we have quite a bit of control over our microbiome.
These billions of organisms that our body hosts have an incredible capacity to influence how many calories we extract from food, our insulin and hormone production, and even what we crave. We used to think weight gain/loss was as simple as calories in versus calories out. We now know it is much more complicated than this.
In fact, gut microbes from an obese mouse can be transplanted into a lean mouse, and with no change in diet, the lean mouse will become obese. These gut microbes can also be transplanted from an anxious mouse to a non-anxious mouse and you guessed it! The non-anxious mouse becomes anxious. Researchers at Washington University took gut bacteria from identical twins, where one was lean and one was obese, and transplanted them into germ-free mice. Within weeks, the mice that received the microbes from the obese twin became obese and the ones who received them from the lean twin stayed lean.
In the movie Supersize Me, (about a guy who lived on nothing but McDonalds for a year) he is able to change his microbiomes to crave and survive on that particular type of food. These gut microbes actually have the power to change your tastebuds, and even what you crave, to ensure their survival. That's why it can be so hard to stop eating certain foods like cheese and chocolate. Our microbes can trigger our dopamine and serotonin receptors, one of the reasons food can feel like an addiction. How many times have you vowed to stop eating sugar, for example, just to give in and succumb to it, then feel guilty and discouraged, just to do it all over again?
It is important to gain a deeper understanding of the role of gut bacteria in harvesting energy from food. Foods high in a kind of indigestible plant fiber known as inulin helps to cultivate a healthy microbiome populated with species associated with leanness. Most plants that synthesize and store inulin don't store other forms of carbohydrate such as starch. Foods like leeks, asparagus, artichokes, garlic, onions, oats, and lentils will do this, along with avoiding sugary, starchy, and high-fat foods. It's important to eat the right mix of foods to nourish and sustain these "good microbes", or they won't survive or reproduce long enough to recolonize our gut.
When I was growing up, you rarely heard of anyone with a gluten sensitivity. Now it seems to be everywhere. Autoimmune disorders like Celiac disease, along with Crohn's disease, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and fibromyalgia are commonplace now it seems. Why is this? The overuse of antibiotics has a direct correlation.
1 in 4 people of European dissent have the gene for Celiac disease. Many genetic diseases lay dormant until triggered. This is why in identical twins, one may have it and the other won't. Antibiotics trigger the genes for many of these autoimmune disorders. Just 5 days worth of a broad spectrum antibiotic kills off 1/3 of our gut flora. Unfortunately the good bacteria is a lot easier to kill than the bad bacteria.
Probiotics (try Multi-Probiotic 40 Billion) can replace some of that, but after around 30 hours, if you don't feed those introduced microbes, they die. Fermented foods like sauerkraut give you a double bang for your buck. Probiotics are live bacteria that not only support digestion and gut health, but also have a positive effect on immune and neurological function. Think you don't take many antibiotics? Think again. 80 % of the antibiotics in this country are used in the animal industry. Every time you eat meat you are essentially taking antibiotics.
The good news is that we can nourish our microbiome by creating the most hospitable environment for good bacteria to flourish inside our gut and on our skin.
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I write about human behavior, meditation, body awareness, and a variety of other things that pique my interest.