Achieving Our Healthy Weight. Do Our Gut Bugs Have A Role?

Ulcerative Colitis

Have you ever wondered why those extra pounds that came off so easily when you were younger are just not so easy to shed now? Calorie counting is tough and leaves you feeling so guilty, especially when you look at yourself in the mirror, or worse on the scales!

The idea that the health of our GUT flora might influence our overall metabolism and therefore our weight, is relatively new.

The GUT flora plays a crucial role in feeding us because they help in breaking down the food we eat into small “bite sizes”, not visible to the naked eye, so that our body is able to absorb it.

If it were not for these “good guys” we would have expelled all this material, causing our bodies to feel starved, which would have lead our bodies to hold on to every kilojoule of energy, in pursuit of preserving life.

A growing body of evidence is suggesting that naturally occurring bacteria and other microbes in the body, and possibly even viruses, can influence weight in ways that scientists are only just beginning to understand.

Numerous studies are underway looking at the role of intestinal organisms in obesity, with a focus on how they extract energy from food and how this affects weight gain or loss.

Insights gained from this research could identify people predisposed to obesity and possibly help clinicians create targeted weight-loss treatments for them.

The specific composition of microbes in the intestines also might help predict the best candidates for weight-loss surgery, which doesn’t work for everyone.

The Obesity – Bacteria Link

Researchers speculate that people are more likely to gain weight when gut bacteria are more efficient at breaking down food, enabling the body to absorb more calories. They theorize that less-efficient bacteria allow food to pass more quickly through the intestines.

“If you want to stay lean, you’ll want bacteria that are not very efficient,” says Claire Fraser, a professor of medicine and microbiology and immunology at the University Of Maryland School Of Medicine.

“If we each eat a bowl of cereal and your bacteria are better than mine at breaking it down, you’ll get 95 calories, while I’ll only get 70, and the rest will pass through. You’re the one who’s going to gain weight.”

The food one eats contributes to the composition of the bacterial communities in the gut.

For example, Fraser says, “high-fat, low-fibre diets have been associated with different bacteria in the gut than low-fat, high-fibre diets,” which may play a role in who develops obesity. “It may be a vicious cycle but one we can interrupt by altering our dietary habits.”

Recent studies by Stanley Hazen of the Cleveland Clinic, for example, have found that gastrointestinal bacteria “burp” out a chemical called TMAO (for trimethylamine N-oxide) after people consume red meat or eggs.

TMAO increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, which may help explain why eating those foods increases the danger of heart disease more than following a vegan or vegetarian diet.

“Chubby” Bacteria, Gut Bugs, Stress & Inflammation?

When the body has been subjected to stress, and this may be as little as twenty four hours, the “unhealthy” microbes start to overpower the “good ones”.

The unhealthy bacteria are……. more fat storing in nature than fat burning, understandable from our innate survival instinct.

In an obese individual, we see an overgrowth of these fat storing, “chubby” bacteria.

These “chubby” bacteria extract even the last ounce of energy from the food consumed, which causes the individual to pile on weight, even if they didn’t eat more than others.

It could be that their gut flora is extracting more energy from the food they eat.

Studies carried out on obese subjects reveal that they have less overall diversity of the gut microbial flora and primarily the “chubby” bacteria prevail.

Simply put, an overweight person is more likely to harbour a gut flora that’s imbalanced and a digestive system that is “weak”.

More specifically, there is damage to the “biofilm”, a flimsy mucus layer forming a protective coating over the inner lining of our gut.

Damage to this layer causes the gut to become “leaky” setting up inflammation, which is now being proposed as another major cause of obesity and its related problems of diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

It is an interesting observation that obese individuals with metabolic syndrome, diabetes and high blood lipids, also have a high level of infection markers in their bloods too.

The levels are not so high to warrant active treatment, however the levels are elevated enough to fall in the category of “sub clinical“ infection. This inflammation is setup by the “leaky gut”, caused by an unhealthy gut flora causing damage to the protective biofilm.

The leaky gut causes far too much……

You can read the FULL version of this article in our quarterly eZine, ‘Holistic Living Magazine,’ look for Edition 7 on this archive page.  There’s many more articles waiting for you too!

Dr Arun Dhir,FRCS,FRACS – Gastro Intestinal Surgeon, Health & Wellness Advocate


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