The average human body contains 37.2 trillion cells and 10 times as many microbes. The bacteria in our gut do more than aid in the digestion of food. They also protect the body from invading organisms, aid the immune system, create neurotransmitters, create and synthesize vitamins, and even influence our mood and temperament.
The old adage, “You are what you eat!” has taken on new meaning as scientists learn more about how our diet influences these microbes and the role gut bacteria plays in metabolism, weight gain, and weight loss. This symbiotic relationship is a good one, as long as the host (that’s us) feeds the bacteria the right foods.
We often hear the terms “good bacteria” and “bad bacteria” but the bacterial balance in our gut is not so simple. It is an extremely complex system that is unique to each individual. We are host to somewhere between 300-1000 different species of bacteria. Scientists are learning that specific species exert different influences on our metabolism and that the bacterial makeup is different in a lean person than in someone who is obese.
One study showed that Enterobacter, an endotoxin-producing bacterium, taken from the gut of a morbidly obese human, induced obesity and insulin resistance in healthy mice. In a volunteer with an initial weight of 385 lbs, Enterobacter made up 35% of the gut bacterium. After 23 weeks of a diet of whole grains, traditional Chinese medicinal foods, and prebiotics, the volunteer lost 113 lbs and all traces of Enterobacter. The conclusion was that this endotoxin-producing bacterium creates inflammation that causes insulin resistance, resulting in weight gain.
Another recent study showed a direct correlation between a high or low level of bacterium in the gut and the subjects’ weight. A high level of bacterium and a high level of diversity was linked to a healthy weight, whereas overweight individuals show a correlation to a much lower number of bacterium in the gut.
As research continues to reveal that diversity in gut bacterium is essential to good health and is a factor in weight control, researchers are encouraged to discover which particular bacteria can directly influence weight loss. The day may soon come when we choose our probiotics to manage our weight. Until that day arrives, our diet choices can and will alter this internal balance.
To increase health inducing and weight reducing bacterium in the gut, eat a diet rich in prebiotics – in other words, eat lots of raw vegetables and fruit. With all the talk about probiotics, little is said about prebiotics. A large salad each day, filled with a wide variety of vegetables, provides the healthy bacterium in our gut with the food it needs to thrive. This often overlooked step to maintaining good gut health is one of the most important things anyone can do for their overall health.
So much attention today is focused on probiotics. If we believe the advertisements, one or two servings of yogurt would provide all the beneficial bacteria we need. But the yogurt sold at the grocery store is made from pasteurized cow’s milk and it is usually laden with sugar. If any beneficial bacteria from this yogurt survived your stomach acid and made it to your intestines, the sugar content alone would negate its benefits.
There are, however, highly beneficial probiotic foods. Fermented foods such as kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, and raw, organic apple cider vinegar increase healthy bacterium in the gut. Kefir made with coconut water is also a good source, as is kefir and yogurt made from organic, unpasteurized milk. But remember, while probiotics are helpful, more benefit is gained from prebiotics, vegetables in particular.
To lose weight, eat a healthy diet consisting of 80% (or more) raw vegetables and fruit – preferably organic – with more vegetables than fruit. Avoid all refined sugar and all processed foods. Exclude all artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives.
Although we were born with a particular balance of bacteria in our gut, it has been influenced throughout our lives by toxins, antibiotics, vaccines, and the foods we eat. We have the power to change it. We can increase the amount of bacteria in our bodies and alter its balance by the foods we choose to eat and the foods we choose to avoid.
Health issues related to too much candida are a result of the gut microbes being out of balance. If you’re looking to restore you gut health, getting the candida under control is an important first step. Check out How to Cure Candida. Check out the first three sources for recipes and information on fermented foods.
Na Fei and Liping Zhao, An Opportunistic Pathogen Isolated from the Gut of an Obese Human Causes Obesity in Germfree Mice; The ISME Journal (2013) 7, 880-884
Q. Aziz, J. Dore’,A. Emmanuel, F. Guarner, & E. M. M. Quigley; Gut Microbiota and Gastrointestinal Health: Current Concepts and Future Directions, Neurogastroenterol & Motility (2013) 25, 4-15