Why Is Healthy Gut Flora So Important for Weight Loss?

Author: Bites of Reason

Our gut is home to approximately one hundred trillion microorganisms. Your body contains far more bacteria than your own cells. No need to dwell on the fact that your significant other is, for all intents and purposes, a walking pile of bacteria.

And try *not* to remember this fact the next time you sleep together. Now that you're aware we're more microbe than human, it should not come as a surprise that the gut flora is significantly different between obese and lean people. While the intestinal microflora of skinny people could be compared to a rainforest full of various species, the gut of the obese more closely resembles a polluted lake direly lacking in variety of its microbial inhabitants.

Bacteria control our metabolism and determine our waist size. This has been proven in a recent study featuring identical twins who don't really look alike, mouse clones, and poo. First, very specific human twins were sought out: pairs of genetically identical subjects who had come to greatly differ in weight – one sibling being thin, the other one fat. Scientists then cloned a batch of mice in completely sterile conditions to ensure A) their identic genetic makeup, and B) the identic "germ-free" state of their guts. The rodents were divided into two groups and had their pristine intestines implanted with microflora taken from human twin subjects – one group was seeded with samples from the obese siblings, the other from their skinny counterparts. Although the mice were genetically identical and consumed the same food in exactly the same amount - at the end of the study, they did not look the same. The unfortunate half that was germinated with microflora of the obese twins became overweight like their human donors.

Thus, the study showed that transferring bacteria can also transfer obesity. The story, however - does not end here. In another instance of the same experiment, both groups of mice were kept in the same habitat – living together and mingling freely.

Why Is Healthy Gut Flora So Important for Weight Loss?

To researchers' surprise, none of these cohabitating rodents had developed obesity - not even the ones carrying microbes of obese people. Why? Well, you see, while mice may be considered cute little critters, their table manners leave *a lot* to be desired. They are coprophages. To put it bluntly – they eat shit. The mice that would've otherwise become overweight due to bad microflora were able to repopulate their intestines with healthy bacteria by consuming their roommates' excrement – allowing them to stay thin. I guess desperate times *do* seek desperate measures..

What is interesting - albeit a little sad - is that when the mice were fed "processed" food, not even drastic measures such as coprophagia would prevent them from getting obese. It gives a new layer of meaning to the term "junk food" when feces are considered a helpful dietary supplement. The consumption of industrially processed foods is a major cause of obesity. Both number and diversity of microbes in our intestines are directly correlated to our diet. More precisely, our gut microflora depends on fiber – complex carbohydrates bacteria feed on. Sadly, common highly processed foods have proven to be a negligible source of fiber, while food rich in fiber is becoming increasingly rare on our menus.

The healthiest sources of fiber – such as fruits, vegetables, and tubers - have been a part of human diet for thousands of years, but are now giving way to their processed counterparts – diminishing our fiber intake. With such an important element of our nutrition in shortage - our intestines are becoming rather inhospitable to the growth of healthy bacteria. So, you want to increase the diversity of your intestinal flora to shed excess weight and improve your health? And no. I know what you're thinking – stop. ... Just no. Ew. Luckily, unlike your distant rodent cousins, you don't have to resort to coprophagia, horrifying your thin roommates.

There is a much tastier way to heal your gut microflora: fermented food. Cultures that traditionally eat a lot of fermented foods have always kept on the leaner side of the weight spectrum. Take South Korea as an example. Just have a look at their demographic statistics, their nutritional scientific studies, or simply their K-pop music scene - and you will clearly see that they have the lowest obesity rate among developed countries. One of the reasons that help make this possible is "kimchi" - a popular traditional fermented dish studied for its beneficial effects on weight loss and fat tissue reduction.

An important conclusion drawn from these facts is that reduced diversity of gut bacteria promotes obesity. Unfortunately, many are destined to go down this path due to influences present since their earliest childhood. Let's consider doses of antibiotics we had taken as children. There is no doubt that antibiotics save lives and have significantly lengthened our lifespans.

This advantage, however, does come with a price. Antibiotics kill all bacteria, including the good ones in our gut. This can cause a serious issue, especially in children younger than 6 months whose sensitive gut flora may never fully recover. And speaking of little ones - babies born by the Caesarean section have an increased risk of being overweight later in life. While performed based on medical need and lifesaving in many cases - the C-section does prevent the newborn’s contact with mother's vaginal flora, diminishing the baby's own microbial diversity. To sum it all up: gut microbes have an immense impact on our weight and body composition.

Despite their importance, we keep starving them out by eating highly processed food, and killing them with overuse of antibiotics. By eating diverse fruits, vegetables, starchy plants, and fermented foods we can make a huge step towards having a leaner, healthier body.

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