What is gut flora?
Your gut flora refers to the makeup of bacteria that resides in your gut, lines your intestines and helps you digest food (amongst a myriad of other things it now seems). The gut holds around 100 trillion microorganisms, which means you have 10 times more bacteria IN your body than all of the human cells that make up your entire body.
Its amazing to think here is more genetic material residing in the bacteria you are carrying around inside your body, than you actually have in your own genome. We are all basically just big walking meat houses for bacteria.
Currently, scientists are identifying key communities of bacteria in the human body, in much the same way they logged the human genome, in order to determine the impact gut flora has on health.
By comparing the makeup of gut flora in a healthy person to an unhealthy person, scientists hope to determine links between a person’s bacteria and the presence of diseases such as obesity and diabetes.
Although studies are still too young to assess whether certain bacteria can trigger disease, analysing gut bacteria might be the prevention tool used to diagnose disease earlier.
They have found that each of us hold one of three primary communities of bacteria
Healthy gut flora promotes normal gastrointestinal function, provides protection from infection, regulates metabolism and comprises more than 75% of our immune system.
You’re probably now thinking that I’m giving you a lesson within physiology but there is a point to be made.
Here is the exciting bit!…
New evidence suggests that the role of gut bacteria and the composition of our gut flora extends beyond digestion and immune function. An ideal ratio of gut flora is 80-85% and 15-20% of good and bad bacteria respectively. The ratio of bacteria will alter the way we store fat, how we balance levels of glucose in the blood, and how we respond to hormones that make us feel hungry or full.
So does gut health determine our body weight?
Depending on the composition of your “gut flora”, will determine how well your body functions and metabolizes food. Have you ever gone on a diet with a friend and maintained it for 5-6 weeks? Both of you will seemingly drop some weight but one might lose a greater amount? Why is this? You’re doing the same training sessions and eating the same meal plan. Some people might assume one has better genetics or one trained harder than the other? That’s quiet the logical answer and may possibly be a determining factor. But there needs to be more to it…and it seems there is.
I’m sure you have heard people complain that there metabolism has ‘slowed down’, or has always been slower than say a skinnier person. Chances are good (especially for women) they have indeed slowed down their metabolism by not eating enough calories for an extended period of time but more so, if their gut flora composition is not well balanced or “dysregulated”, this will alter body composition, hunger hormones and how well food is metabolized.
Studies have demonstrated that individuals with poor gut flora will increase the rate at which carbs and fatty acids are absorbed resulting in an amplified storage of fat. In lay terms and linking back to the previous example given, this means that despite eating and training the same as your friend who has good gut flora, you will store more fat on the body as a result of poor gut health. Therefore, it can be said the gut flora composition of an individual is a key indicator of weight loss.
Ongoing research reveals that people with certain diseases often have a very different mix of bacteria in their intestines compared to healthier people. “Dysregulated gut flora” has a strong correlation with diseases inducing; Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, depressions, autism and many more. A recent study strengthened this correlation and found that a protein known as toll-like receptor 5 (TLR5) can influence obesity and metabolic diseases. Specifically, they used two groups 1) mice that had TRL5 and 2) mice who didn’t have the protein and were fed a high fat diet. Results found that mice without the TLR5 protein developed diabetes, fatty liver disease and gained weight. By lacking this protein, bad bacteria increased and caused inflammation within the gut resulting to these diseases.
In addition, insulin resistance (the first step to diabetes) developed which in turn increased their appetite. The most interesting part of the results occurred when scientists transferred the gut flora from the protein TRL5 deficient mice to the healthy mice. The skinny mice immediately started over eating and even more astonishingly, the obesity and diabetes was transferred to the skinny mice. These results highlight the colossal effect gut flora has on weight loss and health.
For now, scientists are only making links between a person’s bacterial makeup and the presence of diseases. Certain bacteria can strengthen the immune system, while others can promote inflammation that’s part of autoimmune diseases. We now know that people with diseases have more bad bacteria within their intestines, causing the inflammation. For this reason, looking at gut bacteria could become a way for doctors to diagnose certain diseases earlier and more accurately.
This leads to the biggest question “Can gut flora cure and/or reduce the risk of a disease?”
Of course there is no short term cure, however, if you make changes to your diet it can be possible to reshape your gut flora. Gut health is a relatively untapped area within research so scientists are still trying to determine how and why gut health influences health and more importantly which bacteria composition or “community” of bacteria we want to promote. At this stage we know that it’s beneficial to have a variation in the diet to help establish a diverse range of bacteria that can help break down all the different foods we eat.
If you have a wide range of bacteria to breakdown the different macronutrients, your body will be able to produce lots of different molecules that assists in determining how your body stores the food, how easy (or hard) it is to lose weight, and how well the metabolism functions. Current research also shows that athletes have more variation in their gut bacteria than non-athletes suggesting the importance exercise has on gut health.
So to answer the question as to whether gut health can cure and/ or reduce the risk of disease it seems it may act as a preventative measure and may reduce the severity of a disease. In terms of curing an individual, scientists are still developing ways to determine which community of bacteria needs to be promoted. However, in today’s society we are making it harder and harder to maintain a healthy gut.
How modern day society negatively impacts our gut health
Now we are going to have a closer look at how we are affecting our gut health without even knowing it! You would think that with all these advances in modern technology that we would be fitter and healthier than ever before yet, for some reason we seem to be getting sicker and if you don’t believe me here are some stats:
· Fourteen million Australians are overweight or obese.
· Obesity has become the single biggest threat to public health in Australia
· 4% of Australians now have diabetes; that’s 999,000 people (rates have risen by 2%)
· Around 6% of ALL Australians have depression (autoimmune disease) and is still rising.
Of course there is an interplay of many determinants that influences these statistics but current research suggests that gut health may be the key culprit! I challenge you to now have a think about your lifestyle. Are the types of foods you eat processed and full of sugar? Do you feel stressed at work? How many times this year have you gotten sick and needed medication from the doctor?
If the answers are; ‘Yes, yes and a few times’ chances are your gut flora has been comprised.
Gut flora can be affected negatively by:
– Antibiotics and other medications like birth control and NSAIDs
– Diets high in refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods
– Diets low in fermentable fibers
– Dietary toxins like wheat and industrial seed oils that cause leaky gut
– Chronic stress
– Chronic infections
– C-sections rather than natural births
* Take note that the diabetes and obesity epidemic neatly corresponds with the increased incidence of factors that affect gut health *
As you can see your gut flora is always under attack from today’s Western diet, sickness’ and lifestyle. Processed foods that are high in sugar, chemical additives and foods low in nutrients are a sure way to kill off good bacteria in your gut, allowing the harmful kind to thrive. Furthermore, these processed foods are high in fructose corn syrup and soy (used to sweeten most food and drinks) which destroys the healthy bacteria and feed on the bad
bacteria and yeast.
Likewise, when we are sick the doctor tends to prescribe antibiotics to help fight off an infection (which occurs way too often in my books). It is an “accepted” concept now that taking antibiotics will disrupt gut flora and basically kills off ALL bacteria; that is good and bad bacteria. After a course it is expected that the gut flora repopulates and balance is again restored. However, more and more research is showing us that this might not be the case. It seems our guts never fully recovery from the antibiotics, especially if we are not proactive about restoring the flora causing long term changes to the beneficial bacteria, increasing our susceptibility to infections, disease and conditions such as obesity.
Gut microbe species: Akkermansia muciniphila
Now that you have read how important gut flora is to body weight, energy, metabolism and health, let’s look at a specific bacteria that could improve these variables. Akkermansia muciniphila is a bacteria that is associated with leanness and better glucose tolerance. A study had a group of 49 obese and overweight adults each on a 6 week calories restricted diet (1500-1800 calories per day) with increasing fibre intake.
The diet then consisted of another 6 weeks of normal eating (how they would normally eat). Blood samples and stool were taken. Results showed that people who had more akkermansia in their gut from the very start had better measures compared to people with less of this bacteria. Both groups lost the same amount of weight yet the high Akkermansia group had a greater decrease in visceral fat (fat on stomach), improved cholesterol levels and waist to hip ratio. It seems by having more of this bacteria is favourable to your health and weight loss journey!
So how can you improve your gut bacteria for better results?
You need to follow a fibre-rich calorie restricted diet. So basically, you need to eat clean (leafy greens are high in fibre). The fibre is a source of nourishment for the bacteria in the gut. These foods allows for the production of short-chain fatty acids which then gets absorbed into the bloodstream to help regulate the bodily functions and reduce inflammation. Therefore, if you are not getting enough fibre into your daily diet (like most people today) your immune system remains in a pro inflammatory state which predisposes you to autoimmune diseases and obesity.
People always make the comment “I eat breads and cereals that have fibre”. In the olden days, yes this was a great way to consume fibre, however, todays manufacturing processes basically strip the bread and cereals of all their nutrients leaving you with little benefits. Loading up on these fibre-fortified processed foods wont increase the kind of fibre that benefits the gut. Studies done on single fibres—those, like inulin, which are added to foods, haven’t shown to have the same effects as fibre that occur naturally in whole foods. Examples of foods you should include in your diet are: vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, and even dark chocolate!
The take home message; can you change your gut composition?
This is the final piece of the jigsaw. We now know that a healthy gut can influence weight loss and may potentially prevent diseases, but can we change the composition of our gut?
The simple answer is yes, it is possible to reshape your flora. If you want better immunity, efficient digestion, improved clarity, balance and a reduced chance of disease focus on rebuilding your gut health.
Here are a few ways:
· Swap a high fat, high sugar diet to a leaner diet
· Increase the amount of fibre you consume daily
· Exercise frequently
· Eat fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kim chi, etc.
· Drink Kombucha (fermented tea)
· Manage stress levels
· Stay hydrated
· Take a probiotic supplement e.g., Acidophilus
As you may notice, maintaining a healthy gut is not a diet change but a lifestyle change.
I hope this has given you something to think about!
By: Katrina Laczoffy – Fit Stop Personal Trainer
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