May 13, 2015

Are you eating right, exercising regularly, and have given up alcohol, but still not losing weight? Are you doing everything right but the results are not forthcoming? What’s the problem? Your microbiome is a very important and underrated aspect of your health, weight, and overall well-being.

What’s a microbiome, you ask? It’s basically the bacteria in your gut, which can be affected by dietary choices.

Your gut bacteria have a variety of functions. According to an article in the Scientific American: “New evidence indicates that gut bacteria 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. The wrong mix of microbes, it seems, can help set the stage for obesity and diabetes from the moment of birth.”

Studies have found that thin mice which were transplanted with the gut bacteria of obese mice became obese, even without any change to their diet or exercise. Similarly, obese mice which received gut bacteria from thin mice lost weight. This is very promising research which points to the importance of the microbiome, and a number of human trials are in place to test the theories.

Interestingly, a diet of highly processed foods leads to less diversity of gut bacteria while a diet of natural, unprocessed foods leads to a more diverse microbiome. Diversity, it appears, is the key to being thin.

While we’ve known for years that a diet high in junk food leads to weight gain in most people, it was thought that the reason was the extra calories, bad fats, and processed carbs that did the damage. This is probably true, but the research is showing that the reason is probably not what we thought: it’s the changes that these foods make to the microbiome that may be to blame.

The use of antibiotics, which kill off bacteria, also plays a role in decreasing diversity. Antibiotics are, of course, necessary and life-saving in some situations, but it’s important that after any course of antibiotics the microbiome is repopulated to ensure diversity.

If you think your microbiome might be working against you, it’s helpful to know that it can be improved though it may take some time. A quality probiotic supplement may help, but more important is to consume natural, unprocessed foods and to completely avoid junk foods.

We need to think about food in a different way, and that is how it works to maintain a happy, healthy and, most importantly, diverse microbiome.