New research indicates that the type and amount of bacteria that live in our gut influences our weight. How is this possible, you may wonder? We have long known that our gut is teaming with bacteria. These microorganisms are necessary for our health and well-being. We also know that the so-called micro biome (gut bacteria) acts as a “second brain,” sending powerful signals through the body and communicating with the brain. Recently, scientists have identified the actual genes of our gut bacteria. It turns out there are many more bacterial genes than human genes. These genes make up substances that go into our bloodstream and affect our body chemistry.

As we eat and start digesting our food, the gut bacteria help break down the food. Some bacteria are better than others in disseminating our food and aiding digestion, thereby adding more calories to our body and possibly increasing our weight. Some people may assume that having these kinds of bacteria would make it harder to lose weight, but is this really true? 

Scientists have taken bacteria from 77 pairs of identical twins – one of whom was lean and the other obese. The study found that the diversity of the gut bacteria was lower in the obese twins. The bacteria were transferred into the guts of lean mice. The bacteria from the obese twin made these mice fat, but bacteria from the lean twin did not.  This exciting discovery may lead to treatments that help people prevent weight gain or lose weight by controlling their gut bacteria.

The bacteria in our gut also help our body produce hormones that affect our appetite, prompting us to feel hungry or full.  These include leptin, ghrelin and peptide YY. Some studies have shown that prebiotics, which contain compounds that are fermented by gut bacteria, can have a similar effect on appetite.

While the research into the effect of gut bacteria on weight is still in its infancy, it does have promising possibilities for the future of weight control. In the meantime, we can help our gut flora by eating fermented foods like yogurt, kombucha, kefir and sauerkraut. We should also eat a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables and polyphenol-rich foods such as dark chocolate, green tea and red wine. To avoid harming our gut flora, we should take a good probiotic and avoid consuming sugar and artificial sweeteners and unhealthy fats, which all harm our gut bacteria.

Unni Greene is a Certified Nutrition Specialist and co-owner of SoMi Fitness in South Miami.

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