Guest post written by: Dr. Amy Shah
Those little critters that live deep in your bowels — i.e. gut microbiota — are all the rage in medicine right now.
In fact, fecal transplants (yes, it is what it sounds like) have been PROVEN to cure certain diseases that antibiotics can’t even touch.
But recently there has been some even more interesting research that shows that the type and amount of bacteria we have in our gut can make us overweight or lean.
For example, a 2006 study in the journal Nature found that obese people all have a classic imbalance in gut bacteria when compared with lean people — even when they controlled for all the other differences in these people’s habits.
Another study published in 2013 in the journal Cell found that being lean is associated with having more Christensenellaceae bacteria in your gut while having less is associated with gaining weight.
In both these studies, when the overweight individuals changed their diet — they also changed their gut bacteria to match the lean population — and then were able to lose the weight.
Yes, I know all these drug companies are going to run to every “doctor” TV show and say — just by “eating this new Christensenellaceae pill” you can get thin.
But wait, is it that simple?
Of course not.
Other studies show that it not just ONE type of bacteria we need to be lean — overweight people have less gut microbe diversity whereas lean people have tons of different types of gut bacteria.
Several studies also tell us the more diverse your gut bacteria, the less likely you are to be obese or have type 2 diabetes.
Another study came to a similar conclusion.
Less gut microbe diversity is associated with holding onto more fat, being insulin resistant and generating more inflammation — all of which contribute to weight gain.
Wait — so what’s my point?
The bottom line is you want to work on getting your gut lots of the “good” bacteria and also give it a lot of diversity (think lush forest vs barren desert)
Which foods/habits have specifically been shown to modulate the little critters?
1. Fermented foods: Kimchi, fermented vegetables etc.
2. Fiber: Getting fiber from things like vegetables feeds good bacteria.
3. Outdoor Exercise: A 2013 study in the journal Gut among Irish rugby players found that exercise is associated with more gut bacteria diversity. The study also found lots of a bacteria associated with lower weight among the players. It probably also helps that they are rolling around, punching each other in dirt — which is full of bacteria.
4. Lots and Lots of Vegetables
But what about probiotics???
In a study, overweight women who took probiotics for 12 weeks lost weight — and kept it off — compared to women who took a placebo. But this has not played out in all studies.
Most probiotic pills don’t survive our complex digestion process to stay intact all the way to the intestines. You are better off, in my opinion, eating a really clean diet with tons of vegetables and cutting out processed foods.
Now, we do know some things can totally wipe out good gut bacteria:
1. Sugar (didn’t see that one coming did you?)
2. Processed fats/oils
3. Processed snacks/grains
5. Over sanitizing (hand sanitizer, Neosporin for small cuts, antibacterial soaps)
I’m pretty excited about this topic as I think it offers a powerful way to frame our interactions with the modern world using this Ancestral Health model.
Eat (things that were once) dirty, play dirty, think dirty (kidding about that last one).
Want a one week guide to lower your inflammation (gut and otherwise)? If so -check out this free infographic!
Dave Sill says
I’ve always been a little skeptical of the efficacy of probiotics, but I’m curious about how the gut gets colonized naturally. Surely the vast majority of the critters enter the gut through the stomach. So how do they survive digestion?
Amy Shah says
Dave, You’re right most don’t survive but the small amounts that do – some of them colonize your gut.
John Fawkes says
Amy, I’ve been looking into getting a fecal transplant- not for obesity, but something else I think it’ll help with. If I don’t have c. dificil, what’s my best option for getting a transplant?
You might want to check this out http://chriskresser.com/all-about-fecal-microbiota-transplants/
Amy Shah says
Currently in the US you can only get fecal transplants with a history of chronic C. DIff. There are other countries ie the UK where you can get them. My husband, a board certified GI, also does them for people with autoimmune diseases.
I have had IBS since age of 19 after I was in hospital and pumped full of penicillin to combat septicemia. I am now 70 plus and living in the UK and cant keep my weight down. Just put on more each year while not overeating and active. The faecal transplant sounds gross!
Guess more yoghurt and sauerkraut. Tons of veg. make my IBS much worse. Help!
Christine Lehmann says
It seems like the two areas that we have control over, namely a healthy diet with fermented foods and exercise, are the two biggest contributors to a diverse bacteria in our gut. Most people don’t realize that at least 80% of our immune system resides in our gut. So, not only do we want diverse bacteria but a lot more of the good bacteria than bad–approx. between 75% and 85%.
Susan Swan says
This may sound gross, but out of poor desperation I am considering “stealing” a little of my 80 lb daughter’s poo and giving myself a fecal transplant. My thinking is, if it can work for c. Diff it might work for obesity. Any thoughts?
Robb Wolf says
I’m no expert on this but I’ve read that kids microbiome may not be appropriate for this?? I honestly do not know, I suspect there are a number of forums that will have much more knowledgeable folks.
pamela tomkinson says
I have heard about these fecal transplants in relation to helping diabetes too. I have Vitiligo an autoimmune disorder of the skin. I have also recently been diagnosed with Dupuyrens Contracture which is also linked to autoimmune disease along with a high blood sugar level. I am wondering if I am a candidate for this fecal transplant? I am now educating myself on the Paleo diet plan to begin my healing process. But I am looking for more information on fecal transplants can u help me?