The obesity epidemic currently facing the nation is reaching a critical point. As a result of this escalating obesity rate, chronic disease is rampant—and for the first time in more than a century, the newest generation will be the first to have a lower life expectancy than the last. Although there are more diets and exercise programs available than ever before, not only are adults getting fatter and fatter, but so are our children. So many people are continually trying to lose weight, yet the obesity rate climbs. There seems to be a piece missing from the puzzle called our digestive system.
The Gut Factor: What Stands Between You and Your Skinny Jeans?
You have likely tried a number of diets by now, losing weight each time only to gain it back—and then some. But I’m willing to bet that you have not taken into account your inner weight-loss secret. If you knew that you had within you one thing that could change your weight-loss fate for good—and that scientific research could prove it—would you be interested? I’m here to tell you that your inner weight-loss secret lies within your digestive tract: the gut factor.
Inside your digestive tract are trillions of bacteria that play a crucial role in not only your digestive and immune health, but also your overall health—and, most notably, your weight. Each of us has a unique balance of bacteria that either protects us and keeps us healthy or leaves us susceptible to disease; that same balance can contribute to either weight gain or weight loss. When your gut bacteria are out of balance, you gain weight. Conversely, when you balance your gut by eating the right foods (and avoiding the wrong foods), you lose weight, reduce cravings, ditch digestive upsets, boost immunity, reduce inflammation, and feel great.
At the heart of that digestive balance we find good bacteria: beneficial microbes found in the digestive tract that work in a myriad of ways to keep you healthy. By eating living foods—those foods that contain good bacteria (also called probiotics) and foods that feed these bacteria in your gut (also called prebiotics), you will balance your gut and finally be able to achieve the lasting weight loss you have been seeking.
There are two main groups of bacteria in the gut: Firmicutes (fir-MIH-cue-tees) and Bacteroidetes (BAC-ter-OY-deh-tees). Your ratio of these two groups determines whether or not you will be more likely to gain weight. The Firmicutes, or “fat” bacteria, are better able to extract calories from food and cause you to accumulate more fat than the Bacteroidetes, or “skinny” bacteria. Simply put, for weight loss you want to increase the Bacteroidetes and decrease the Firmicutes in your gut.
There are also two smaller groups of bacteria that are beneficial to your overall health: bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. Both bifidobacteria and lactobacilli protect us against an overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria in the intestines. In effect, they “crowd out” the bad bacteria in the gut, promoting gut balance.
All of these beneficial bacteria—bifidobacteria, lactobacilli, and many bacteria from the Bacteroidetes group—can be increased in your gut by eating foods that feed these bacteria while starving the bad bacteria. The result will be a gut balance that helps you lose weight and stay healthy. I want to spread the word about this inner weight-loss secret because I have seen so many people achieve vibrant health and optimal weight by balancing their gut.
I don’t want it to be a secret anymore; digestive health is the foundation for total-body health. If you don’t address weight gain at its core—at the gut level—then you can’t lose weight and expect to keep it off.
What if, by balancing your gut bacteria with the right foods, supplements, and lifestyle, you might be able to finally drop the weight that has burdened you for so long? Try these simple steps to balance your gut to achieve your ideal weight, while also feeling your best.
The Gut-Brain Connection
It may seem implausible that your digestive system has anything to do with how your brain functions, but the gut is actually considered to be your second brain, owing to the presence of the enteric nervous system—a branch of the autonomic nervous system that resides in the gut where it is responsible for digestive functions. The main neurotransmitters used in the brain can also be found inside your gut. In fact, 95 percent of the body’s serotonin—the neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of well-being and happiness—is produced in the intestines.
The gut-brain connection seems obvious when we consider the effects of emotional stress on our digestion, but this connection travels both ways. That is, conditions that involve the brain and mood affect digestive function, and, conversely, digestive conditions affect brain and mood function. Think about it: When you are feeling stressed out or emotionally upset, does your stomach also bother you? You have probably experienced a lack of appetite in a highly stressful situation. Experts have known about the brain’s effects on the gut for a long time now, but what they did not realize until relatively recently was the opposite possibility: Digestive dysfunction can actually cause mood imbalance. This recently discovered phenomenon is changing how scientists view the gut-brain connection. Could the fact that many people do not respond to mood-regulating drugs have anything to do with an underlying gut imbalance? If so, then balancing the gut would help to improve their symptoms.
Digestive imbalance can not only lead to obesity, but also contribute to the development of other conditions that occur alongside obesity. Silent inflammation, which is produced as a result of the wrong balance of microbes in the gut, is found in people with depression and anxiety. In many cases, researchers think this silent inflammation is actually causing the depression and anxiety symptoms. This discovery is changing how some researchers and doctors evaluate and treat mood disorders. According to a study in Nature Reviews Neuroscience, replenishing beneficial bacteria in the gut has been shown to reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety, strengthening the evidence that a balanced gut means a balanced mood.
Gut Balance and Mood
Probiotics, beneficial bacteria that naturally exist in a healthy digestive tract, have been administered as a supplement to reduce anxiety, decrease the stress response, and improve mood in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and chronic fatigue syndrome. Probiotics have also been found to help reduce symptoms of anxiety and the stress hormone cortisol. In these people, simply balancing the gut with probiotics helped improve mood and reduce stress. Studies like these are shaking up the scientific community in a big way.
A study in the Journal of Physiology found that mice raised to be germ-free responded in an exaggerated way to mild stress when compared with mice with microbes in the gut. When those microbes were transplanted into the germ-free mice, the exaggerated stress response was partially reversed. When the germ-free mice were repopulated with Bifidobacterium infantis, the exaggerated stress response completely normalized. This shows that gut microbes—bifidobacteria, in particular—positively affect the body’s response to stress.
Human studies have also found benefits from probiotics on mood. In one study, individuals who took a combination of the probiotics Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum for 30 days experienced reduced psychological distress and decreased cortisol levels when compared with those who took the placebo. Another human study found that healthy individuals who consumed a probiotic yogurt for three weeks, and who had the lowest mood at the beginning of the study, reported that they were happy rather than depressed after taking the probiotic yogurt. And in a study published by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, patients with chronic fatigue syndrome who took Lactobacillus casei three times daily for two months experienced an improvement in anxiety when compared with those who took a placebo.
As we continue to learn more about how our gut microbes affect mood, it is clear that probiotics will play an important role in managing—or possibly even preventing—mood disorders.
If an imbalance of gut bacteria is capable of increasing your waistline and making you more prone to depression and anxiety, you’ll want to do everything you can to restore balance that will become the foundation of your overall health. Fortunately, you can balance your gut by eating the right foods and taking the right supplements. Eating living foods and taking probiotics will help to replenish the beneficial probiotic bacteria you may be missing, and eating foods high in fiber and taking additional prebiotic fiber supplements will help feed those beneficial bacteria so you can achieve and maintain gut balance. Soon you’ll be reaping the rewards of better mood, mental well-being, and healthy weight management.
By Brenda Watson, CNC