Our bodies are colonized by a huge number of microbes, which combine to form what is known as the human microbiota. There have been many research studies into the impact of the microbiota and the benefits of probiotics on our general health, several of which are listed below, but this article focuses more particularly on how maintaining a healthy gut could significantly reduce the risk of obesity.
Why is Having a Healthy Gut So Important?
Maintaining a healthy gut has a number of beneficial effects including:
- Stimulating and balancing the immune system
- Aiding the digestion of food
- Vitamin production
- Protection from potentially harmful micro-organisms
- Metabolising harmful lipids to reduce cholesterol levels
- Stimulating the production of Short Chain Fatty acids, which protect the lining of the gut
The Benefits of Probiotics
Research into the impact of supplementing your diet with probiotics suggests that, in addition to the direct benefits to the gut in preventing and managing diarrhoea, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome and other antibiotic based, gut-related conditions, they can also have a positive impact on:
- The prevention and management of allergies
- Reducing upper respiratory tract problems
- Managing blood sugar levels
- Maintaining healthy liver function
There are several excellent brands of probiotics on the market. I recently took a course of Elixa Probiotic which is UK-manufactured and the highest strength formulation on the market. Other recommendations can be found in this article on probiotics.
The Connection Between the Microbiota and Obesity
The adult gut contains various different species of bacteria, which fall principally into two different groupings; firmicutes and bacteroidetes. These make up more than 90% of the microbes of the microbiota. The balance between the levels of these groupings is felt by some researchers to be directly relevant to obesity, with a higher ratio of firmicutes (which is prevalent in Western civilisations) being linked to inflammation of the gut and obesity. Studies have shown that the microbiota of thinner people has a lower firmicute ratio than that of obese people and that changing diet can significantly increase levels of bacteroidetes. Although the causal connection has not been proved conclusively, the clear implication is that one of the effects of a low fibre diet on the intestinal microbiota is to cause inflammation and obesity.
The Possible Processes
The precise chain of causation may not yet be understood but it is believed that the pivotal factor in the link between the microbiota and obesity is inflammation. This may arise as a result of a variety of factors, most notably:
- Elevated LPS Levels
Increased levels of LPS (lipopolysaccharide) a constituent part of the cell wall of Gram negative bacteria, are believed to be a crucial feature in the development of inflammation, obesity and insulin resistance. A diet that is high in saturated fats facilitates the entry of LPS into the circulation, which has a damaging effect on glucose metabolism and increased plasma LPS levels are present in people with obesity and Type 2 diabetes.
- Fasting Imposed Adipose Factor (FIAF)
FIAF inhibits the activity of lipoprotein lipase, which is an enzyme that is responsible for the storage of energy in fat. If the expression of FIAF is clocked or inhibited, an increase in LPL activity follows, resulting in an increase in the energy that is stored in the form of fat.
Establishing and Maintaining a Healthy Microbiota
In order to avoid the potential obesity-related consequences of an imbalanced microbiota, it is important to introduce an appropriate dietary regime. This might include
- Live plain yoghurt, fermented tea and fermented vegetables
- Moderate amounts of red wine, tea, coffee and chocolate
- Chicory, Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onions and leeks, which are all high in prebiotics, to reduce LPS levels
- Filtered water, without the chlorine that is present in tap water, which can be harmful to the gut
- L-glutamine supplements, to assist in the reduction of the ratio of firmicutes to bacteroidetes
- Live, multi-strain probiotic bacteria supplements
Whilst the precise correlation between the microbiota and obesity may not be understood, it is reasonable to suggest that establishing and maintaining a healthy gut, through the introduction of the correct dietary regime, will make a significant contribution towards reducing the risk of obesity and its associated conditions.
- Barczynska R et al (2015) – Intestinal microbiota, obesity and prebiotics.Polish Journal of Microbiology, 64, 2, 93-100
- Perlmutter D with Kristin Loberg (2015) – Brain Maker . Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, London.
- Borthakur A et al (2013) – Lactobacillus acidophilus alleviates platelet-activating factor-induced inflammatory responses in human intestinal epithelial cells. PLOS ONE, 8, 10.