A new study published in Nature indicates that the number of bacteria in your gut and the diversity of that bacterium may be tied to being overweight.
According to one study most people have about 3.5 pounds of bacteria living in their intestines (this is almost the same weight as the average human brain). In thin healthy people this flora and fauna is an incredibly diverse eco- system that works in a way that we don’t fully understand yet, but seems to have a powerful effect on our overall health. What this team of researchers from around the world has discovered is that people who are obese have fewer and less diverse gut bacteria than their leaner counterparts. It appears the amount of intestinal bacteria is tied to weight gain in these subjects.
“We also see that if you belong to the group with less intestinal bacteria and have already developed obesity, you will also gain more weight over a number of years,” study researcher Oluf Pederson, professor and scientific director at the University of Copenhagen’s Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, said in a statement. “We don’t know what came first, the chicken or the egg, but one thing is certain: it is a vicious circle that poses a health threat.”
In the study just published in Nature, researchers looked at the gut bacteria of 169 obese Danish people and 123 Danes that were not obese. The gut bugs in the obese people were less diverse than the germs of the non obese subjects. The obese subjects also had more metabolic abnormalities and the obese subjects who had the least diverse set of bacteria gained the most weight.
Improving gut bacteria may improve overall health by lowering chronic inflammation which has been linked to health conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
“It is now well known that bacteria in our gut play an important role in our health and well-being, possibly as important as our own immune response and proper nutrition,” said Jeffrey Cirillo, a professor at Texas A&M Health Science Center’s department of microbial pathogenesis and immunology. “This means that disruption of the bacteria in our gut by use of antibiotics or eating foods that help only particular bacteria grow can have effects upon our entire bodies.”
So what’s the best way to improve the number and diversity of your intestinal bacteria? A simple change in diet can help. Eat more fiber rich fruits and vegetables; add fermented products like natural yogurt, kombucha and kimchi and old world sauerkraut to your menu. Taking a probiotic supplement can help, but remember that the strains of bacteria used in these supplements tend to be very specific and may not help with diversity.