For some people, an effective weight loss strategy means little more than cutting back on carbs and sugar for a few weeks. For others, losing weight—and keeping the pounds off—calls for a much more rigorous shift in their lifestyle. For the latter bunch, you may be wondering what gives? Good news—we might now have an answer. A new study performed by the Mayo Clinic revealed that your gut bacteria may play a role in determining your ability to lose weight (1).
Why are the gut and gut bacteria important?
Before we dive in to losing weight, let’s take a closer look at the gut. The gut is responsible for a whole host of bodily functions, including: producing vitamins, digesting food, regulating hormones, excreting toxins, and producing healing compounds. The bacteria in your gut also plays an important role. Gut bacteria regulates your brain’s response to stress, and collaborates with both the cells that line the inside of your intestines as well as the cells that regulate your immune system’s response to infection.
How the gut impacts your ability to lose weight
According to a Mayo Clinic study released earlier this month, some people trying to lose weight may be hindered by their gut bacteria. Despite adherence to strict diet and exercise regimens, specific activities of gut bacteria—such as the ability to provide energy—may be responsible for our inability to lose weight.
In order to maintain a healthy microbiome, your gut requires diverse bacteria. Increased diversity is associated with lower inflammation and healthy metabolic markers. (2)Decreased diversity has been associated with obesity, (3) IBD (4), insulin resistance, (5)frailty in older people,(6) and allergy in children.(7) Our intestinal microbiome influences metabolism in a number of ways:
In a separate study, mice that received gut bacteria transplants from overweight humans gained more weight than mice transplanted with gut bacteria from normal weight subjects, even when they were fed the same diet. The reason? Bacterial composition—the same diversity that a healthy microbiome relies on—affected their metabolism.(8)
How to to feed your gut
So, what can be done to support your gut bacteria and achieve your weight loss goals? For starters, remember that you are what you eat—and your gut is no exception. To improve your gut health, start first with prebiotics–ingredients that induce the growth of beneficial microorganisms in your gut. You’ll also want to consume foods packed with probiotics. The combination of prebiotics and probiotics can help get your microbiome into a healthy balance, with a good diversity of intestinal bacteria in your gut. When you have plenty of good bacteria, the harmful ones get crowded out and have a much harder time making you sick. Your digestion also improves, because your ability to absorb macronutrients and micronutrients is better when your beneficial bacteria are diverse and balanced. To incorporate prebiotics into your diet, choose plant-based foods that contain prebiotic fibers such as asparagus, cabbage, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, unripe bananas, cashews, pistachios, lentils, and chickpeas. For probiotics, choose cultured vegetables like kimchi and sauerkraut, coconut kefir, miso, pickles, and apple cider vinegar. Other foods that positively impact your gut health include: avocado, colorful vegetables, wild salmon, blueberries, walnuts, and turmeric.
In addition to prebiotics, a variety of supplements can help support a healthy gut. A probiotic like Morinaga BB536 increases the levels of bifidobacteria in your gut—supporting a healthy immune system and providing a natural defense against digestive problems. (9) You can also help reverse the effects of a poor diet and manage your gut health with the natural supplement AHCC, an extract from the roots of Japanese medicinal mushrooms.(10) AHCC contains glucans, which can help naturally boost the immune system, decrease certain innate immune signalers, and decrease inflammation.
Sleep your way to better gut health
While prebiotic foods and supplements supply the nutrients your gut needs to stay healthy, remember that your body can’t function properly without recovery—aka, a good night’s sleep. A consistent lack of sleep not only leads to short-term health issues, it’s also proven to harm you in the long term. Continued sleep deprivation raises the risk for a number of chronic health problems, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. Researchers have found that people who sleep five or fewer hours per night have more calcium build-up in their heart artery walls and stiffer leg arteries than those who slept seven hours per night.(11) Insufficient sleep can also leave you more vulnerable to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, your first consideration should be your mattress. Most of us know that we should replace a mattress at least every 10 years, but how do you choose the right one? For starters, a mattress should provide firm but comfortable support to keep your spine in alignment while sleeping on your side or on your back. When you lie down, your mattress should give you a sense of floating, not sinking. Memory foam mattresses are a great choice because they conform to your body’s shape and eliminate pressure points. You should also choose a mattress that will help you sleep cool and provide the same feel no matter the ambient room temperature. Finally, be sure to pair your mattress with the correct pillow to keep your body aligned.
While you didn’t choose the bacteria in your gut—nor your ability or inability to lose weight—there are a number of ways to support both your gut health and and your weight loss goals. Incorporating gut-healthy prebiotic foods and supplements in your diet, and consistently getting sufficient sleep each night will support a healthy microbiome and immune system. These lifestyle shifts will help you not only manage and lose weight more effectively in the short term, but also live an overall healthier life in the long run.