Here we go again…more information about how our “poop” effects our health.
Well…it does. About 35% of Americans battle with obesity. So if you’re one of them, listen up. New evidence indicates that gut bacteria can change the way we store fat. Certain microbes helps us balance levels of glucose in the blood. These microbes also effect how we respond to hormones that make us feel hungry or full.
The human body is home to multiple species of bacteria. Did I say multiple….I meant billions of microbes that outnumber our own cells 10 to 1. Most of these reside in the large intestine and the mouth. By studying the genes of these unique microbes, researchers have been able to identify the most common residents, although these can vary from person to person. Now we are starting to look at the types of jobs these tiny organisms fill in the human body and the effect they have on our overall health.
Of course, diet plays an important role in determining the gut bacteria. For instance, those who eat processed foods have a less diverse gut community. A diet high in fat and low in fruits, vegetables and fiber in mice has been shown to prevent the beneficial bacteria from moving in and flourishing. These mice continued to grow fatter even though they were in cages with lean mice.
The wrong mix of bacteria may set the stage for obesity and diabetes the moment you’re born. Formula fed babies and infants delivered by cesarean section have a higher risk for obesity and diabetes than infants who are breastfed or delivered vaginally. Infants that are born through the vaginal canal swallow bacteria that will later help them digest milk. Substances found in breast milk nurture beneficial bacteria and limit the colonization of harmful ones.
According to a Canadian study, the gut bacteria in formula fed babies vs breast fed babies are very different. The presence of gut bacteria from formula fed babies before the gut and immune system have matured may explain why these babies may be more susceptible to allergies, asthma, eczema, and celiac disease as well as obesity.
Antibiotics in children are also a problem. These commonly over-used drugs wipe out important bacteria that help us maintain healthy body weight. “Antibiotics are like a fire in the forest,” Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello of N.Y.U. says. “The baby is forming a forest. If you have a fire in a forest that is new, you get extinction.” Don’t get me wrong…antibiotics are necessary in treating bacterial infections when warranted but we treat viruses and minor infections with these strong antibiotics when other options are available.
There is a tremendous amount of variation that makes it difficult to isolate the role of microbes in a complex disease like obesity. There are many research ideas such as swabbing babies mouths born by Cesarean section with the mothers vaginal fluids, fecal transplants, and possibly enriching foods with beneficial bacteria and other nutrients needed to establish healthy flora in the gut. For now, more studies are being done, but exercising and eating right are still the basis for enlisting a healthy microbial army.
Reference: Wallis, C. “Gut Reactions, Intestinal Bacteria May help Determine Whether We Are Lean or Obese”. The Science of Health. p. 30-33.