Probiotics and Weight Management: What's the Connection?
We all know that portion control and regular exercise are the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. But did you know that an unhealthy gut can undermine even the best weight management efforts? A 2014 study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation determined that gut microbiota play an important role in weight management and regulation, and the research is continually pointing us in the same direction: a healthy GI tract can help create an environment more conducive for maintaining a healthy weight.
So many things can disrupt the delicate balance of flora that lives within your gut, so the best way to ensure a healthy gut environment is to maintain sufficient colonies of probiotics, the beneficial gut microbes that support overall health and wellness.
How are gut health and weight management connected?
"Increase your exercise routine, decrease your calorie intake, and the pounds will drop right off." Sounds easy enough, right? This mantra has dominated health and wellness publications for decades, and to be fair, it should work...theoretically. The problem with this classic formula is that it depends entirely on the assumption that weight gain is the result of eating too much and exercising too little.
However, we now know that the variety and balance of organisms living in your gut determines—at least in part—how your body processes and stores food, how easy (or difficult) it is for you to lose weight, and how well your metabolism functions. Nutrition experts have even discovered that people with a healthy weight are hosts for beneficial bacterial strains that overweight individuals may lack. While this difference is not the root cause for all cases of excess weight retention, it gives us a critical clue in the understanding of the link between gut health and weight management.
How does poor gut health contribute to weight gain?
Does it ever feel like no matter how much you eat, you always seem to be starving? This may be directly tied to the delicate balance of flora within your GI tract. One cause of overeating is a lack of nutrient absorption, which prevents the gut from signaling the brain to stop eating. While perhaps unexpected, the gut environment is a vital part of the human nervous system, and it produces most of the neurotransmitters, or "brain chemicals," that help us concentrate and maintain mood balance. When the gut is healthy, you’re able to tell both when you’re truly hungry, and when it is time to stop eating.
We have all heard of "comfort foods,” those favorites that make us feel better in times of stress and anxiety. Many people assume that these stress-induced cravings stem from a psychological issue, or even just weakness, but emerging research out of Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons has actually proven that the gut responds to stress and fear faster than the brain. In fact, it’s the gut that warns the brain of danger, not the other way around.
Some people overeat because they are actually not absorbing enough nutrients, which prevents the gut from signaling the brain to stop eating.
Your body needs a diet rich in clean, nutrient-dense, whole foods to maintain a healthy balance of bacteria and function properly. While they may be convenient, processed foods loaded with refined sugar and artificial ingredients not only deplete your gut of probiotics, they can even wreak havoc on your immune system, and negatively contribute to any issues you’re facing. In fact, before society relied on mass produced foods, health issues like excessive weight and food intolerances were actually quite rare. Factor in the sedentary nature of our modern lifestyles paired with fast food restaurants on every street corner, and we have the perfect storm for all kinds of health and wellness related problems that have been appearing in more frequent numbers over the last 50 years.
Additionally, powerful antibiotics and other life-saving drugs are an amazing technological advancement, but also detrimental to our probiotic populations. In fact, antibiotics have been directly linked to weight gain. In a recent study, scientists fed mice small consistent doses of antibiotics over a period of time and discovered that the antibiotics caused significant changes in the way the mice's bodies were able to break down the nutrients in their food, altering their gut bacteria and causing them to gain weight. This also clarifies why so many farmers use antibiotics to help fatten up their animals—it appears to create a molecular shift that may enable fat to rapidly build up.
So while antibiotics can be a valuable medication, when it comes to maintaining a healthy gut, it's important to avoid them unless absolutely necessary. And, since 80% of the antibiotics in the U.S. are consumed by livestock, this also means paying extra careful attention to the source of your meat, dairy, eggs, and fish!
The Bottom Line
We're only just beginning to understand the fascinating world of the beneficial bacteria that live within the human gut environment, but what we're learning is helping to change the way we understand how our bodies function and how we can better address important health issues. In addition to healthy probiotic colonies, weight management still entails a balanced diet, stress management, and regular physical activity. But keep in mind that if your gut is unhealthy, you won't be able to fully benefit from these other important lifestyle changes. So first thing’s first! Gut health should be a priority for everyone, but if you’ve struggled with healthy weight management, it may very well be the piece of the puzzle that you’ve been missing.
A high-quality, multi-strain probiotic formula designed to support weight management, like Better Body, can replenish your gut microbiome—which may tip the scales in your favor, helping you to experience a happier, healthier, and more vibrant lifestyle.
Julie Hays is the Communications Director here at Hyperbiotics. Health writer and mama of two little girls, Julie's on a mission to empower others to live lives free of the microbial depletion many of us face today. For more ideas on how you can maximize wellness and benefit from the power of probiotics, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.