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The Role of Gut Health in Weight Management and Metabolism

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Imagine your gut as an engine. If you have been driving or at least have knowledge about basic car parts, you know the engine’s role. It converts fuel as mechanical energy to give power to the vehicle.

Your body has an engine too – your gut. And your metabolism acts as the fuel gauge. 

Today, you’ll understand more about how these two work together so you’ll have a well-tuned gut that can rev up your metabolism for smoother weight management.

If you find losing weight challenging, it may be time to pay attention to what’s currently happening with your metabolism.

Have you ever wondered why exactly metabolism is a major “thing” when it comes to weight management and nutrition?

Often, people blame it for weight gain saying,Your slow metabolism is the culprit for your weight gain. 

Have you heard this too? How exactly does that happen?

Understanding the Gut-Metabolism Connection

Your gut is an important control center of your metabolism and where decisions about energy utilization are made. It means that the signal as to whether it burns calories for energy or stores them as fat comes here.

When you eat foods rich in refined carbohydrates, for example, glucose is absorbed into the bloodstream and your blood sugar levels rise. Then insulin, a hormone crucial for metabolism, signals the cells to use glucose for energy or store it for later.

Let’s remember that the gut has organs, such as your stomach and intestines, acting as bustling streets where nutrients travel. And then there’s the microbiome acting as a bustling community of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and others. They help process carbohydrates, fibers, and additional nutrients extracted from the food you eat.

If there is a leaky gut and chronic inflammation, there’s a possibility for insulin resistance; thereby, glucose levels in the bloodstream aren’t well controlled. Other hormones in the body may also be affected, for example leptin resistance. 

Leptin helps regulate the long-term balance between your body’s food intake and energy use (expenditure). It helps inhibit (prevent) hunger and regulate energy balance so that your body doesn’t trigger a hunger response when it doesn’t need energy.

The Impact of Gut Health on Metabolism

Just as a finely-tuned car engine runs efficiently, a healthy gut also influences metabolism positively. 

How can we say that our gut is healthy then? 

If the gut lining is well-maintained or in harmony, it allows nutrients to flow smoothly into your bloodstream. So, if you have a healthy microbiome, it secretes essential hormones such as CCK, PYY, GLP-1, GIP, and 5-HT, which have regulatory roles in key metabolic processes such as insulin sensitivity, glucose tolerance, fat storage, and appetite. 

Balanced Microbiome & Hormonal Regulation

Hence, hormone regulation directly affects weight management and metabolism. An imbalanced gut can disrupt these hormonal signals, leading to weight gain or obesity.

Studies of lean and obese mice suggest that the gut microbiota affects energy balance by influencing the efficiency of calorie harvest from the diet and how this harvested energy is utilized and stored. 

Another study where they transplanted the microbiota of obese twins to sterile mice expressed that gut bacteria may increase total body weight and fat mass.

Overall, it shows that a happy, healthy gut houses bacteria that are in balance. Whereas an unhealthy gut implies digestive issues, imbalanced microbiota, or poor nutrient absorption. And this leads to metabolic issues jamming your weight management or weight loss journey.

Gut Health Strategies for Successful Weight Management

Now that you understand better how gut health can impact your metabolism, let’s talk about some lesser-known weight management and nutrition strategies.

When your gut is in peak condition, it optimizes nutrient absorption, controls your appetite, and boosts energy distribution.

One key strategy to ensure that there’s efficient allocation of energy is to prioritize fiber-rich foods. Fiber helps maintain a healthy gut lining as it is like a janitor sweeping away waste, keeping it clean and efficient.

It has been recorded from thousands of years ago (in stone age)  humans took in 100 grams of dietary fiber from plants per day. Then, when the industrial era came, people were only consuming 15 to 26 grams of fiber. Based on this comparison, it’s obvious how people from centuries ago maintained their gut health, vitality, and longevity.

Feed your microbiome with prebiotics (see list below) to support digestion and weight management

By the way, prebiotics are non-digestible fibers too! Lesser-known sources include chicory root, dandelion greens, and Jerusalem artichokes. You can also get it from seaweed and algae.

Fiber-rich Foods, Probiotics, and Prebiotics Source Essential for Weight Management

Fiber-rich Foods, Probiotics, and Prebiotics Source Essential for Weight Management

Fiber-Rich Foods:

  • Beans, lentils, and peas help control appetite and increase satiety.
  • Oats, quinoa, brown rice, and whole-grain pasta provide energy and reduce overeating.
  • Strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries help control blood sugar levels and curb cravings.
  • Almonds, chia seeds, and flaxseeds are healthy snacks that may prevent overeating.
  • Non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, spinach, kale, and Brussels sprouts support satiety.

Probiotics:

  • Plain, unsweetened milk or coconut yogurt promotes a healthy gut microbiome.
  • Water, Coconut, or Kefir may be a good option for those who are lactose intolerant.
  • Fermented cabbage, like sauerkraut, is a source of beneficial probiotics
  • Kimchi is rich in probiotics and could be an exciting side dish.
  • Miso paste contains probiotics and adds flavor.

Prebiotics:

  • Garlic, Onions, and Asparagus contain inulin, a type of prebiotic fiber that supports the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.
  • Unripe bananas contain resistant starch – it acts as a prebiotic.

Exploring the Link Between Gut Health and Obesity

Earlier, I shared how an imbalanced gut may lead to obesity. Now, let’s explore how exactly that happens. 

Have you been caught off-guard because of heavy traffic? Just as traffic jams slow down a city, gut issues can clog up your metabolism, making it difficult for your body to burn fat effectively. 

The numbers don’t lie. According to a study on the Relationship between Gut Microbiome and Obesity published in January 2023, obesity is responsible for more than 60% of deaths worldwide.

A person who is suffering from obesity is considered as someone carrying a heavy backpack wherever they go. They are not just physically challenged; they’re also struggling mentally. The gut-brain axis comes into play here once more. The immune system has messengers called cytokines. Fat cells and tissues produce specifically TNF-alpha and MCP-1 cytokines and excessive levels of these may lead to neuroinflammation. This impairs the function of the brain, causing anxiety, depression, and memory loss, which is not really helpful in weight management.

The Gut-Brain Axis and Metabolism

There is a bidirectional communication channel between your gut and the brain, which can influence your eating behaviour.

Acetate is a short-chain fatty acid produced by many beneficial gut bacteria, including Akkermansia. Research shows that acetate produced by the microbes in your gut bacteria can travel to a specific part of the brain called the hypothalamus, a region that regulates appetite.

Beneficial gut bacteria can also stimulate hormone production in the gut. These substances can act as communication molecules, influencing food intake via the brain. Interestingly, of the whole gastrointestinal tract, the colon (where your microbiome lives) has a very high  concentration of taste receptors.

Simply put, if the community (microbiome) inside an obese individual’s gut is disorganized and the gut lining is also not well-maintained, the communication between the gut and brain is compromised. There’s increased appetite, especially for sweet and high-calorie food, the extraction of calories decreases, and the list goes on.

Recognizing the Signs of Poor Gut Health

sign of gut health in weight management and metabolism

When your gut isn’t in great shape, sometimes it takes a moment to truly notice that there’s something wrong. And when it gets worse, it’s like trying to drive a vehicle with a flat tire. 

Here are common symptoms that show that your gut needs attention, as it may be one major factor why you’re not losing weight despite all your efforts:

  • Bloating and Gas

Bloating is the uncomfortable feeling of fullness and a visibly swollen abdomen, usually caused by excess gas or indigestion. Excessive gas, on the other hand, leads to flatulence and discomfort. They are often signs of digestive issues that can impact your weight loss efforts. Addressing these symptoms involves improving gut health, as they can hinder effective nutrient absorption and metabolism, ultimately affecting your weight management.

  • Irregular Bowel Movements

This may be in the form of constipation and diarrhea. If someone is constantly experiencing these symptoms, it means there’s maldigestion causing nutrient imbalance and affecting metabolism.

 

  • Increased Food Sensitivities

A leaky gut causes more food sensitivities and is an important factor in weight management. When a person eats sensitive foods, it causes inflammation and weight gain.

  • Persistent Fatigue or Low Energy

Fatigue and low energy levels may be connected with maldigestion and nutrient insufficiencies. This can affect weight and metabolism.

  • Inflammation

Though acute inflammation is a good signal to the body, chronic inflammation is unhealthy as it causes adiposity and disrupts the body’s ability to regulate your blood sugar levels, causing insulin resistance. 

Identifying Gut Bacteria that Promote Weight Gain

Let’s get back to your gut ecosystem. Inside this, there are specific types of bacteria that may be associated with weight gain. Think of them as hoarders who want to shop for calories, just like a squirrel storing nuts for winter.

They thrive on processed foods, high sugar intake, and a sedentary lifestyle, all of which is why there are metabolic disturbances in your weight management journey.

Here are your best cheerleaders in terms of gaining weight: 

  • Candida overgrowth: can cause weight gain or difficulty in losing weight. The imbalance of bad bacteria in the gut caused by Candida yeast can slow down your metabolism and disrupt normal detoxification processes. The result is stubborn weight gain that refuses to budge. Losing weight can seem like an uphill battle, no matter how little you eat or how much exercise you do each day.
  • Escherichia coli (E. coli): Some strains of E. coli may contribute to inflammation and metabolic disturbances.
  • Staphylococcus aureus: This is known to have an influence on appetite regulation and fat storage.
  • Clostridium perfringens: These are necessary for nutrient absorption, and higher levels may contribute to weight gain.
  • Bacteroidetes-to-Firmicutes ratio: Bacteroidetes: They are believed to play a role in weight regulation, and lower levels may contribute to weight gain. People who are overweight tend to have a reduced abundance of Bacteroidetes and an increase in Firmicutes. This Bacteroidetes-to-Firmicutes ratio is associated with an increase in low-grade inflammation and greater extraction of energy from food, which can lead to elevated blood sugar and fat levels that damage the blood vessels and cause inflammation. Both of these markers are associated with overweight and obesity.
  • Lack of Faecalibacterium prausnitzii and Akkermansia muciniphila.: People who have a more diverse microbiome usually have a greater abundance of butyrate-producing Faecalibacterium prausnitzii and Akkermansia muciniphila. Both these microbes are linked to better metabolic health. They also help maintain the gut lining so it works as an effective barrier and doesn’t let unwanted substances into the body.

Just as you’d like to rethink the kind of people you want to surround yourself with when you want to maintain a healthier lifestyle, it’s also important to pay attention to your gut’s microbial community.

As a functional medicine doctor, I would recommend that you take the necessary guidance on achieving the optimal balance of your gut microbiome.

Natural Ways to Improve Gut Health for Weight Loss

It’s time to put all this knowledge into practice and equip you with some tools for your gut improvement kit.

Step 1: Add fiber-rich foods and probiotics and prebiotics, as mentioned earlier.

Picture fiber as a superhero in your gut. Introduce various sources to your diet so they strengthen your ecosystem’s defenses (refer to our list above).

The fermented foods, on the other hand, are like a diverse group of friends, bringing more joy and excitement to your gut ecosystem. They nourish the microbiome, which is truly helpful in weight management and nutrition.

Step 2: Stay Hydrated

Water helps move food through the digestive tract and prevents constipation. Drink water in small sips throughout the day and not in gulps. 

Hydrate with other healthy drinks like herbal teas and vegetable juices.

A friendly reminder: Limit your alcohol intake as it may harm the gut lining and disrupt the gut microbiome.

Step 3: Eat Diverse Food

Depending on your current health status, I suggest you eat a diverse range of foods so you introduce more types of nutrients to your gut microbiome. Aim for eggs instead of cereals for breakfast, 100 grams of fiber per day, fish for maintaining metabolism, and lean meat instead of fatty ones.

Find ways to incorporate eating habits that support the different species of your gut bacteria so they can also maximize their strengths. 

The Functional Medicine Approach to Improved Gut Health and Enhanced Metabolism

Now, let’s talk about improving gut health, as I am receiving a lot of questions about this, too.

Have you ever enjoyed tidying up your whole house after a long winter season? Picture a gut health program as a form of digestive system tidy-up.

It’s like giving it a fresh start and is a great tool in weight management. It helps rejuvenate your gut and is essential in maintaining the cleanliness and efficiency of everything in this ecosystem. 

It may also be helpful for Irritable Bowel Syndrom (IBS)-related issues such as constipation, but proceeding with caution is necessary. 

However, it’s essential to approach it with care and under professional guidance. A functional medicine practitioner would do the appropriate gut microbiome test based on your clinical presentation, and then make a functional medicine protocol to improve the gut health.

Just as you declutter your home to create a clean, organized environment for the next season, a gut cleanse can remove built-up waste and toxins from your intestines. This reset is actually an amazing preparation if you want to introduce healthier eating habits to your body.

Conclusion: Weight Management and Nutrition

Understanding how gut health can impact weight management and nutrition may sound like going into a forest without a map, right?

I hope that with this blog, you’re able to fully understand how you can navigate it. Here’s to hoping you got some clarity with the “Metabolism is the culprit” mindset that some people may have continuously uttered to you or someone you know.

In enhancing your metabolism so that it is designed to aid weight loss, the first step really is awareness. Now that you’re aware, it’s time to nurture your gut with the right knowledge and nutrition practices. You know your body best, so act like a trusted friend, and it will reward you with vitality and longevity.

Remember, your gut’s well-being goes hand in hand with your overall quality of life. Prioritize it, and setting your metabolic engines on the path to successful weight management will be so much smoother!

Your journey toward better gut health may just be starting, but think of it as planting seeds in a garden. With care, patience, and the right nutrients, your gut will flourish, you will flourish!

Dr Menka Gupta

IFMCP, MSc, MBBS

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