Can Probiotics help you lose weight?

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Today’s post is brought to you by our intern Breanne Zebrowski. She is a student at Cal Poly Pomona, majoring in Food and Nutrition (dietetics option).

When you’re eating right, exercising, and changing your lifestyle to improve your health, it can be frustrating when you don’t get the results you expect.  But why do the results we crave seem so far away?

We can all agree that the typical American diet of calorie-rich and nutrient-poor foods is part to blame for our sub-par health, but so many people are still struggling to lose weight.

New research from the Genome Sequencing Center at Washington University and the Emory University School of Medicine sheds light on new information about our bodies and how they differ.  Evidence shows that the bacteria living within the gastrointestinal (GI) tracts of obese people is very different from the bacteria that can thrive in the bodies of lean people.

For you and I, this means that the bacteria within our guts decides if we shed the unwanted pounds or if we keep them on.  The “good” bacteria, Bacteroidetes, occur in several varieties and live inside us from the time we’re born.  These healthy bacteria not only protect our GI tract from pathogens, disease causing bacteria, but also keep our GI tract healthy, leaving it to do its job of absorbing vital nutrients during digestion.  However, if you gain excessive weight, this bacterial balance could be shifted causing your body to be a better home for less waistline-friendly bacteria.

The “bad” bacteria, Firmicutes, tend to be found in higher numbers within obese people.  When this bacteria was put into mice during research at Washington University, the mice become obese even though they maintained the same diet.  Just like these mice, we too are threatened by the Firmicutes’ tendency to pack on the pounds.  But what can we do to bust this bad bacteria?

By adding “good” bacteria back into your body, through probiotic-rich foods and/or supplements, you can begin to reach a healthy balance of bacteria for a happier gut.  Including kefir, yogurt (those that say “live and active cultures” on the package), miso, and fermented vegetables is an easy way to ingest more probiotics. In addition, it’s a good idea to consume foods that are a good source of prebiotics, which are what the good bacteria like to eat. Prebiotic-rich foods include asparagus, oats, bananas, jerusalem artichokes, and legumes.

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If you decide to opt for a probiotic supplement and don’t know your lactobacillus from your bifidobacteria, it’s probably a good idea to consult with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist or medical professional that is well-versed in supplements. If you choose to go it alone in the health food store, choose a probiotic with a variety of bacteria strains and look for the number of CFUs (colony forming units) per serving. Some vary from a few hundred million to several billion CFUs. Aiming for 5-10 billion CFUs is a good amount, but some people need to start slowly and build up over a few weeks or split up their dose over the day.

Finding a proper balance of the “good” and “bad” gut bacteria is the first step in achieving a better you.  Research done by Harvard University has shown that gut health is not only affected by the foods we eat, but also by our emotions and stress levels.  This is the reason you may have “butterflies” in your stomach on a first date or feel nauseous when you have to give an important presentation.

But butterflies aren’t the only worry when considering the tolls stress takes on your brain and gut.  Psychosocial stress, such as speaking in front of a crowd can actually cause inflammation in the GI tract, making you more susceptible to infection, giving you less time and energy to maintain life’s demands.

It’s easy to see the strong connections between our guts and the rest of our body.  This is why nutrition and a proper diet is important to maintain throughout your whole life.  Foods and the choices we make set the tone for not only what our bodies look like, but what they’re made of.

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