We’re all thinking about managing our weight. And it makes sense. With more fad diets coming on the scene that one can keep track of, it’s difficult to know what will help lose weight and keep it off. There are so many factors that affect weight gain. A sedentary lifestyle that has become more common in the modern world coupled with easy access to high calorie foods makes it even more difficult to stay lean. The observation that some people seemed to be more susceptible to weight gain than others led to studies of the human genome that resulted in the discovery that over 50 genes in our genome were directly associated with weight gain. And now the focus has turned to our other genome – our microbiome, the collection of microbes that inhabit our gut and all of their genes, to find out if they may have an even larger part to play in our metabolisms than even our own genes do.
Diversity is the Key
A study that was done in 2013 looked at the microbiomes of 292 lean and obese individuals and found that above all other factors, it was the diversity of microbes in the gut that determined if an individual was more likely to gain weight than others. Low bacterial richness was associated with insulin resistance, higher systemic inflammation, and high cholesterol while the opposite was true for individuals with high bacterial diversity. It turns out that it’s more important to have a wide variety of bacteria and yeast in your gut than to just have a lot of one good strain of bacteria or another.
Can You Reverse Obesity with A Microbiome Transfer?
If you’re wondering what came first – the obesity or the low microbial diversity, you’re not alone. Several studies were performed in mice to see if transplanting fecal matter from lean mice into obese ones would move the needle on the scale, and it did. The ability of the gut microbes in the obese mice to harvest more energy from their diet directly contributed to their weight gain and when these gut microbes were transferred into lean mice, they began to gain weight. Turns out that the reverse is true also, with gut microbes from lean mice causing weight loss in obese mice after transfer.
What Can We Do?
While fecal matter transplants are being considered by the FDA for treatment of stubborn C. diff infections, they are not generally accessible and not yet advised as a treatment for weight loss. A good start would be to find out how diverse your gut microbiome is. An easy way to do this is to order a home gut microbiome sequencing kit that will tell you just that. Our gut microbiome test uses whole genome sequencing that includes all organisms (bacteria, yeast, fungi, parasites, etc) rather than just bacteria.
If it turns out that you’re low on diversity and especially low on beneficial bacteria like good Bacteroidetes species or good Faecalibacterium species, then try to increase your probiotic food intake in order to help these microbes grow or have custom probiotics made to make sure you replenish the probiotic species that you’re low on. These probiotics also act as key species, helping to support other beneficial microbial organisms thrive. Try to eat a wide variety of foods, vegetables, and fermented foods. This will provide your gut microbes with a wider selection of nutrients and will make sure that all of the different populations in your gut are well fed.
Bacteroidetes species particularly love unsaturated fat (found in olive oil, walnuts, fish) while Faecalibacterium species love all of the cruciferous veggies (cauliflower, kale, broccoli, arugula, etc.). It’s no joke that staying lean in an era of chronic sitting and calorie-dense foods is difficult and while we can’t change our human genome, we’re now learning that we can give ourselves the upper hand by shifting our gut microbiome in a leaner direction. So get informed and get diversifying!