Being overweight is much more than just carrying a few extra kg. Everyday tasks become harder and can cause extra stress. It can make you feel bad about yourself. In addition, excess weight can lead to serious diseases like heart problems and diabetes. Every year, over 2.8 million people die from weight-related issues.
Unfortunately, many people struggle to fight weight-gain: counting calories and following complicated diets can be very confusing and frustrating.
But here is the good news: surprisingly, experts now believe being overweight has little to do with calorie intake. Instead, it’s the type of food and bacteria in the gut (microbiome) that matter most. We know that gut-bacteria are important, because identical twins with very different body-weight also have a very different microbiome. A key experiment in 2013 showed transferring the microbiome from the “heavy” twin to mice made the mice obese. But transferring the microbiome from a normal-weight twin made the mice normal-weight. Take home message: the type of bacteria in the gut made them thin or fat.
What can I do to improve my microbiome?
These scientific insights point to a natural way of improving your body weight, with the help of your gut microbiome. Here are some simple & practical ways how:
- Feed your gut-microbiome well. Food is not just “calories”, but the types of food that you eat are crucial, because you’re also feeding the bacteria in your gut. Eat diverse, plant-based, fiber-rich foods to feed your microbiome well. Avoid processed foods with high sugar and sweeteners and low fiber. Eat whole grains, fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts. In specific: we recommend that you try the 30-a-week challenge.
- Move more. Exercise helps control weight in unexpected ways, as it encourages a diverse microbiome. Sports science suggests that exercise isn’t just about “burning calories”, but it is also about changing the gut microbiome for the better, which leads to improved overall fitness. Even 30 min a day can make a big positive, difference.
- Try probiotics. Consuming “good” bacteria (probiotics) can improve gut health and help to control your weight. Studies have shown that probiotics can help reduce body-fat, even when eating the same diet with the same calories. In several clinical trials, people who took probiotics had more slimming and reduced belly fat, compared to those who did not.
How do gut-bacteria act to influence body-weight?
The gut microbiome may influence body-weight in several ways, including:
- Harvesting fewer calories. Your gut microbiome partially digests the food and controls how many calories are absorbed from the food you eat. It acts as a gatekeeper, deciding which nutrients enter your bloodstream and which are flushed down the toilet.
- Signaling for less accumulation of fat. By sending signals through your gut, bacteria also influence how the nutrients that are taken up are used by cells throughout your body. For example, certain probiotics may decrease fat storage by increasing levels of the signal protein angiopoietin-like 4 (ANGPTL4). This means bacteria can decide if nutrients are used right away or stored as fat.
- Controlling your hunger. By sending signals to your brain, bacteria influence your mood, how hungry you feel and perhaps even which type of food you crave for. Some probiotics may help release the appetite-reducing hormones, like peptide YY (PYY).
In conclusion, to achieve a healthy weight, try something tried & tested, that is both smart and natural: support your gut-microbiome. With the help of a happy microbiome you can lose those extra kilograms of fat, which can make you feel better, healthier and more light-hearted.
Selected Scientific References.
(1) Walker, Alan W., and Julian Parkhill. “Fighting obesity with bacteria.” Science 341, no. 6150 (2013): 1069-1070.
(2) Boscaini, Serena, Sarah-Jane Leigh, Aonghus Lavelle, Rubén García-Cabrerizo, Timothy Lipuma, Gerard Clarke, Harriët Schellekens, and John F. Cryan. “Microbiota and body weight control: Weight watchers within?.” Molecular Metabolism(2021): 101427.
(3) Tomé-Castro, X. M., Miguel Rodriguez-Arrastia, Diana Cardona, L. Rueda-Ruzafa, Guadalupe Molina-Torres, and Pablo Román. “Probiotics as a therapeutic strategy in obesity and overweight: a systematic review.” Beneficial microbes 12, no. 1 (2021): 5-15.
(4) Allen, Jacob M., Lucy J. Mailing, Grace M. Niemiro, Rachel Moore, Marc D. Cook, Bryan A. White, Hannah D. Holscher, and Jeffrey A. Woods. “Exercise alters gut microbiota composition and function in lean and obese humans.” Med Sci Sports Exerc 50, no. 4 (2018): 747-57
(5) Ousey, James, Joseph C. Boktor, and Sarkis K. Mazmanian. “Gut microbiota suppress feeding induced by palatable foods.” Current Biology (2022).
(6) Boekhorst, Jos, Naomi Venlet, Nicola Procházková, Mathias L. Hansen, Christian B. Lieberoth, Martin I. Bahl, Lotte Lauritzen et al. “Stool energy density is positively correlated to intestinal transit time and related to microbial enterotypes.” Microbiome 10, no. 1 (2022): 1-10
Special thanks to Durga Burandi for her contributions in helping to write this text.