Testing Your Breath May Reveal Gut Bacteria Linked to Obesity
Another area where gut bacteria are making headlines is related to your weight. One study last month revealed that as much as 20 percent of the substantial weight loss achieved from gastric bypass, a popular weight loss surgery, is actually due to shifts in the balance of bacteria in your digestive tract.13
Separate research has also revealed that a breath test of the gases given off by your gut bacteria may help predict your likelihood of becoming obese. The study found that people with high levels of hydrogen and methane in their breath are more likely to have a higher body-mass index (BMI) and proportion of body fat.14 This, the researchers believe, may be because the related gut bacteria influence your body’s ability to extract calories from food, leading to weight gain.
Previous research has also shown that lean people tend to have higher amounts of various healthy bacteria compared to obese people. For example, one 2011 study found that daily intake of a specific form of lactic acid bacteria could help prevent obesity and reduce low-level inflammation.15 Taken together, the research adds to the growing knowledge that nurturing the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut is likely to have significant benefits to your health and may be essential for:
- Protection against over-growth of other microorganisms that could cause disease
- Digestion of food and absorption of nutrients and certain carbohydrates
- Producing vitamins, absorbing minerals and eliminating toxins
- Preventing allergies
- Maintaining natural defenses
Numerous studies have also shown that your gut flora plays a role in:
- Mood, psychological health, and behavior
- Celiac disease
- Weight gain and obesity
- Metabolic syndrome
Your Gut Flora is Constantly Under Attack
Your gut bacteria are vulnerable to your diet and lifestyle. If you eat a lot of sugar, refined grains, GMOs and processed foods, for instance, your gut bacteria are going to be compromised because processed foods in general will destroy healthy microflora and feed bad bacteria and yeast. Your gut bacteria are also very sensitive to:
- Chlorinated water
- Antibacterial soap
- Agricultural chemicals
Because of this, you need to avoid processed, refined foods in your diet (this is essential for heart disease prevention, too) and regularly reseed your gut with good bacteria by taking a high-quality probiotic supplement or eating non-pasteurized, traditionally fermented foods such as:
- Fermented vegetables
- Lassi (an Indian yoghurt drink, traditionally enjoyed before dinner)
- Fermented milk, such as kefir
- Natto (fermented soy)
One of the reasons why fermented foods are so beneficial is because they contain lactic acid bacteria as well as a wide variety of other beneficial bacteria. Also, if fermented with a probiotics starter culture, the amount of healthy bacteria in a serving of fermented vegetables can far exceed the amount you’ll find in commercial probiotics supplements, making it a very cost effective alternative. Ideally, you want to eat a variety of fermented foods to maximize the types of bacteria you’re consuming.
Nurturing Your Gut Flora is One of the Foundations of Optimal Health
Mounting research indicates the bacterial colonies residing in your gut may play key roles in the development of cancer, asthma, allergies, obesity, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and even brain-, behavioral- and emotional problems like ADHD, autism and depression. The heart disease connection is also now emerging, as discussed, although I’d hesitate to draw any conclusions from it as of yet.
Overall, I believe it would be unwise to try to eliminate foods just because they’re known to raise TMAO, as they’re all healthy and appear to include everything from meats to vegetables and seafood It’s far more likely that maintaining a healthy gut flora is paramount to prevent heart disease, and if you’re going to eliminate a food to protect your beneficial gut bacteria, it would beprocessed foods, not fresh whole foods of any kind.
Another confounding factor not addressed is the fact that meat from confined animal feeding operations (CAFO’s) are a source of hidden antibiotics, which wreak havoc on your gut bacteria. So that too may have played a role. This is reason alone to make sure you only buy organically raised grass-fed meats, as they’re not allowed to use antibiotics as growth promoters.
Previous research has shown that around age 60, there is a significant drop in the number of bacteria in your gut. According to Dr. Sandra McFarlane from the microbiology and gut biology group at the University of Dundee, people over 60 typically have about 1,000-fold less “friendly” bacteria in their guts compared to younger adults, and increased levels of disease-causing microbes.16 What this means is that it’s incredibly important to actively nurture your gut flora health, especially as you get older.
Eating fermented foods should be your primary strategy, but if you don’t enjoy the taste of fermented foods, taking a probiotic supplement is definitely advised. However, before you give up on fermented foods, it is best to start with small amounts like half a teaspoon and use them as a condiment integrated with your food, similar to a salad dressing. If you still don’t want to eat them, then it is important to note that while I do not generally advocate taking a lot of supplements, a high-quality probiotic is an exception. I recommend looking for a probiotic supplement that fulfills the following criteria, to ensure quality and efficacy:
- The bacteria strains in the product must be able to survive your stomach acid and bile, so that they reach your intestines alive in adequate numbers
- The bacteria strains must have health-promoting features
- The probiotic activity must be guaranteed throughout the entire production process, storage period and shelf life of the product
Through my years of clinical practice, I’ve found that no single probiotic supplement works for everyone. However, more people seem to respond favorably to Lactobacillus sporogenes than any other probiotic, so when in doubt, that’s a great place to start.