Let’s face it, we’re all looking for that elusive ‘magic pill’ that will melt fat off without the need for a single sit-up. There have been a few natural products that have been shown to assist with fat-burning, (such as green tea, which probably deserves an article all to itself), as well as more than a few supplements that just haven’t lived up to the hype (remember the garcinia cambogia craze a few years ago?).
But just when you might have lost hope, I'm sure you will be pleased to know that in fact there HAS been an interesting development for weight loss – and it comes from an area that you probably haven't even thought might actually be playing a role in how much body fat you carry. And that area is none other than your gut.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are probably aware that there is an enormous amount of interest in gut health at the moment. We’re finding out that our gut, and more specifically, our ‘microbiome’ (the unique collection of gut bacteria that we all play host to) is one of the most crucial aspects of how healthy, or otherwise, we are. Cultivating an unhealthy collection of bacteria in our intestines has been shown to play a role in depression, anxiety, eczema, allergies, inflammation, low immunity, our cardiovascular health and our hormonal balance. Now it seems it also can make a difference to the size jeans you wear. Who knew?
Here’s how it works...
Recent research has revealed that people who are overweight tend to have a different composition of bacteria in their guts than naturally lean people. We all know someone who can scoff cream cakes on a daily basis and not put on an ounce. Chances are, they are lucky enough to have a collection of gut bacteria that helps them stay lean. The gut of an overweight person has been shown to contain less of healthy species of bacteria such as Bifidobacterium, and higher numbers of unhealthy types such as Megasphaera.1, 2 Those of us unlucky enough to possess this type of gut composition tend to gain weight easier (particularly around the midsection), and if that weren’t bad enough, these unhealthier microbes also absorb more energy (calories) from the food we eat, and they can increase our appetite to boot. That’s certainly not fair!
So with that in mind, it seems that probiotics (which we already know are capable of helping restore balance to the microbiome) may be able to help us manage our weight better. In particular, a strain known as Bifidobacterium animalis ssp lactis B-420™ has been shown to be helpful for assisting with the loss of body fat, including fat that is stored around the tummy area.3 It has also been shown to help improve blood glucose markers - in other words, it may be especially helpful for people who are suffering Type 2 diabetes, or who have diabetes in the family and are concerned about their own risk of developing the condition.4,5 This particular strain of probiotic can also be used to help reduce inflammation within the body and support gut healing (such as reducing leaky gut) too. I love a good all-rounder.
What else can you do to ensure a healthier microbiome?
The good news (or perhaps bad, depending on your habits) is that your collection of gut bacteria changes, according to what you are doing, what you are thinking, and what you are eating.
For instance, if your diet contains plenty of foods that nourish your gut (such as prebiotics), and keep the things that sway it towards the growth of unhealthy types of bacteria to a minimum (such as alcohol, sugar and processed foods) then this feeds your good, beneficial bacterial populations and helps them to flourish. Your gut needs plenty of fresh vegetables for nutrients, lean protein (such as eggs, fish, chicken or vegetarian alternatives) for repair, and fluids for hydration and to keep the digestive tract moving along removing wastes at the correct rate.
Likewise, if you are chronically stressed or burnt out, this can lead to an unhealthy gut. Stress actually has the ability to change the populations of gut bacteria that live in your digestive system. How amazing! And while stress is something that we may not be able to completely remove from our life, we do have the power to change how we deal with it – by ensuring we get some regular ‘time out’, as well as exercise for its mood-lifting effects.
And of course, certain medications such as antibiotics, and those for reflux and indigestion, can create undesirable changes in the gut bacterial populations.