Are Your Gut Microbes Making You Sick and Overweight?

In Physical Therapy Articles by Jeff Gilliam, PT, PhD, OCSLeave a Comment

Recent research has shown that the gut microbes that live in our gastrointestinal tract are responsible for how healthy we are and also whether we become obese. We all have a tube that runs through our body… it’s called our gastrointestinal tract and it’s the way we nourish ourselves. We put food into this tube and the food goes through a process called digestion. What many of us don’t know is that this tube is full of microbes. They exist throughout the digestive tract but predominate in our colon or large intestines, which is the last part of the digestive tract. They help with the digestive process and in fact break down fibers that we have difficulty digesting allowing for vitamins and fatty acids to be available in the process.

Microbes are small single cell organisms and are some of the oldest forms of life on this earth. They live everywhere, from the coldest places to the hottest places on earth. They live on our skin and throughout our digestive tract. We call the trillions… yes, I said trillions of microbes that inhabit our intestinal tract the Microbiome. Gut microbes do a lot of good things for us, including boost the immune system, affect our mood, protect us from auto-immune diseases, they detoxify and keep us slim. They even keep babies healthy.

Researchers have discovered that people who have a greater diversity in the type of microbes that are in their intestines are healthier and leaner. In one study researchers compared the gut microbiome of the children from Florence Italy to the children of a country in western Africa.  Now it should be understood that the children from Florence, Italy eat a lot of refined foods, while the children from western Africa eat a diet consisting of high fiber plant foods. Researchers found those children from western Africa had a significantly greater diversity of microbes in their intestines than the children from Florence, Italy.

So how do we get a diversified microbiome? First of all, we should try to eat a variety of plant foods. Raw foods have microbes that cover the surface of the food and are inside the foods as well. Soluble fiber, specifically, is what our microbes like to feast upon. Microbes can extract the fiber’s extra energy, nutrients, vitamins and other compounds for us. Short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) obtained from fiber are of particular interest, as they have been linked to improved immune function, decreased inflammation and protection against obesity. These SCFA have an anticancer effect on the colon.

When we feed our microbes refined foods that are high in fats and sugars, microbes have nothing to eat and they begin eating our intestinal mucosa. This is a thin protective layer that lines our intestines. When this layer is damaged it can lead to leaky gut syndrome, allowing pathogens to cross over into our blood stream, which can make us sick! When the microbes in our intestines are diversely populated they provide a protective layer called the intestinal mucosa between our intestinal lining and any potential pathogen. Their diversity, numbers and activating immune function overwhelms potential microbes that are pathogens. So they help keep us healthy!

Our microbiome has also been shown to be instrumental in keeping us lean. In one fascinating study, researchers populated the intestinal tract of mice with microbes from an obese human who had an identical twin who was lean… guess what; the mice became obese, compared to the leaner mice who received microbes from the lean identical twin!!

Probiotics are viable microorganisms that can be delivered orally and incorporated into intestinal microbiome that increase the number of good microbes in the intestines. Probiotics are live micro-organisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, provide a health benefit. These are foods that have been inoculated with microbes and then through a fermentation process have grown microbes in the food. Foods that offer an increase in microbes are raw fruits and vegetables, fermented dairy like yogurt, and kefir, fermented vegetables, like sauerkraut.

Prebiotics are what the microbes eat to survive. Soluble fiber is especially important for your microbes. Prebiotics are non-digestible food components that promote the growth of beneficial gut microbes.  Foods like beans, oats, oranges, Brussel sprouts, flaxseeds are excellent sources of soluble fiber.

So the next time you eat, ask yourself, will this food that I’m eating increase the diversity of my good microbes making me healthier and leaner, or will it destroy the good microbes that I have and cause me to become sick and obese?

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Jeff Gilliam PT PhD, OCS: is a weight loss specialist, who has studied extensively in the areas of health behavior, exercise physiology and nutritional biochemistry at the University of Florida. Jeff has taught a course at the University of Florida called ’Research Applications to Obesity and Weight Loss’. He has also taught courses for the DPT program at UF in Health Promotion and Wellness’ and ‘Evidence Based Practice III’. He has presented on a national level on topics related to diseases related to obesity and changing behavior to facilitate a healthy lifestyle. His PhD research was in the area of effective behavioral interventions for obesity and its associated diseases. He is founder of Physicians’ Choice for Weight Loss, a successful lifestyle/weight loss program, which can be found in over 50 clinics in the eastern US. He currently is clinical director of ReQuest Physical Therapy (Gainesville, Florida) and incorporates his lifestyle/weight loss program into his patients’ physical therapy to help them achieve their healthiest body weight. Jeff Gilliam is an Orthopedic Certified Specialist through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties

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