Gut Health and Weight Loss: The Key Connection You Need to Know

February 7, 2024
Food to support gut health

Most people share the goal of maintaining a healthy weight. While diet and exercise are correctly recognized as key factors in weight management, recent research has shed light on an unexpected contributor to weight management: the gut microbiome. Gut health and weight loss capacity are closely related.

The trillions of bacteria residing in our gut, collectively known as the gut microbiome, have been found to influence various aspects of our health, including body weight. In this article, we will explore the potential links between gut health and weight loss, exploring how gut bacteria impact digestion, inflammation, hormones, and metabolism.

What is the Gut Microbiome?

The gut microbiome is composed of trillions of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms. While diverse microbiomes can be found along the length of your gastrointestinal tract, the largest population is found in an outpouching of your large intestine, called your cecum.

A wide variety of microorganisms in the microbiome is necessary for optimal health. These microorganisms contribute to digestion, protect against pathogens, produce essential nutrients and hormones, and even influence our immune systems.2 However, it is the influence of the gut microbiome on weight management that has garnered significant attention in recent years.

When your gut microbiome is unbalanced or lacks diversity, which is called dysbiosis, it can have consequences for your overall health. Gut dysbiosis has been linked to metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes mellitus, obesity, and inflammatory bowel disease.3 Researchers are studying the impact of gut health and weight loss efforts to control these chronic diseases.

Gut bacteria, gut health and weight loss are all interrelated

Gut Health and Weight Loss

Studies comparing the gut microbiome of people with obesity to those of people with a lean body composition found a few significant differences in gut microbiome composition and diversity.

People with low bacterial diversity in their microbiomes also had increased body fat, insulin resistance, abnormal blood lipids, and increased inflammation when compared to people with more bacterial diversity.4 These studies suggested a few strains of bacteria may be associated with weight loss: Akkermansia muciniphila and Christensenella minuta. These strains are more commonly found in people with a leaner body composition.

Akkermansia muciniphila can feed on the mucus that lines your gut. This can increase mucus production and strengthen the barrier lining your intestines. Akkermansia muciniphila also produces acetate, a short-chain fatty acid that helps your body regulate body fat stores and appetite.

Christensenella minuta is a Firmicutes bacteria associated with genetic factors that may influence body weight and metabolic processes. These bacteria can change the composition of the gut microbiome, produce short-chain fatty acids, reduce fat accumulation in the liver, and stimulate fat burning.5  Gut bacteria impact gut health and weight loss efforts.

Gut Microbes and Digestion

One of the key ways in which the gut microbiome influences weight is through its impact on digestion. Gut bacteria play a crucial role in breaking down food, particularly fiber. When bacteria break down or ferment fiber, they produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs).

SCFAs may play an important role in regulating appetite, controlling how lipids are metabolized, and reducing inflammation. The relationship goes both ways. The Western diet has an enormous impact on the diversity and composition of your gut microbiome.

For example, when people with a lean body composition immigrate to the U.S., many develop metabolic disease and obesity within a few decades of consuming a Western diet. In one study, people had a four-fold increase in obesity risk after immigrating to the U.S. compared to populations remaining in their birth country. Researchers have identified changes in microbial composition that are associated with weight gain.  

Animal studies and twin studies both suggest strong links between the microbiome and its effects on host metabolism. In one study, SCFAs were transferred from lean mice to obese mice. After the transfer, the obese mice lost weight when consuming a low-calorie diet.

Some bacteria species in the gut have an increased ability to harvest calories from food. This means that when two people consume the same food, one may harvest more calories from the food, which can contribute to weight gain.6

A person holding their stomach.

Inflammation and Weight Gain

Inflammation is a known factor that contributes to obesity and other metabolic diseases. Chronic inflammation can increase insulin resistance, which is a risk factor for developing metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

Chronic stress, poor sleep, consuming highly processed foods, and disruptions in your gut microbiome can all contribute to inflammation. People who consume more meat in their diets have a different microbiome than people who consume a plant-based diet.7

Inflammation causes swelling and changes in cell populations around body tissues. This can affect how well your body functions and contribute to fat accumulation. As body weight accumulates, inflammatory markers also increase, which suggests a cycle of inflammation and weight gain.

Hormones and Appetite Regulation

Gut microbes can influence appetite through the microbiome-gut-brain axis. For example, gut microbes can influence ghrelin and leptin levels. These two hormones regulate hunger and satiety.

Gut bacteria control your appetite, so you choose foods that help those bacteria species survive. Bacteria may play a role in modulating cravings for sugar and fat. Bacteria may induce you to consume foods high in fat and sugar, even if they are not suitable for you.

While increased appetite and weight gain are historically blamed on poor self-control, research suggests that the processes that control body weight are complicated, and the microbiome plays a vital role in the process.8

Mindful Eating and Portion Control

While the gut microbiome undoubtedly plays a role in weight management, it is essential to remember that overall lifestyle factors, including diet and exercise, still play a significant role in achieving weight loss goals. The dietary choices you make will determine the composition of your gut microbiome.

Mindful eating, which involves paying attention to hunger and fullness cues, can help establish a healthy relationship with food and support weight-loss efforts. All the distractions of modern-day living make it easy to mindlessly consume food without even tasting it.

Portion control is another crucial aspect of mindful eating, as it helps ensure a proper balance of nutrients and prevents overeating.

Imagine the composition of your current microbiome. Consider how a change in diet may change your microbiome in a way that reduces inflammation and your risk of metabolic disease. Your gut microbiota is ever-changing.

A Balanced and Fiber-Rich Diet

One of the most effective ways to support a healthy gut and promote weight loss is through a balanced and fiber-rich diet. Fiber acts as fuel for beneficial gut bacteria, enabling their growth and diversity.

In some people, a sudden increase in dietary fiber can cause gas, cramping, and diarrhea. If you may be sensitive to fiber, slowly increase your intake to give your gut time to adjust.

By incorporating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts into your diet, you can increase your fiber intake and provide your gut microbes with the nutrients they need to thrive.

Probiotics and Fermented Foods

Adding probiotics to your diet can also contribute to a healthy gut microbiome, better gut health and weight loss. Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide many health benefits when consumed. Choose a high-quality probiotic supplement with diverse strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. More research is needed on the potential benefits of probiotics because each person’s response to probiotics may be different.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate probiotics. The microbe concentration in probiotics can vary. Probiotic effectiveness can vary from person to person. Look for supplements carrying the U.S. Pharmacopeial (USP) Convention seal.

Foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut contain these beneficial bacteria and can help maintain a balanced gut microbiome. Fermented foods rich in live cultures, such as miso and aged, unpasteurized cheese, can support a diverse and thriving gut microbiome.

Stress Management and Physical Activity

Chronic stress can negatively affect the gut microbiome, leading to imbalances, increased cortisol levels, and potential weight gain. Incorporating stress management techniques into your daily routine, such as meditation, yoga, or engaging in activities you enjoy, can help support a healthy gut and aid in weight loss efforts.

Physical activity also plays a role in maintaining a healthy gut microbiome, gut health and weight loss. Studies have shown that regular exercise can increase the diversity of gut bacteria, potentially leading to favorable weight-loss outcomes.

A woman staring at sugary pastries.

Limiting Processed Foods and Sugar

Processed foods high in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats can upset the gut bacterial balance and contribute to weight gain.

These foods frequently lack essential nutrients and fiber that are required for a healthy gut microbiome.

Limiting your intake of processed foods in favor of whole, unprocessed foods can help support a healthy gut microbiome and aid in weight loss.

Understanding the connection between gut health and weight loss is a crucial step in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. The gut microbiome, with its trillions of bacteria, has a profound influence on digestion, inflammation, hormones, and metabolism, all of which play a role in weight management.

Mindful eating, consuming a balanced and fiber-rich diet, incorporating probiotics and fermented foods into your diet, managing stress, and engaging in regular physical activity are important steps toward a healthier lifestyle, healthier gut microbiome, better gut health and weight loss.

If lifestyle changes are not enough to help you meet your weight-loss goals, consider one of the many weight-loss treatment plans Invigor Medical offers. If you have questions, contact an Invigor Medical treatment specialist. They are very knowledgeable about each of the weight-loss plans and how they may benefit you.

Get started today with one of our Weight Loss Treatment Plans.

Author: Leann Poston, M.D.
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