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Could the Way You Store Fat Be Influenced by Gut Microbiota?

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In recent years, the scientific community has begun reevaluating our primary measure of health-by-weight: BMI. 

Its effectiveness in determining whole body health isn’t trusted as implicitly as it once was, and leading scientists are in talks to change the way we look at weight, fat storage, and mortality as a whole.

One of the biggest reasons for the scientific community veering off down this path is that what we should be studying is the impact of bone density on BMI, the way that we store fat in the body, and presence of muscle mass as compared to fat.

We’re going to focus on the way the body stores fat for now… with an emphasis on how that might be connected to the bacterial composition of your gut microbiome.

We know that the presence, strength, and ratio of that bacteria has an overarching effect on every other aspect of your health. The evidence is simply overwhelming. 

We also know that the other factors involved in your gut health, such as the integrity of your intestinal lining, play a role in regulating the population of the estimated 500-1,000 different species of gut flora.

Because the extraction of energy from our food is what primarily influences the bad or good bacteria in our guts, which in turn decides how much fat gets built and stored, it’s an important issue to keep in mind.

Current scientific theory is leaning towards two major implications:

  • The overwhelming presence (as in, more than good bacteria) of bad bacteria encourages fat storage and hampers fat loss. 
  • The high-processed foods with saturated fats and sugars are the primary feeders of exactly this bad bacteria.

Bad Bacteria and Your Fat

Just like binge-eating has been linked to certain gut microbes, studies have shown that transplanting microbes from obese humans into lean mice led to an increase in fat creation and storage, while microbes from lean humans into lean mice led to weight maintenance. 

Sure, these are mice and not human beings.

But simply the gut profile an obese person coming into contact with another microbiome had a strong enough influence to cause fat gain.

Partially, that’s due to diversity, or lack thereof. Whereas a lean person’s microbiome should look like a rainforest, or a thriving ecosystem, teeming with varieties of bacteria, an obese person’s microbiome has far fewer species.

For example, in lean people’s microbiomes, there tends to be a heavier presence of microbes belonging to the family Bacteroidetes. These bacteria are really effective at breaking down plant fibers and starches for the body to use as energy.

Because there’s a higher presence of them, our body craves what feeds them – plant matter. They want to be fed, after all.

In obese people, those bacteria are far less present. Therefore, not only does the body not crave the plant matter, it does crave the processed food craved by the higher levels of bad bacteria that want to be fed.

However, because the resulting differences in fat storage have more to do with an absence of good bacteria than the presence of bad bacteria…

The speculation isn’t that certain bacteria makes you fat (more on that in a moment.)

It’s that lack of good bacteria, whose job functions can be strengthening metabolism, oxidizing fat, and maintaining weight, lead to more fat storage.

But of course, that’s often a result of allowing bad bacteria to crowd out good.

Bad Bacteria and What You’re Eating

This is the vicious cycle – you live in a food desert, in a place with lack of access to healthy whole and unprocessed foods, or you lack nutritional education at a young age. 

That makes sense. Lots of people do. Nutritional truths aren’t accessible to everyone, everywhere, and they’re especially gatekept for those in lower socio-economic brackets. 

But what happens is that you unknowingly feed the harmful bacteria – those responsible for creating fat and weakening intestinal joints.

And when you feed them, they multiply. And then they send salt, sugar, and fat cravings to your brain because that’s a normal survival instinct.

And so even if you know that a salad, or a dinner of whole grain pasta with sauteed vegetables and chicken sausage, would help you lose weight or diversify your gut microbiome…

Your brain says: What you really want are chicken wings. With fries. And a brownie. And a soda. 

Then, the problem becomes moral. Do you deny yourself what you want because skinny people tell you to eat salads? Isn’t self-love about saying “yes” to your inner wants?

What’s wrong with chicken wings anyway?

Nothing is wrong with eating chicken wings. But altering the composition of your microbiome to not only favor unhealthy bacteria, but prevent the growth of bacteria that would stabilize your metabolism, while training your body to get used to grease and empty calories, has a ripple effect we’re only recently starting to understand.

If you’ve ever done something like quit drinking soda, and then tried to drink one after you’ve been away for a while…

You’ve probably noticed you didn’t enjoy it is much as you thought you did. That’s in part because the flora, both in your mouth and in your gut, that were once eager to receive that sugar, aren’t as plentiful.

Your diet determines your microbiome profile, but your microbiome profile in turn dictates your fate.

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