After analyzing fecal samples from 49 infants, 25 of whom were overweight or obese by the age of 7, they found that babies with high numbers of bifidobacteria and low numbers of Staphylococcus aureus appeared to be protected from excess weight gain.
On average, the bifidobacteria counts taken at 6 months and 12 months were twice as high in healthy weight children than in those who became overweight, while S. Aureus levels were lower.
The researchers suggested that S. aureus may cause low-grade inflammation in your body, which could contribute to obesity. Further, the findings may help explain why breast-fed babies are at a lower risk of obesity, as bifidobacteria flourish in the guts of breast-fed babies. Inside your gut is a living ecosystem, full of good bacteria (probiotics) and, yes, bad bacteria that play a major role in your physical and even mental health. Yet, until recently, most doctors dismissed the notion that your digestive system -- including the 100 trillion bacteria in your gut -- did much of anything outside of breaking down a bit of food.
Well, this could not be further from the truth.
Your Gut is Home to Your Second “Brain”
You’ve heard of following your “gut instinct”? That feeling deep in your stomach that tells you through a sixth sense to stay away, think twice, or seize the moment? This feeling comes from the second brain in your gut otherwise known as your enteric nervous system (ENS).
The gut/brain connection has long been recognized as a tenet of physiology and medicine, but neurobiologist Michael Gershon, M.D. is credited with discovering the ENS, which is actually a network of neurotransmitters, neurons, and proteins that line your esophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon. Gershon called the ENS “brainlike in its complexity,” no doubt partly because your gut contains 100 million neurons, which is about the same number in your brain.
The job of your enteric nervous system is to keep your digestion running smoothly. But rest assured it is intricately connected to the other workings of your body as well. This is why when you’re nervous, you’re likely to feel “butterflies in your stomach,” and when you’re emotionally upset, you may feel sick to your stomach.
Your second brain also plays a major role in your emotional health, as over 95 percent of one of your most important neurotransmitters, serotonin, is made in your gut, NOT in your brain. Serotonin has a calming effect on your digestive tract, and it also helps to send messages from your gut to your brain. This chemical also plays a role in mental health, including depression and anxiety, which is why if your gut is imbalanced, your brain, and therefore your emotions, may also be off kilter.
Is Your Gut Bacteria Making You Fat?
The microflora in your digestive system is also emerging as a major player in weight management. As the above study showed, a baby’s gut bacteria is linked to his or her future weight, and babies that are given the best start nutritionally by being breastfed also tend to have intestinal microflora in which bifidobacteria predominate over potentially harmful bacteria.
One Washington University professor likened the functioning of this gut microflora in your body to that of an ant farm that works together as an intelligence to perform an array of functions you're unable to manage on your own.
One of those chores includes extracting calories from the foods you eat, so the microflora in your gut may play a key role in obesity.
Multiple studies have shown that obese people have different intestinal bacteria than slim people, and it appears that the microbes in an overweight body are much more efficient at extracting calories from food.
Have You Heard of Infectobesity?
Taking the gut bacteria/obesity connection one step further is the relatively new term “infectobesity,” which suggests that obesity may be caused by a virus or other disease-causing organism.
For instance, the human adenovirus-36 (Ad-36) -- a cause of respiratory infections and pinkeye -- may be a contributing factor to obesity, as it’s been found to transform adult stem cells into fat cells that are capable of storing additional fat.
Infectobesity is a very plausible theory, and it is certainly possible that there are significant viral causes underlying many cases of obesity. However, please don’t take this to mean that losing weight is out of your control, or something that can only be done using an anti-viral medication.
This theory actually further supports the importance of balancing out the bacteria in your gut, because what is the most important thing you need to fight off a viral infection? The foods you eat and the ones you avoid, and the integrity of your immune system are two important ones.
Experts believe about 70 percent of your immune system is located in or around your digestive system.
And if your digestive system is crawling with unhealthy bacteria, there’s a good chance that your immune system will be suppressed as a result.
So it seems all roads lead back to this one central premise: optimizing your gut bacteria is essential for your good health.
How to Optimize the Bacteria in Your Gut
The good news is that positively influencing the bacteria growing in your body is relatively easy. One of the most important steps you can take is to stop consuming sugary foods. When you eat a healthy diet that is low in sugars and processed foods one of the major benefits is that it causes the good bacteria in your gut to flourish and build up a major defense against the bad bacteria getting a foothold on your health.
This is one of the many reasons I highly recommend reducing, with the plan of eliminating, sugars and most grains from your diet.
Yet, even with an extremely low-sugar diet, there are other factors that influence your gut bacteria. Antibiotics, chlorinated water, antibacterial soap, agricultural chemicals, pollution -- all of these things help to kill off your good bacteria. Which is why it’s a wise choice to “reseed” your body with good bacteria from time to time by taking a high-quality probiotic supplement or eating fermented foods.
Keep in mind, of course, that if you or your children need to lose some excess weight, balancing your gut bacteria is only one part of the equation. Regular exercise and addressing any emotional blocks are also very important.