Is Weight Gain Connected to Your Gut Health?

Credit: Flickr Creative Commons, Rafael Peñaloza

Credit: Flickr Creative Commons, Rafael Peñaloza

A 32-year old woman received a FMT (Fecal Microbiota Transplant) to treat Clostridium difficile and experienced rapid and unexpected weight gain. Having never been overweight prior to the transplant, the woman became obese in a 16-month’s span and, despite diet and exercise to lower her weight, remains obese today, three years post-transplant.

The suspected culprit? The FMT used donor stool from the woman’s overweight but otherwise healthy teenage daughter.

The reported case published in the new journal Open Forum Infectious Diseases has the science and medical community buzzing again about the connection of the gut to metabolism and weight.

“We’re questioning whether there was something in the fecal transplant, whether some of those ‘good’ bacteria we transferred may have had an impact on her metabolism in a negative way,” said Colleen R. Kelly, MD, of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, who wrote the case report with Neha Alang, MD, of Newport Hospital in Rhode Island.

The findings study aren’t without some speculation, as FMT was not the only possible cause of the woman’s weight gain. She had also:

  • The resolution of her C. difficile infection
  • Genetic factors
  • Aging
  • Stress related to illness

However, as noted above, she had never been overweight before.

“Such a link between bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract and weight is supported by previously published animal studies, where transfer of gut bacteria from obese to normal-weight mice can lead to a marked increase in fat. In light of the case and the animal data, the authors recommend selecting stool donors who are not overweight for fecal transplants,” said the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA)

In a study published in August of 2014, researchers found that disturbing the normal gut microbiomes of young mice caused them to gain weight later on. Transplanting these mice’s gut microbes into germ-free mice ended up transferring weight gain, as well. This suggests that the gut microbes were indeed the cause of the extra weight.

While science and medicine work away on the finer points of Gut Bacteria Transplants, we can give you a few tips that can help promote a healthy gut, today and forward.

What Is Your Gut?

Let’s start with the small intestine. The small intestine of your body is what breaks down food and absorbs much of its nutrients. Inside your small intestine is a combination of good and potentially harmful bacteria.

How much bacteria are we talking about? About 5 lbs. of bacteria reside in your intestine – in fact, your digestive system is filled with them.

In a healthy gut, the goal is for these these types of bacteria to be in balance.

Many different factors can throw off this good/bad bacteria balance, from antibiotics to an excess of sugary/processed foods.

7 Tips That Promote a Healthy Gut

1. Eat fiber.

According to the Mayo Clinic, fiber and the type of sugar (oligosaccharides) in fruits and vegetables set up a healthy intestinal environment that allows good bacteria to thrive. Good gut health is associated with adequate fiber and micronutrients, found in foods such as dry beans (cooked soybeans, lentils, split peas and kidney, pinto, black, lima, garbanzo, navy and Great Northern bean), and vegetables and fruits (cooked spinach, artichokes, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, pears, raspberries and strawberries, brussels sprouts, asparagus, cabbage.

Note: The types of fruits and vegetables will vary, depending on whether or not you’re FODMAP-sensitive.

Want to track your fiber grams? Try an easy macronutrient tracker on your smartphone, such as MyFitnessPal.

2. Eat fermented foods.

Look for foods with probiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts aka “the good” microorganisms. Probiotics already exist naturally in your gut. According to the Cleveland Clinic, probiotics assist in decreasing the number of “bad” bacteria in your gut that can cause infections or inflammation, replacing the body’s “good” bacteria, and restoring the body’s “good” versus “bad” bacterial balance we mentioned earlier. This balance helps to keep your body functioning properly. Some foods with probiotics include kombucha, miso, tempeh, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickles. The most well known food product that contains probiotics is probably yogurt. Or you could try making your own probiotics. It’s valuable to know that some probiotics actually replace bacteria (kefir), while others encourage their growth (yogurt), because there are thousands of different strains of this bacteria. You can read more in-depth about the different types here.

3. Supplement.

According to Harvard Health, interest in probiotic supplements is on the rise. Since the health benefits are strain-specific, and not all strains are necessarily useful, you may want to consult a practitioner familiar with probiotics to discuss your options and to be sure supplementing is right for you. Some common strains associated with gut health include:

  • Lactobacillus acidophilus: The most well known probiotic and one of the most important for the health of the small intestine.
  • Bifidobacteria bifidum: Prevents pathogenic bacteria and yeast from invading.

Note: You can purchase Thorne supplements, like probiotics, directly through your WellnessFX membership – when you log in to your WellnessFX account, you’ll see an option to Buy Supplements up at the top to get you started.

4. Avoid highly processed and refined foods

They damage the intestinal lining as they contain chemicals from manufacturers that are often not absorbed well by the digestive system. Some products use them to enhance the flavor, texture, shelf-life, convenience to transport, or just bulk the product up to make it cheaper to produce for the manufacturer. We advocate sticking to whole foods in their natural form.

5. Avoid high fructose corn syrup (hfcs) and artificial sweeteners.

The Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute did a study on just how damaging HFCS is to your intestinal lining. They found that free fructose from HFCS requires more energy to be absorbed by the gut. “High doses of free fructose have been proven to literally punch holes in the intestinal lining allowing nasty byproducts of toxic gut bacteria and partially digested food proteins to enter your bloodstream and trigger the inflammation that we know is at the root of obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, dementia, and accelerated aging.”

Artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose (a.k.a. Splenda) and sugar alcohols (eg. maltitol syrup) have been reported to alter the gut microbiota and disrupt the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, causing metabolic changes that can be a precursor to diabetes, according to the New York Times and findings published in Nature. Artificial sweeteners have also been linked to negative side effects, such as diarrhea, stomach and abdominal pain.

6. Drink water.

As detailed by the Mayo Clinic, water naturally improves digestion and helps break down food so that your body can absorb the nutrients. Water also softens stools, which helps prevent constipation.

Need help making it a habit? Try our free Watermind Me mobile app – it will help you monitor, track, and improve your consumption.

Have you tried these 7 tricks to help you drink more water every day?

7. Talk with your doctor.

Consult your doctor if you have concerns. A WellnessFX practitioner can provide you with a customized action plan based on your health profile.

How WellnessFX Can Help

You can read more on the gut with our blog posts:

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The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.