We know good gut health and healthy body weight go hand-in-hand, but which comes first? Does the gut cause weight loss? Or does a healthy weight and an active lifestyle cause a healthy gut?
Which Comes First? A Healthy Gut or Weight Loss?
The importance of gut health is gaining mainstream attention, and for good reason. Your gut and the microbiota that lives there need to exist in a stable equilibrium to keep you healthy. Imbalanced gut microbiomes have been linked to a whole host of diseases.
Although, with the attention on the importance of gut health, there have been cases of misguided extrapolation, which for the most part are probably done with good intentions.
However, I want to bring this to your attention.
One such incident is the excitement over Firmicutes bacteria and its association with obesity. Researchers found people with lower levels of Firmicutes bacteria and higher levels of Bacteroidetes were significantly less likely to be overweight or obese.
This has led to the belief that gut microbiota manipulation could instigate weight loss of an individual, suggesting losing weight could be as simple as reducing your Firmicutes levels. This is an alluring idea; however, it preys on the insecurities of individuals and subjects them to unnecessary and expensive testing. In reality, the science suggests simple lifestyle changes are all that’s necessary for most people.
Study shows how an active lifestyle improves gut microbiota
A recent study examined the differences in gut microbiota profile between women with active lifestyles and women with sedentary lifestyles.
What this study found was an active lifestyle modified and improved the composition of the gut microbiota. Furthermore, body fat percentage and muscle mass also significantly correlated with beneficial bacteria populations.
The conclusion of this study points out:
“We provide the first demonstration of interdependence between some bacterial genera and sedentary behavior parameters, and show that not only does the dose and type of exercise influence the composition of microbiota, but also the breaking of sedentary behavior.”
This study suggests that an active lifestyle appears to manipulate the gut bacteria in a beneficial way, as opposed to manipulating your gut bacteria to promote weight loss.
Interventions to improve the health of your gut can help with weight loss and optimization of the body, however I want to caution against using gut health manipulation as a quick fix or your only solution.
The key to good gut health is just the right amount of exercise
You see, exercise has a slight immunosuppressive effect, which can be a good thing because we need to prevent our immune system from being overzealous. When the immune system runs rampant, it can cause increased allergic reactions, inflammation, asthma, or worse autoimmune disease.
However, it’s also possible to over train as well. Athletes who over train have a higher incidence of infection due to the physical and psychological stress they place on their body.
How to effectively improve your gut microbiota
The trick is to identify key imbalances or infections and treat those first, then allow the microbiota to balance itself out. Check for imbalances only if you’re struggling with your gut or overall health – if this doesn’t apply to you, skip ahead to see what lifestyle parameters are known to improve gut health.
Common conditions caused by gut microbiota imbalances you should check for include:
- Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
If you have any of these conditions, your doctor can help you with clinical interventions. Antibacterial agents and specialized diets are two effective options to help with most gut imbalances.
Next, you can implement lifestyle changes that help your gut balance itself. You have more control over your microbiota than you probably realize. There are simple changes you can make that directly influence your gut health. If you’re worried about your gut, a couple questions you should ask yourself include:
- Are you sedentary or near sedentary? As we’ve learned, exercise is critical to good gut health.
- Are you over training? Studies have found that too much exercise can harm your gut health.
- Are you getting adequate sleep? High quality sleep is critical to gut and overall health.
- Do you manage your stress levels well? Stress directly impacts your gut microbiota through the gut-brain axis.
- Are you incorporating probiotics into your diet?
If you’re struggling with your gut health (or overall health for that matter), talk with your doctor about your lifestyle and gut health. Or give these lifestyle changes a try first. You might be surprised by just how much of an impact they have on your quality of life.
It’s a misguided concept to use unnecessary gut microbiota testing in an attempt to customize the composition of the microbiota under the guise that the gut is the ultimate cause of all health and disease. While improving gut health does indeed improve disease state, it’s not the solution to all our problems.
I encourage you to view gut health as a piece of the health puzzle, not simply the solution.
What do you think? I would like to hear your thoughts or experience with this.
Dr. Ruscio is your leading functional and integrative doctor specializing in gut related disorders such as SIBO, leaky gut, Celiac, IBS and in thyroid disorders such as hypothyroid and hyperthyroid. For more information on how to become a patient, please contact our office. Serving the San Francisco bay area and distance patients via phone and Skype.