Dr. Michael Ruscio, DC is a clinician, Naturopathic Practitioner, clinical researcher, author, and adjunct professor at the University of Bridgeport. His work has been published in peer-reviewed medical journals and he speaks at conferences around the globe.
Exercise has been shown to improve your microbiota, and being sedentary has been shown to have a negative impact on your microbiota. Let’s discuss a recent study which uncovered this, and let’s also discuss how this pertains to testing and weight loss.
So firstly, let’s start off with a few of the quotes from this research paper that are very interesting. “Quantitative PCR analysis”—a method of testing the gut microbiota, typically done via stool—“revealed higher abundance of health-promoting bacteria species in active women, including Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, Roseburia hominis, and Akkermansia muciniphila.”
So what this tells us is being active leads to higher levels of healthy bacteria, or at least what we think are healthy bacteria, in the gut.
Secondly, body fat percentage, muscle mass, physical fitness significantly correlated with several bacterial populations. So what this shows us—and I think this is very important to help keep one grounded amidst some of the unfortunate nefarious claims circulating on the internet regarding being able to custom-manipulate your bacteria in order to produce weight loss. What we’re seeing here is that the active lifestyle may be driving a healthier body composition and that may be correlating to or that may be the cause of the healthier bacteria and not the other way around.
Now, certainly, interventions to improve the health of your gut can help with weight loss or optimization of one’s body composition. Yes, I think we can say that. But it’s another thing to say that we can do a mapping of all the bacteria in your gut and try to custom-manipulate those bacteria in order to produce weight loss. And in other posts and videos I’ve reviewed that—really the evidence does not support that when you look at much of the literature regarding the microbiota and its impact on obesity.
There was early excitement about something called the Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio, and that pretty much has been—I don’t want to say disproven, but a fairly large… I’d say the majority of evidence actually shows that that ratio has no real bearing or nothing that can be treated to aid in weight loss or optimization of body composition. So moving on.
“In summary, 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 gut microbiota, but also the breaking of sedentary behavior.”
So, essentially, what they’re hinting at here is by breaking sedentary behavior or exercising and becoming active, you can have a positive impact on the bacteria in your gut. Again, this is just important to understand, because I’m trying to provide you with some reasonable information to help keep all of us grounded amidst what is sometimes a very overreaching, over-speculative crop of recommendations that are kind of popping up on the internet, saying that you should do these very robust gut assays and then try to treat that data, those gut bacteria levels, in attempts to try to improve your weight.
And unfortunately, there’s not really any data to support that. And that’s a little bit kind of preying on someone’s perhaps insecurities or desires to gain weight, because there’s not really good evidence to support that. But let me share with you a few of my other thoughts here and close.
Why does exercise improve the gut microbiota? Well, it’s likely because when you exercise it has a slight immunosuppressive effect. And a little bit of immunosuppression can actually be good, because we want to prevent your immune system from being overzealous and overly attacking. So some exercise can help prevent your gut immune system from being overzealous and attacking your healthy bacteria.
Now, if we go even further, we do see when athletes over-train, they actually go too far. And they have a higher incidence of infection. So no exercise, no immunosuppression, that could mean that some of your good bacteria ends up getting killed off because your immune system is too aggressive.
The right amount of exercise, a little bit of immunosuppression allows bacteria to live, thrive, and have a healthy overall bacteria community. Too much exercise overly suppresses the immune system and increases the risk of infection. So I think that’s an important spectrum to kind of visualize.
And in close, you have more power over your microbiota than you may think. It’s been shown that simple things, like exercise, stress reduction, diet, can have profound impacts on your microbiota. Also, probiotics. And if you’re struggling after those things, you may want to get a little bit deeper into some clinical interventions like antibacterial agents or highly specialized diets.
But the point is, with some basic interventions, you have more power to positively, or negatively, influence your microbiota. And I just say this to help, hopefully, keep you grounded, because, unfortunately—and I think these things are hopefully predominantly done in a well-intentioned light—there are many claims circulating about the microbiota that are not true, that push one to do testing and try to custom-manipulate their microbiota under the guise that the microbiota is the ultimate cause of all health and disease, and if you can then change the microbiota, you can improve said disease state.
And there’s some truth to that, but usually that truth is not this highly meticulous treating of the entire world of bacteria or the microbiota, but rather is identifying key imbalances or infections, clearing those, and allowing the community of the microbiota to balance out after that issue has been addressed. So something like SIBO, H. Pylori, Candida, addressing those in my opinion—and I think much of the evidence really supports this—is the best way to help have a gut intervention that improves your gut microbiota.
Along with that, very important to realize that there are simple things that you can do. Like if you’re not sedentary or you’re over-exercising, rectify that. Get adequate sleep. Manage your stress. Aim for a healthy diet, and there’s a few different ones to consider there. And those things can have a very positive impact on your gut, your gut microbiota. And you don’t necessarily need to do or get pulled into these highly elaborate programs that want to map out your gut bacteria and try to give you a highly specific treatment plan for that. Because, unfortunately, oftentimes those claims are not met when someone actually goes through said intervention.
Anyway. Hopefully, this is helpful for you to stay grounded and realize that when it comes to the microbiota, you have more positive impact than you may think with some simple interventions. So this is Dr. Ruscio, and hopefully this helps you get healthy and get back to your life. Thanks.
➕ Links & Resources
Bressa C, Bailén-Andrino M, Pérez-Santiago J, González-Soltero R, Pérez M, Montalvo-Lominchar MG, Maté-Muñoz JL, Domínguez R, Moreno D, Larrosa M. Differences in gut microbiota profile between women with active lifestyle and sedentary women. PLoS One. 2017 Feb 10;12(2):e0171352. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0171352. PMID: 28187199; PMCID: PMC5302835.
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