With obesity rates in children three times the number as in the 1960?s (1), scientists and doctors have been scrambling to find out exactly why the numbers have sky-rocketed. Are there just ?fat genes? that are passed along? Is it the high-fat, processed diet that has become more popular? Is it a combination of issues? As it turns out, the issue is more complex than we thought. And it involves the body?s microorganisms.
Last week, we discussed the importance of protecting the body?s microorganisms, the microbiota. Their capabilities to affect the rest of the body is something that even scientists haven?t been able to fully realize! Ranging from the digestive system to the immune system to vitamin production, the flora of microorganisms act as the true boss of our bodies. But there?s more to their story. Is the microbiota causing us to be fat?
Researchers have proven this to be true in mice. Altering a mouse?s microbiota by giving them a small dose of penicillin at infancy causesobesity, according to a study led by Cox and colleagues (2). When the mouse is exposed to the penicillin, the drug stays in the intestinal microbiota and changes its makeup. The new makeup of the flora increases the production of body fat, and the mouse becomes overweight or obese.
The Reason for Obesity
The health of the microbiota is incredibly important, especially since it is passed on by the mother during birth (3). The specific results of the altered microbiota research were ?increased total mass and fat mass, increased ectopic fat deposition, increased hepatic expression of genes involved in adipogenesis, decreased bone mineral content, and increased bone area (2).?
That?s a lot of technical jargon, so put simply, they found that this penicillin-affected microbiota caused the mice to rapidly gain weight. What?s more, if the mouse had penicillin-exposed microbiota and was fed a high-fat diet (similar to many American diets), its entire body was fatter and bigger than any of the other combinations. The antibiotic drug plus a fatty diet created the most obese mouse every time.
Now obviously, we are not mice. But similar research has been done with human infants as well and the results were positively linked with risks of being overweight as a child and adult (4). So are drugs like penicillin the reason America is overweight? The answer could be a partial yes?it's a complicated combination of things.
An Altered Microbiota Can Change Everything
First, I have several thoughts to share about these obesity studies. Weight gain is easy to measure. So what about the other symptoms that may not be so easy to evaluate?altered brain functions? A modified ability to learn? Furthermore, these researchers have looked at the effect of penicillin only. What about other antibiotics? What about taking antibiotics not only as babies, but as adults?
Since these questions haven?t been addressed yet in 2015, I?m guessing they won?t be researched anytime in the near future. That means it is vital to take education into your own hands regarding your gut microbiota (as well as your children?s). If the microbiota can change our size, think about all of the other unmeasurable traits it can affect!
Testing the Gut Flora
The best way to evaluate the health of your gut flora is to get it tested. If you do so, here are the things your doctor will be looking at:
Do you have any good bacteria missing?
Is your microbiota more prolific or different from the norm?
Are there parasites, worms, bacterial overgrowth, or yeast present?
Unfortunately, diagnosing an issue with the microbiota is not as easy as it would seem. There are ten times more microorganisms in the body than cells, so things can get complicated (5). Every condition can affect the body in different ways. But if your test results show something out-of-the-ordinary, it?s time to right the wrongs. First check, then correct.
Here are three things you can be aware of when going in to fix your gut microbiota.
Changing your diet can work wonders. Eating clean allows your body to focus on the other healing at hand, instead of trying to digest the junk that you?ve put in. Stay away from overloading on carbohydrates and processed foods as much as possible as they can lead to yeast issues in the gut. However, keep in mind that changing your diet alone may not do anything to change your affected microbiota. If you think back to the mice with penicillin-exposed microbiota, if was the presence of the penicillin alongside the high-fat diet that made the most significant damage. The same could be applied to reverse the damage done.
If the digestive system isn?t working well, it won?t matter how you change your diet. You must correct any problems in the digestive system with a physician before you?ll be able to balance the microbiota. Sometimes I hear from patients, ?I eat a ton of food and I still don?t gain weight?and I feel lousy all the time!? That makes sense if there are no digestive enzymes! One patient came in who was eating and eating but his body was starving. He had yeast in his digestive system that was absorbing all the foods he was eating. These are cases where the affected intestinal microbiota had already done damage to the body. Catch yours before it gets to this point!
Probiotics can be prescribed if there is good bacteria missing. The real probiotics cost a lot more than the over-the-counter cures (around $300 a month), but they actually work, rather than just providing a placebo like many of the cheap versions. Make sure your progress is watched by a physician, in case you need more or less of a dose.
It is possible to balance the microbiota with only diet changes?go to Tibet and live peacefully for 10 years, eating from the natural earth and meditating. However, if you don?t have that much time, feel free to stop by one of our offices. We can help you combine treatments to once again balance this complex and fragile system.