Obesity rates are at an all-time high and studies indicate gut health is a cause.

As of late last year, over 70 percent of Americans were classified as overweight or obese. To break this down further, that’s four of every 10 U.S. adults, and 18.5 percent of American youth between the ages of 2 and 19.

What’s Causing Obesity in the U.S.?

Studies suggest that while genetics are a definite contributor, ultimately it is your diet that makes the greatest impact, not just on obesity, but on metabolic disease as well.

But eating healthy and staying committed to new eating habits can be difficult: hence the obesity epidemic. There are many issues that influence weight gain in America, and many stem from financial status.

Lower income areas do not have access to parks, pools, tennis courts, tracks, and other recreational facilities. In fact, they are 4.5 times more likely to not have these resources nearby. Often, they also do not have much access to fresh foods and vegetables. Grocery stores in these areas most commonly carry packaged food, processed foods, candy, and sodas.

It’s worth mentioning that scientists also credit the high amount of patients taking medication with weight gain as a side effect.

That being said, the Western diet is the leading cause for obesity in the U.S. Additionally, America’s food culture, and our relationship with it, as well as a dedicated lifestyle change have the greatest potential to combat obesity. Luckily, these are elements we can control.

Now it appears that studies have discovered yet another issue being caused by our dietary choices.

Gut Bacteria and Obesity

Led by Cristina Menni, researchers at King’s College London have discovered a link between gut bacteria and obesity. More specifically, their study—conducted on nearly 1,000 sets of twins—found that 67.7 percent of gut processes are driven by environmental factors, particularly diet. The other 17.9 percent of gut processes are influenced by genetic factors, wrote Jasmin Collier with Medical News Today.

“Knowing that chemical processes in the gut are largely controlled by what we eat rather than our genes is great news and opens up many ways to use food as medicine,” said Tim Spector, co-author of the study and the head of King’s College London’s Twin Research Group.

“This exciting work in our twins shows the importance to our health and weight of the thousands of chemicals that gut microbes produce in response to food,” he added.

Microbiome 101

When discussing gut bacteria, the microbiome must also be discussed as it plays an essential role. But before we delve in deeper, there are three terms that should be established:

  • Microbe
    • a microorganism, such as bacteria, that inhabits the world around us and even inside us
  • Microbiota
    • a collection of microbes that live in and on the human body
  • Microbiome
    • the entire set of genes that exist within microbes

Most microbiome composition is located inside the large intestine and diet impacts the microbial composition of the microbiota. Additionally, the microbiota plays a role in the nutritional value your body processes from food.

Microbiome and Obesity

A study from John Hopkins recently found evidence that intestinal microbiome plays a significant role in the development of obesity and insulin resistance in mammals.

“This study adds to our understanding of how bacteria may cause obesity, and we found particular types of bacteria in mice that were strongly linked to metabolic syndrome,” explained David Hackam, Co-Director of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and the study’s senior author.

“With this new knowledge we can look for ways to control the responsible bacteria or related genes and hopefully prevent obesity in children and adults.”

What We Can Do

Knowing what we do now regarding the relationship between gut bacteria and obesity, what exactly can we do to help improve our gut health?

Dr. Edward Group has five basic steps one can take toward making the connection between gut bacteria and obesity to work in your favor:

  1. Lower stress levels
    • Our brain sends messages in the form of chemicals to the gut when our stress levels spike. This impacts the efficiency of our gut.
  2. Avoid overusing antibiotics
    • Antibiotics kill bacteria, including the good kind. This can cause a shortage of the necessary bacteria to maintain your health
  3. Probiotics
    • The good kind of bacteria are referred to as probiotics. Take quality probiotics to supplement the shortage.
  4. Fermented foods
    • Incorporating these foods can also increase the presence of good bacteria in your gut. However it is best to make your own as store bought fermented foods are usually pasteurized, killing the good bacteria in the process.
  5. Nix refined sugar
    • Refined sugars are known to cause many issues such as weight gain and inflammation but it also promotes the growth of bad bacteria  

Gut bacteria is a field of study with great potential to transform human health. The microbiome is being studied like never before and has produced fascinating studies about brain chemistry and addiction. Could this be the link to curing obesity and other health-related issues?