The Bacteria You've Never Heard Of That Promotes Weight Loss
Being overweight or obese has become a massive, worldwide problem. Over 600 million adults and 100 million children are obese, setting the stage for numerous problems including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Underlying this problem is metabolic syndrome, a cluster of nasty symptoms including high blood sugar and excess belly fat. These symptoms pave the way for obesity, diabetes, and so many other problems.
As a medical doctor who specializes in gut health, I see firsthand in my patients what the research also shows: Dysbiosis, or gut-flora imbalance, is often the catalyst for metabolic syndrome and all the problems associated with it.
The state of your gut—including those hundred trillion microbes that populate your gut lining—can influence your level of chronic inflammation, gut permeability, and endotoxemia (the transfer of bacterial endotoxin into the circulation), which can all trigger weight gain, high insulin, the deposition of abdominal fat, and even depression.
The good news is that we are in direct control of the quality and quantity of those gut microbiota that eventually prevent or create metabolic disorders, depending on how we eat and live our lives.
Some of these gut bacteria, like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, we've known about for decades. You'll often find these in probiotic supplements as well as fermented and cultured foods. The benefit of probiotics were first described by Metchnikoff in the early 1900s, and he won a Nobel Prize for his work on aging and Lactobacillus bulgaricus, the bacteria used to make yogurt.
The blood sugar balance bacteria you've never heard of.
But as gut science continues to evolve, we are still discovering previously unknown new bacteria that show dramatic promise to help with weight loss, diabetes, and other diseases. One such bacterium, a favorite of mine, is called Akkermansia muciniphila, or A. muciniphila, one of the most abundant single species among human gut microbiota1.
First isolated in 2004, research shows that copious amounts of A. muciniphila can profoundly improve metabolic disorders1 associated with obesity, diabetes, liver diseases, and heart-related diseases. For certain people—like those with high body weight, body mass index (BMI), elevated cholesterol levels, and abnormal fasting blood glucose levels—the amounts of A. muciniphila are lower than for healthier people2.
These findings have led researchers to label this power bug A. muciniphila, among "the next-generation beneficial microbes." In fact, researchers have already inversely associated the amount of A. muciniphila with obesity, diabetes, inflammation, and metabolic disorders3. In other words, the more of this bacterium you have in your gut, the leaner and healthier you are.
What the research says about A. muciniphila.
Those findings reveal why A. muciniphila has become a research hot spot: Studies reveal how this bacterium can protect against specific inflammation-driven problems, including obesity and diabetes. Most so far have involved animals. In one, researchers gave mice a daily oral supplement with live A. muciniphila when they noted the mice were gaining weight and developing diabetes and gut problems. For these mice, supplementing with A. muciniphila protected against diet-induced obesity. In fact, mice showed a 50 percent lower body weight gain when given live A. muciniphila, without altering their food intake. The mice also no longer exhibited insulin resistance or the inflammatory response in fat tissue that drives obesity.
Keep in mind this was an animal study; while promising, we'll have to see how these benefits play out in humans.
One human study did find that people with higher naturally occurring levels of A. muciniphila lost more abdominal fat compared with those with low amounts of this bacterium. Researchers here looked at 49 people before and after a six-week weight-loss diet. People with the highest A. muciniphila levels—sometimes 100 times more—also had better blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity.
This study shows what I've found in my own practice: that lean people have healthier guts, which in turn helps keep them healthier and lean. The good news is that losing weight, exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight can improve gut health. Beyond that, you can also optimize the amount of A. muciniphila you have hanging out in your gut.
How to support A. muciniphila levels in your body.
1. Eliminate gut-sabotaging foods.
To provide a solid gut foundation where healthy bacteria like A. muciniphila can thrive, you'll want to eliminate culprits that imbalance your gut and set the stage for numerous diseases including obesity. Those include sugar in all its many disguises, artificial sweeteners, and food sensitivities, including the top two—gluten and dairy.
2. Eat foods that boost levels of A. muciniphila.
You'll want to replace those trigger foods with a wide array of gut-supporting foods that optimize A. muciniphila levels. Cultured and fermented foods rich in probiotics support healthy gut flora. Research has also homed in on specific foods that naturally increase A. muciniphila. One study found that polyphenols—specifically those found in grapes—could increase the growth of A. muciniphila to support gut health and prevent inflammation and metabolic syndrome. Another found a specific type of polyphenol called ellagitannins in foods like pomegranate could stimulate the growth of this bacterium4.
3. Consume more prebiotic-rich foods.
Prebiotics are nondigestible fibers found in foods such as Jerusalem artichokes and raw scallions. These are the foods that your probiotics—the healthy gut bacteria—feed on. Prebiotics can help normalize A. muciniphila. One study found that using prebiotics like inulin could stimulate the growth and prevent degradation5 of this bacterium.
4. Supplement smartly.
The right nutrients can provide the gut-healing foundation even the healthiest of us don't always get from food. Among these supplements are probiotics, our little helpers that compete against unfavorable flora to protect us from harmful pathogens. In fact, probiotics have been found to encourage the growth of other beneficial bacteria not included in the probiotic supplement. I talk about finding the right probiotic supplement and other gut-supporting nutrients in my book, Happy Gut.
5. Incorporate mindfulness for overall gut health.
What you put on the end of your fork can go a long way toward normalizing gut health and optimizing levels of A. muciniphila to keep you lean and healthy. But how you move, sleep, manage stress, meditate, and live your life can also have a dramatic effect on supporting gut health.
Over the next few years, I'm confident we'll see new gut-health products that include A. muciniphila. In fact, a new company was started in Belgium to research and produce the first A. muciniphila probiotic supplement.
But you don't have to wait for science to catch up on what we already know: Supporting a happy gut with the right foods and lifestyle factors can dramatically optimize your gut health so you stay lean, healthy, and full of energy.
Vincent M. Pedre, M.D., medical director of Pedre Integrative Health and president of Dr. Pedre Wellness, is a board-certified internist in private practice in New York City since 2004. He completed his bachelor’s degree in Biology at Cornell University before attending the University of Miami School of Medicine and completed his residency in Internal Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He has appeared on the Martha Stewart Show and ABC and is the author of Happy Gut: The Cleansing Program to Help You Lose Weight, Gain Energy, and Eliminate Pain. Dr. Pedre is a clinical instructor in medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and is certified in yoga and medical acupuncture.