If you have stubborn weight problems, you may be suffering from gut dysbiosis, an imbalance in the bacteria that live in your gut. Gut dysbiosis can manifest in the body in all sorts of ways: various digestive symptoms such as loose stools, bloating, gas, constipation, or abdominal pain. It can also appear in the form of migraines, fatigue, mood swings, and more. Recent research has linked gut dysbiosis and its intestinal symptoms to ongoing weight issues.
The good news is that there's a way to restore gut health and turn your gut into a fat-burning machine.
As an integrative gastroenterologist, I've seen it happen over and over again in my practice: when people go on a special elimination-substitution diet (more on that below) to treat intestinal dysbiosis and heal the gut, their symptoms abate, they feel more energetic, and they seamlessly lose weight almost as a perk.
One of the keys to achieving optimal weight and wellness is a balanced microbiome, which is the collection of bacteria that live in and on your gut. It’s an ecosystem as complex as the Amazon rain forest and as unique as a fingerprint, and, as in all ecosystems, diversity equals health.
The problem is that the standard Western diet, lack of exercise, stress, environmental toxins, food-borne pathogens, overuse of antibiotics, pesticides, as well as many other factors can disrupt your microbiome and, ultimately, your health.
So what can you do to protect your health while losing weight at the same time?
Start by keeping your inner ecosystem balanced. Gut microbes in the right balance maintain optimal immunity and foster vibrant health. A sudden disruption in the biodiversity of this ecosystem can set the stage for illness and chronic disease.
You can also take active steps to prevent systemic inflammation, which plays a role in virtually every aspect of health. It's a contributing factor to cardiovascular illness, dementia, gastrointestinal disorders, type 2 diabetes, and so much more. It also causes us to gain weight, and your gut microbiome is intimately connected to this process.
This inflammatory process starts in the intestine, where gut-lining cells are weakened at critical junctions, leading to a condition called leaky gut syndrome.
Once these tight junctions are loosened, bacteria-derived toxins may enter your bloodstream, eliciting a vigorous inflammatory response. When sustained, this can create a downward spiral of insulin resistance, hyperglycemia and an increase in body fat.
If you truly want to rebalance and diversify your gut microbiome, follow these three steps:
1. Limit your intake of FODMAPs.
FODMAPs (fructo-, olgio-, di-, and mono-saccahrides and polyols), are a special class of highly fermentable sugars, fibers, and sugar alcohols that are found in a wide variety of foods. Some common examples include wheat, dairy, and fructose-rich foods such as honey, and beans. Even the sorbitol in breath mints falls under this category.
The kinds of FODMAPs you really want to cut out are junky carbs like refined grains and sugars, which are not well-tolerated by the gut. It's also a good idea to reduce your gluten and dairy.
Your gut microbes love FODMAPs. The problem is that if your microbiome is out of balance, you could be feeding the obesity-causing bacteria that have established a foothold in your gut. By limiting these foods, you set the stage for gut healing and weight loss.
2. Restore your inner ecosystem.
In the last decade, we have discovered that there are a class of foods now known as “prebiotics” that literally act as fertilizer for your gut flora. They just love to eat them and these foods are selective for promoting the growth of good gut microbes.
Once the gut has shifted towards a better microbiome, you can use healthy FODMAP foods such as fermented and cultured milk products and fruits (which are rich in prebiotics) to feed to healthy bacteria while seeing with probiotic bacteria.
A few examples are asparagus, artichoke, banana, beans, garlic, leeks, root vegetables and other foods rich in fiber.
3. Regrow the gut microbiome.
Eat probiotic-rich foods. It couldn’t be simpler, really. Just eat more fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchee and sauerkraut. The microbes in these foods will reseed your gut with wellness-promoting mighty microbes and help diversify the ecosystem within for a slim figure and vibrant health.
This three-step approach provides a sensible and scientifically sound method to rebalance your gut flora, lose weight, and stay healthy for life. It’s easy, delicious, flexible, and will help you burn off that stubborn fat fast and forever!
Gerard E. Mullin, MD, is a board-certified internist, gastroenterologist and nutritionist. He is an associate professor of medicine and serves as the director of Integrative GI Nutrition Services at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. Dr. Mullin has accrued over 20 years of clinical experience in the fields of integrative gastroenterology and nutrition. Dr. Mullin has contributed to hundreds of consumer trade magazine articles that have featured his advice, and professional journal papers dealing with digestive health. He is the author of several professional desk reference and trade books including his latest, The Gut Balance Revolution: Boost Your Metabolism, Restore Your Inner Ecology, and Lose the Weight for Good!