First it was sitting too much, eating too quickly, and now it’s the bacteria and other microbes in your digestive system that can be making you gain. Several new studies reveal that the microorganisms in your gut play a major role in your metabolism, confirming that how your body uses–and stores–food is so much more than simple arithmetic of calories. A study published in Science, for instance, proved that identical twins–one of whom is lean and the other is obese–have substantially different gut flora species, and in different proportions. In other words, microbes have the power to outweigh your genetic predisposition for a certain BMI.
How do these unseen microbes wield so much power? You begin collecting your own gut flora at birth, from your mother’s milk, other foods, and the environment. Your body contains 10 times more bacterial cells than your own cells, and most of these are located in your gut. The microbes in your body right now could fill a half-gallon jug! They are indispensable for the breakdown and absorption of nutrients, and even protect you against disease-causing “bad” bacteria.
On the other hand, our symbiosis with gut bacteria make absorption of nutrients almost too efficient for our modern lives, when food is more bountiful than ever before. If you have some overachieving bacteria, you might get 90% of nutrients (calories) from your food, whereas your friend might only glean a measly 75%. This might explain why gut flora in obese people are substantially different from those in lean people.
So what can you do to control your gut flora? It turns out that your diet can dramatically change the composition of your flora in just 24 hours. If you go from meat- and dairy-based diet to a plant-based diet (grains, fruits, and vegetables), you have a significant reduction of inflammation-causing bacteria, and an increase in bacteria that have anti-inflammatory effects. If you return to a normal diet, however, the gut flora also revert very quickly–within 48 hours.
Your digestive system is far more complex than it seems possible. It even has around 100 million neurons, which work with neurotransmitters just like the brain–and in fact, over 95% of your body’s serotonin is found in the guts. What you eat has a profound effect on you, literally from the guts. While the research is only just beginning to uncover the most fascinating function of your digestive system, your brain, and the rest of your body, it seems safe to say that finding your microbe balance with a plant-based diet is a good place to begin.
Also in Diet: What Are You Hungry For? By Deepak Chopra
Photo: Daniela Vladimirova via Flickr