For many, losing weight is still an elusive goal. Finding the formula, the magic supplement or pill, and the perfect exercise routine for weight loss is now ingrained in our culture and a part of constant health dialogue. Not a day passes in my practice where someone doesn’t approach me seeking the secret to weight loss.
I have talked and written much about weight and obesity in the past, but I would like to challenge us to dig a little deeper into an underlying cause of weight gain. We all know that our sedentary lifestyles, our food industry and our changing environment, can contribute to weight gain. For women, there exists the added piece of hormones and hormone balance and in the search for weight loss, these are important elements of the formula.(1,2)
Yet in the last few months, study after study is emerging citing that beyond all these other factors, the bugs in your gut may be ultimately responsible for weight gain or the difficulty in losing it.(3,4) The role of “gut bugs” is the target of research, new drugs for a variety of diseases and the next hope for sustained weight loss.
The balance of bacteria, yeast and parasites- a “microbial soup” as I call it, may be the ultimate arbiter of weight. The lack of bacterial diversity in the gut may be responsible for our weight woes and the root of many diseases today, including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and the spectrum of autoimmune disorders on the rise in our country.(5)
I have the unique opportunity to spend time with patients and really learn about their health challenges and weight woes. I have patients that have tried everything- every diet, every supplement and every weight loss plan out there. They are shocked when they get amazing results by fixing their bellies- when they balance their microbial soup. Symptoms from reflux to depression disappear and yes, they also lose weight.
Gut bugs are responsible for the hard work of digestion, metabolism, hormone building and neurotransmitter balance. Without them, our entire health is uprooted. Hormones are metabolized and broken down in the gut, and more than ninety-five percent of our neurotransmitters are made in our bellies. Every alternative system of medicine holds gut health as the secret to wellness and the cause of disease when unbalanced. We must take this balance seriously.
How many of us eat the same breakfast everyday? The same lunch? How many of us eat out more than three times per week? I think we have all spent a lot of time and energy blasting the food industry, access to healthy foods, and have advocated for more movement in our schools and workplaces. While these are all important factors in the weight loss and health equation, research is suggesting that the lack of bacterial diversity needs just as much attention. I believe this wholeheartedly and just wrote a book, which stresses the need for food variety, since every food has its own bacterial profile. I explore the relationship between gut bacteria and weight, mood, allergies, hormones and cancer in The 21-Day Belly Fix all in an effort to address and heal the gut.
As I continue to practice medicine, I am recognizing the patterns of bacterial diversity gone awry at an alarming rate—small intestinal bacterial overgrowth; candida and lack of digestive enzymes are becoming a part of my routine diagnostics. Medical treatment of many conditions is now targeted at the bacteria in the belly, rather than a disease symptom. For our ongoing weight debate, shifting the conversation to look at gut bugs and balancing our internal microbial soup may be the next frontier. Perhaps the real fix for our American weight crisis is a belly fix.