Losing weight is the ultimate balancing act, isn’t it?
If you’re looking to lose weight, you know the most important changes you can make are going to be your diet and exercise. Eat better, work out more, right? The problem is finding a way to do this consistently, week after week, month after month, while at the same time trying to minimize how much these changes adversely affect the rest of your life. After all, you still have to get up at the same time every morning and go to work, take care of your kids, keep the house clean and do a million other things. In our quest to “have it all” and find this perfect balance, we often get frustrated, so it’s natural we start looking for shortcuts or boosts to help us along the way.
One of those potential boosts, and perhaps the one with the greatest buzz at the moment, is probiotics, which are essentially beneficial bacteria most commonly found in yogurt and other fermented foods, as well as in some dairy products. The idea is that these bacteria change the composition of our “gut bacteria,” and by improving it, our overall health improves as well.
I did some digging, and here’s what I found out.
Gut bacteria playing a bigger role than diet and exercise?
Two recent studies looked at the effects gut bacteria could have on mice.
In the first study, mice received gut bacteria from 32 children and adolescents, half overweight and the other half within normal weight range. The researchers were then able to transfer these bacteria into specially bred mice with no bacteria in their intestines. They then compared the differences in weight gain and metabolism among the mice themselves, as well as the children who originally donated the bacteria. What they found was that even though all the mice were given the same diet and had the same activity levels, the mice who received bacteria from overweight children gained more weight than the mice who received bacteria from people within the normal weight range.
Another study took three groups of mice with specific genetic variations. Each of them had their own set of traits. One group was more susceptible to diabetes and obesity, another was prone to obesity and not diabetes, and the third wasn’t prone to either condition. They then treated the mice with specific antibiotics meant to change the composition of their gut bacteria. However, only one of the specific groups had improved metabolism, enabling them to lose weight and better fight off the causes and side effects of diabetes. The others showed no significant changes.
What this means for you and me
The researcher who led the second study, C. Ronald Kahn, said that the research suggested that some people are more genetically susceptible to the impact of the microbiome than others. So, clearly, understanding these genetic factors will play an important role in predicting the future usefulness of microbiome therapies for obesity.
For now, what this really means is that scientists are on the right track, but how to take this information and put it to practical use is still unclear. We can’t exactly know which changes to our gut bacteria are going to help us and which may do nothing for us. It does mean, however, that while diet and exercise remain the keys to losing weight for now, potentially figuring out how gut bacteria works could be just as important (or maybe even more so) in the future. It’s not the promise of a miracle drug or cure. We’re not suddenly going to do nothing all day and still lose weight. It means that the struggle will be easier and the time required of us perhaps not quite as long, leaving us more time for our other needs.
The changes you can make today
I want to give you some of the keys to improving your gut bacteria that we know of right now, but I also want people struggling to lose weight and stay healthy to hear this too: It’s not all in your head. Some people lose weight faster. Some people gain muscle easier.
Yes, maintaining a healthy weight is hard for anyone, but if you’re working hard and still not getting the results you’re after, it might not be your fault. I do hope you keep pushing to stay in shape and live as healthy a life as possible, but know that when you slip up or get down on yourself, it’s OK. Just because it may be harder for you than others doesn’t mean success is impossible.
Here are some keys to improving gut bacteria:
-Break a sweat.
-Eat as little added sugar as possible.
-Find a way to decrease your stress levels. Try yoga, a different form of exercise or meditation. Everyone has different needs here.
-Eat more fruits and vegetables.
-Try different probiotics and see for yourself if they help. Some people will get little or no benefit, but others really do notice significant health gains.
-Try organic milk and eggs, and pick up grass-fed meat. Less processed foods and chemicals may keep your body in better balance.
-Stop using antibacterial soaps.
-Eat less of the unhealthy saturated fats you find in greasy foods.
-Get quality, consistent sleep at the same time whenever possible. Real life will get in the way at times, but our body likes consistency most of all when it comes to the rest we get.
Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He’s on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at [email protected] with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.