Gut Microbiome and Metabolism
Consider this one body system when you want to influence your metabolism
Where is your mind going to when you read that word?
To your body shape? To the amount of energy you expend each day? Or are you instead thinking about the way your body uses the food you eat at each meal?
And while each one of these relates to one another and is a function of your body’s metabolism, today we’re going to explore this intricate body process a little further. By the end of this post, you’re going to fully comprehend the role your metabolism plays, and the factors that influence it in the greater environment of health and disease.
What is the metabolism, anyway?
Metabolism, as a verb, is any process that involves changing one compound to another, which then performs a specific function. When we relate it to the energy processes of the body, which is what we refer to as metabolism in our day-to-day lives, we’re talking about the conversion of the food we eat into nutrients that can then be used for the body to function.
There are many factors that influence our metabolism, which include both the efficiency of the conversion of food and the rate at which these nutrients can be used. Hormones, the types of food you eat, your body composition of muscle to fat mass, your age, genetics, gender, and levels of physical activity.
What about your balance of gut bacteria? Do you think that they play a role in energy metabolism?
Of course, they do; and unfortunately, they’re often forgotten about when it comes to this essential process.
The gut microbiome is ever-changing
Current research into the gut microbiota, which refers to the trillions of bacteria, fungi, viruses and collective microorganism that live within your digestive tract, has allowed us to gather significant amounts of information about the role they play in health. We already know that too many of one species, and not enough of another, can predispose an individual to obesity, but this imbalance, called dysbiosis, can also influence our metabolic health.
While these little critters are tough, they do change markedly across the lifespan of an individual. As you change your habits, you have more stress, you take antibiotics when you’re sick, or you start eating different foods, your gut microbiome shifts and changes accordingly. Sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse.
One of the most significant influencing factors on these changes in gut microbiota is your diet. Research has shown that it can happen within 4 days of a dietary change! You can imagine why when you think about your eating habits. Apart from sleep, it’s something every living creature must do to survive… And some of us do it far more than others, which is one crucial factor that changes the composition of the gut bacteria that then goes on to influence metabolism.
Let’s take the standard westernised diet, for example. It’s packaged, processed, refined, based on convenience, sugary, low in fibre and high in saturated fat. That about sums it up! And when we look at the gut microbiome of people who eat this way every day? It’s little wonder there’s an imbalance, where metabolically-rich species are in lower supply we’ll refer to as B for Bacteroidetes, than those that negatively impact metabolic health we’ll call F Firmicutes.
It’s all because of the way the gut microbiota acquire and harvest energy, and how they influence the metabolic pathways. More F-type species harvest more calories from food than B-types, which means you could be ‘eating’ more calories than you think. Because these gut bacteria also influence nutrient absorption and utilisation, they can further impact your metabolic health.
Strategies to optimise your gut microbiome for metabolic health
As mentioned, it’s possible to modulate these effects with diet. Strategies to increase the helpful B-type bacteria and reduce the F-types include:
- Including more fibre into the diet.
- Eating a variety of whole foods at each meal.
- Managing your calorie intake by not eating too much or too little.
- Staying away from processed and refined foods.
- Eating whole grains.
- Taking probiotics (where it is deemed necessary), or eating probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, and drinking kombucha.
- Eating prebiotic foods like bananas, inulin, chicory root.
- Managing blood sugar levels by eating smaller, more frequent meals.
- Balancing carbs, fats and proteins at every meal.
Weight management and metabolic health goes far deeper than the calories in versus calories out theory. When we begin to consider what our gut microbiome is doing, and whether it is working for or against us, we can begin to figure out the interventions we need to make to improve its function, and thus have better control of our metabolism and overall metabolic health.