Probiotics! Is Your Gut Bacteria Making You Fat?

By Dr. Patrick Giammarise, DC, IHS

We all know that bacteria can make us sick but did you know that bacteria might also make us fat? Researchers have discovered that thin people have different bacteria in their guts than overweight people. How could that be possible?

Scientists theorized two factors could be responsible. First, increased use of antibiotics may be eliminating the bacteria that help people regulate appetite and metabolism.

Studies also reveal that bacteria appear to exhibit communications between each other and our genes, which may be affecting our hormones that regulate our appetite and moods.

What is not clear is which is the chicken and which is the egg. Is it the bacteria that makes us overweigh or is it that our weight gain causes changes in our bacteria?

More research needs to be conducted for us to know for sure but there are some emerging facts that are now known about the body’s intestinal bacteria that will  help us stay healthy.

An Intestinal Balancing Act 

The majority of the bacteria found in our bodies reside in the gastrointestinal tract. In fact, we have 100 trillion bacteria in our bodies - that’s ten times as many bacteria in our bodies as we have cells! There are somewhere between 500 and 1,000 types of bacteria in our digestive system and each type has hundreds of different strains. With so many permutations, some scientists suggest that just like we have blood types, we may have ‘microflora’ types.

In a healthy body, both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria live in harmony with each other,  each having a job to do to keep our digestive tract in balance and working properly. The good or ‘friendly’ bacteria are beneficial organisms that augment digestion while the ‘bad’ bacteria are not beneficial because they release harmful toxins into our bowel.

When there are not enough good bacteria to compete for space against the bad bacteria, an imbalanced ratio of good to bad results. When this happens the bad bacteria will multiply excessively and produce digestive problems, skin issues, immune system problems and generalized fatigue.

A third inhabitant of the GI tract – yeast - is actually a fungus and not a bacteria. When our yeast gets out of balance it secretes harmful waste products in our intestines and we may develop an overgrowth known as Candiasis.

All three organisms - the good, the bad and the yeast ugly - in balance are essential to a healthy digestive system.

A Focus on the Good

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With that background, a focus on the good bacteria makes sense since it’s the good bacteria that keep the other organisms in check.

Good bacteria are called ‘probiotics’.  Think ‘pro’ + ‘life’.

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They are not enzymes, vitamins or minerals but microbes that live inside you. They differ from antibiotics. Think ‘against’ + ‘life’. While we all appreciate the essential role antibiotics play when we are sick, probiotics plays a crucial important role in staying healthy.

For example Acidophilus lives mainly in the small intestine, keeping the lining healthy and making the intestine more acidic to ward off yeast overgrowth. Bifidobacteria, found mostly in the large intestine, secretes large amounts of acid creating an environment inhospitable to foreign microbes and helps to prevent and reduce the effects of food poisoning.

Research has revealed that the health benefits of having the right kind of probiotics are immense.

Probiotic Benefits

  • Help control harmful viruses and bad bacteria
  • Help prevent overgrowth of yeast
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Aids in digestion
  • Help reduce diarrhea, bloating, gas and constipation
  • Support immune system function
  • Assist in the production of B  vitamins and vitamin K
  • Prevent the development of food sensitivities
  • Improve resistance to and recovery from infections
  • Affect body weight and metabolism
  • Can impact mood and behavior

Checks and Balances

Some of you may be wondering: Do I need to take a probiotic?

My answer is we all need probiotics.

That’s because most people eat and drink, experience stress, get sick, age and take medications. Just as we can have a vitamin deficiency, we can also have a probiotic deficiency.  In my clinical practice, I experience very few patients who would not benefit from supplementing with an effective probiotic.

Perhaps you have tried taking a probiotic and it’s not giving you the results you hoped for. Or perhaps you are taking a probiotic but have no idea if it’s working.

If you have tried probiotics unsuccessfully to reduce your stomach and bowel problems the reason may be twofold:

It may not be the right probiotic for you

It may be only part of the solution for your intestinal problems

Or a combination of both reasons

If this is the case, it is necessary to go beyond DIY probiotics and seek professional help to find the most effective probiotic for you or to get to the deeper cause of your stomach or bowel problems that probiotics alone was unable to solve. Seek someone who knows the importance of getting to the cause of your condition so that you can get the results you seek – feeling better!