Fitness Three generation family play on beach

Published on June 21st, 2014 | by Margaret Pardoe


Gut bugs and weight loss!

It’s not just what you eat that helps keep you at a healthy weight, it’s exercise too! And, not simply in the obvious way of “Just eat less and exercise more”, but by changing the bugs that live in your gut which influence your weight!

Part of the human microbiome, there are billions and billions of bacteria in our intestines alone and they have an effect on our weight as well as our general health. It’s pretty obvious that what we eat will influence what kind of bugs inhabit us, but its less obvious that exercise has a beneficial effect on these bacteria – another good reason to exercise!

The human microbiome is the population of over 100 trillion microorganisms that live in our gut, mouth, skin and elsewhere in our bodies. These microorganisms have numerous beneficial functions including digesting food, helping to prevent disease-causing bacteria from invading the body and synthesizing essential nutrients and vitamins. The total number of genes associated with the human microbiome exceeds the total number of human genes 100-to-one.

But why should we care about our intestinal bacteria! Well, a healthy and varied gut bacteria ecosystem has been linked to everything from low obesity rates to fewer symptoms of mental disorders. And low diversity of gut bacteria is associated with inflammation and markers of metabolic syndrome such as weight gain and insulin resistance. New evidence indicates that intestinal bacteria alter the way we store fat, how we balance levels of glucose in the blood, and how we respond to hormones that make us feel hungry or full. It’s believed that the bacteria within may predispose us from birth to obesity and diabetes.

But all is not lost! Not only can you alter your gut bacteria by eating natural foods containing probiotics and prebiotics, you can also affect the balance of bacteria through exercise! Already known to be good for heart health, muscle strengthening, fat loss and hormonal balance, there’s now believed to be an added bonus! 

A recent study from University College Cork demonstrates that it isn’t just what you eat, exercise may have an effect on gut bacteria. Published online in the journal Gut, the study found that professional athletes had better gut bacteria diversity than average people. Blood and faeces of 40 professional rugby players who were actively training at the time were compared with blood and faeces of a control group made up of 46 healthy men who were not athletes, but who roughly matched the rugby  players’ size and age. The control group was divided into two parts i.e. those with a normal BMI (body mass index) of 25 or less and overweight men with a BMI of 28 or more.

The rugby players had much more diverse microbiota than both control groups, and interestingly, they especially had a lot more of the bacteria species “Akkermansiaceae”, associated with lower rates of obesity and metabolic diseases. The least diversity was in the half of the control group with high BMI.

The difference in diets was significant as the athletes ate a lot more food than the control groups, including more fibre, more “good” fats and a lot more protein. Analysis showed a correlation between bacteria and exercise levels, and also bacteria and protein consumption. But the separate effects of exercise and protein consumption are not yet known according to Fergus Shanahan who led the research team. A further study on a gut bacteria is underway and divides the non-athletes into 3 groups: people with an exercise regime, people who will both exercise and eat a high-protein diet, and people who just eat a high-protein diet.

From the research it’s believed that it is probable that exercise (at any level) can benefit intestinal bacteria, and that exercise and diet together can have a beneficial effect on the diversity of gut bacteria, metabolic profile and inflammation.

What kind of exercise? Anything that you enjoy!

If you choose exercise that’s both fun and appropriate for your age and current level of fitness, you’ll stand a much better chance of making a permanent change towards being more active.

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About the Author

Margaret Pardoe

first trained and practiced as a State Registered Nurse and State Certified Midwife in the UK, and thereafter, as a Master Herbalist, Registered Iridologist and Accredited Journey Therapist. More recently she trained as a Neuro Linguistic Programming Practitioner with co-founder and creator of NLP, Richard Bandler. She has a lifetime of experience in both allopathic and alternative medicine and in mind/body healing techniques.

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