There’s a fair amount of research that looks at how an “obese” gut microbiota is different from a “lean” one. We are trying to understand what a lean microbiome is, and how to create it, other than through fecal implants – which do seem to work. But how many overweight people actually want to get a fecal transplant from a random lean person, even if it were easy to do so?
This review of studies explains different mechanisms of action as to how certain bacteria populations can make you hold on to weight for dear life. There are energy-efficient, calorie-consumer bacteria strains, those that mess with appetite and cravings, and others that cause inflammation.
One aspect that shows up over and over is that too many Firmicutes (Firm-a-cutes) relative to Bacteroides (rhymes with Astroids), correlates with weight gain. These two
So it seems like a good idea to cultivate the Bacteroides and Actinobacteria, and not the Firmicutes, right? Huh? How does this work?
do you rush out to buy the latest probiotic and take gobs of it?
You may think that probiotic pills are THE thing to make your health perfect. But do you know anything about what kinds of bacteria you are dumping into your gut relative to what’s already there? Most of us don’t.
We are swayed by the latest marketing trend of the week. This may be that the more billions of bacteria that are shoved into that capsule, the better it is. Or it may be that the greater the variety of bacteria in the pill, the better it is.
But really, it’s the type that matters. Do you need that type or do you already have too much of it?
Did you know that some people have too much “good” bacteria?
Yup, it’s true! Bacterial overgrowth is a “thing,” especially when it’s in your small intestine, which should be sparsely populated compared to your colon, or large intestine, where microbial life should be abundant.
You can also have an imbalance in your ratios, as described above. This is typically too many Firmicutes relative to Bacteroides or Actinobacteria. But that is guessing, and it’s also quite simplified, as these phyla contain hundreds of subspecies. How do you really know what you are growing?
One approach is to test
The gold standard to testing your gut bacteria is through a genetic PCR stool test. When I work with women with weight-loss resistance, we use the GI Map stool test. We can find out if there are overgrowths, undergrowths, or general imbalance. We can also check how you are digesting fat, your enzyme production, estrogen metabolism microbes, inflammation, and the strength of your gut immune system. Then we can target interventions in the right direction.
If we find an overgrowth of the phyla Firmicutes, AND too much Lactobacillus – a type of Firmicute, then we can use these approaches:
- Avoid probiotics with Lactobacillus (most of them).
- Go low on cultured and fermented foods.
- Use different probiotic types, like soil-based organisms with a good track record, or Saccharomyces Boulardi (a probiotic yeast), or Bifidobacteria alone. This depends on what the GI Map says.
- Feed Bacteroides – you can’t take them, you have to grow them!
- Use herbs to knock down overgrowths if warranted. This could be SIBO, inflammatory bacteria in your colon, or even yeast or parasitic overgrowths.
In a nutshell, we are treating dysbiosis.
meanwhile, without testing, what can you do?
Do you have bloating (like a pregnant belly) AND sluggish bowels, stinky gas, or frequent diarrhea? That’s a sign of bacterial overgrowth in your small intestine, which by the way, is thought to be the cause of IBS in most cases.
Do you also have resistant weight loss, even though you do “all the right things?” A family history of diabetes? Fasting blood sugar over 90? High LDL cholesterol or triglycerides? PCOS with love handles?
If these apply, there are things you can do . . .
Step 1 to cultivating a fat-burning, lean microbiome
Given that probiotic capsules full of Firmicutes are all the rage, as well as
Bacteroides are anaerobic, so not easy to take in a capsule. It’s much better to feed them. It turns out that they like polyphenols, which is basically a phytochemical in many plants.
Where do you get these polyphenols?
Food! Specifically, plant foods. Polyphenol is actually a broad term that refers to lots of different plant compounds such as:
- Flavanols (including the catechins and tannins from tea)
- Flavanones (mostly hesperidin from citrus fruit)
- Flavonols (including quercetin from tea, apples
- Hydroxycinnamic acids (phenolic acids, abundant in coffee and many fruit and vegetables)
- Anthocyanins (colored polyphenols in fruit and vegetables)
If you want to really geek out about the vast number of polyphenols in different foods, check out this database.
But to make it simple, eat these foods:
- All berries, especially blueberries
- All colorful fruits, especially pomegranate seeds and black currants
- Nuts and seeds, especially pistachios, hazelnuts and pecans
- Beans, especially black and white beans
And drink these beverages:
- Wine in moderation, coffee and black tea
What about polyphenol supplements?
These are popular right now – think pomegranate concentrate, isoflavones, resveratrol, and many more. There can be reasons to use these medicinally, but as with all supplements, get guidance other than Dr. Google, as too much of a good thing can be, well, too much of a good thing! This study speaks to risks of overdoing polyphenol supplements.
I love the “reds” powders that are out there – adding 1 tsp to 1 TBS into a smoothie is a great way to feed your good Bacteroides. But check for additives and fillers, which may not be good for your gut, and dilute the precious “reds.” My most trusted red powder is PaleoReds.
For most, why not get your polyphenols from food? It’s the natural way to do it after all. Just eat food! And doesn’t it make sense that we tend to be low on Bacteroides in today’s overweight culture? You can’t find them in meat, fat, flour, sugar, salt, and most processed foods.
You need to eat the things you pick from trees and bushes (fruits, nuts, and seeds), and plant foods like whole beans. If beans are a problem for your digestion, it’s a sign of dysbiosis. You can test and treat it, or try adding 1 TBS of beans per day until you work your way up to 1/4 cup.