July 21, 2014
Over the years I’ve had thousands of patients come to me desperate to lose weight. I’ve watched the obesity epidemic grow by leaps and bounds, with no diet showing even the slightest ability to hold the crisis at bay.
And so I have to ask myself, why haven’t we been able to solve this problem?
In recent years, I’ve actually been able to ask myself a far more interesting question.
Is it possible that where we have failed, bacteria will succeed?
The microbiome—the trillions of bacteria that live within us—is the key to revving up our metabolism. It’s the secret to banishing our cravings and regaining a healthy, stable appetite. It is the missing link that we’ve been looking for, the factor that will ultimately enable us to solve the obesity epidemic. It is the weight loss that we’ve all been seeking for so long.
Our bodies contain 10 times as many bacterial cells as human cells. This microbial community operates with us in symbiosis. Friendly bacteria orchestrate our immune system, influence our mood, promote mental sharpness, determine heart health, support bone development, produce crucial vitamins and other nutrients, manufacture natural antibiotics, and even help to determine our genetic expression.
Friendly bacteria also digest our food, govern our appetite, and control our metabolism. They determine whether we are able to lose weight and keep it off. They are the missing piece in the weight-loss puzzle that has eluded us for so many years. Because we physicians didn’t know about the microbiome, our efforts to help our patients lose weight were always haphazard and incomplete. It was always a matter of one step forward and two steps back.
If only we had known about the microbiome! Nourishing the microbiome and restoring the balance of healthy bacteria is the key not only to weight loss, but to health.
In the past few years, we have witnessed an explosion of research revealing the powerful ways in which a healthy microbiome enables rapid and sustained weight loss. This research confirms what I have seen with thousands of patients in my own clinical practice.
The microbiome operates at a very deep level, linking our digestive, immune, endocrine, and nervous systems as well as many other aspects of our body. When trillions of microbes get together, they create a powerful ecosystem–a force that can create quantum changes in our metabolism. This force is even more powerful because the ecosystem interacts with our biology in so many diverse and profound ways.
Thousands of my patients have seen the power of the microbiome. When they support their microbiome—with probiotics, prebiotics, fermented foods, and high-fiber foods—they begin immediately to lose weight. Eventually they can maintain a healthy weight almost without effort, simply by avoiding foods that harm the microbiome and eating foods that balance and nourish it.
The bacteria in the microbiome need us to survive: they feed on the fiber and other food elements that we consume but do not digest. But we also need our microbiome. As we evolved, our bodies came to depend on this microbial community to perform several key functions.
So how did our complex human anatomy come to depend upon these tiny “primitive” creatures?
Because human bodies change slowly—but bacterial communities change quickly. Because the lifespan of a microbe is so short—only about 20 minutes—a single human day represents about 1500 years in microbiome time. What we eat during just a single day can create a powerful, immediate impact in our microbiome—for good or bad.
Eating foods that are high in sugar, starch, and unhealthy fat can derail the microbiome in less than 24 hours. Eating microbiome-friendly foods full of helpful bacteria, fiber, and healthy fats can get the microbiome back on track in less than a day.
And that’s why the microbiome is the ultimate weight-loss secret. Its ability to change quickly and its role in our biochemistry give it incredible power. The microbiome has more power than any drug or any diet, because it knows exactly which strings to pull in our body. Better than any doctor or scientist, it knows which of our genes to turn off and which to turn on, in order to rev up our metabolism or slow it down.
When you consider the super-intelligence of the trillion-member microbiome, our limited human intelligence pales in comparison. No diet we could ever invent compares to the microbiome’s ability to affect our weight.
The microbiome can help us overcome insulin resistance, long recognized as a big problem for people who have trouble losing weight. The microbiome also either exacerbates or heals inflammation, an immune-system response that contributes to weight gain. Our bacterial community determines whether our anti-inflammatory genes are turned on or off. Through these and many other pathways, our microbiome is the key to weight loss.