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Understanding Your Microbiome


by Dr. Nancy Rahnama

Director of Health & Nurition

A healthy microbiome is key to dropping excess weight and keeping it off.

 

I diagnose 1 in 10 of my patients as having a disordered gut microbiome that is preventing their weight loss.
 

By the time a patient comes to me to treat their weight problems, they’ve likely tried any number of dieting programs and regimens. Many are discouraged because they (or others) blame themselves for lacking will power or being weak when this is far from the truth.

 

In fact, at least 1 in 10 of these patients has an imbalanced microbiome that is preventing their weight loss success. 

 

How?

It's an accumulation of behaviors that leads to the problem. The shift in your microbiome is gradual, and not as obvious cause-and-affect.

 

People tend to understand the direct impact alcohol has on their body - "Oh, I drank last night, and I'm going to have a hangover tomorrow." But when it comes to food – the food you eat doesn’t start impacting your body for hours, days or even weeks later, so it’s harder to understand that link but it’s happening. 

 

My goal is to create that type of understanding with the behaviors of the food you eat.

 

The problem comes from the foods you choose to eat, and then the solution comes with understanding how the foods you choose to eat affect you in the long term so that you can choose otherwise. Because it is all about a choice. The only way you  change a behavior is if you choose not to have it.

 

What is a microbiome?

Your microbiome is unique to you, created by your genetics, environment and actions.  Technically a microbiome is a group of living microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, protozoa) in the stomach, small intestines, and colon.

 

The GI microbiomes play a critical role in digestion, in maintaining gut health, in creating enzymes, and helping with absorption of vitamins, amino acids and minerals that are necessary for your general health and well-being. In cases where your body produces a vitamin, like Vitamin K for example, it’s the bacteria that live in your gut that do the work.

 

Western medicine’s knowledge of the gut microbiome is relatively new – within the last 20 years – and we’re learning more all the time. One of the original studies transferred the microbiome of overweight rats to healthy rats, and the healthy rats became overweight.   

 

Recent studies show it’s clear how powerful the gut microbiome is in affecting multiple systems of the body and not just restricted to digestive but immunological and neurological systems as well.

 

What are the signs something is off?

Common symptoms are gas, bloating, or constipation. Others experience diarrhea. Longer term imbalances can lead to chronic fatigue, depression or, in extreme cases, autoimmune diseases, IBS, hypertension and diabetes.

 

What does this have to do with weight loss and maintenance?

A microbiome imbalance prevents your metabolism from working properly.   and they’re more prone to developing pre-diabetic metabolic syndrome.

 

What hurts microbiome health?

Microbiome damage in the gut occurs when the bad bacteria outnumber the good, a condition called dysbiosis.

 

Big Food conglomerates package unnatural, manipulated and genetically modified foods that are low in fiber and laced with chemical preservatives and flavor enhancers. We gravitate towards those foods because they taste better, they last longer, and they're more affordable. But our bodies weren’t designed to handle them. When you eat a processed food, once it reaches your gut microbiome, it creates an imbalance between good and the bad bacteria that live there. Eventually, the whole system starts losing efficacy.

 

What else can cause microbiome damage in the gut?

Abnormal hormone levels, like thyroid or insulin, can also disrupt the gut microbiome. The stress hormone cortisol for sure is a major microbiome disruptor and a stressful lifestyle exacerbates it even more. Picture your CEO who's high stress, works 16-hour days at his desk and doesn't have time to get a healthy lunch so he eats protein bars all day.

 

Even certain medications can disrupt the gut microbiome. Antibiotics, for example, can wreak havoc on a healthy microbiome because they can’t distinguish between good and bad bacteria. For example, if you go through courses of antibiotics for whatever other reason, like recurrent UTIs or sinus infections, then you can actually create a bacterial imbalance which could lead to other problems.

 

Is microbiome damage cumulative?

Absolutely. And unlike a hangover with symptoms that appear literally overnight, microbiome disorders may take years before their symptoms finally manifest.

 

What can I do to support my microbiome?

The one thing over which you have absolute control is what you choose to eat. Also even if you don’t have microbiome problems now, it’s impossible to overcorrect. Supporting yours with a healthy diet today will pay preventive health benefits down the road.

 

In my next blog, I’ll give you pointers on microbiome-friendly foods and supplements. It all comes understanding how what you choose to eat affect you in the long term so that you can select for your best (and your microbiome’s) health.

 

 

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