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Want to lose weight? Boost gut health for effective results

health and fitness Updated: Apr 24, 2016 16:45 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Weight Loss

You gain or lose weight depending on the amount of energy you extract from food and the amount you burn, depending on how active you are throught the day.(Shutterstock)

Ever noticed how some people can eat a proverbial truckful of food and stay skinny as a rail while others pack in kilos just watching food shows? Science, common sense and Mr Spock tell us it’s illogical, but it happens. Here’s how.

The textbook explanation is that you gain or lose weight depending on the amount of energy you extract from food and the amount you burn, depending on how active you are throught the day. The body stores unspent calories adipose (fat) tissue for use as an energy source when food is scarce, but living as many of us do with refrigerators stocked with high-calorie foods, we very often eat more than our body needs to function. The result is widening waists, frustrating bellies and a relentless pressure to lose weight.

Read: Scientists identify the unexpected benefit of weight-loss surgery

New research shows that factors other than the types and amount of food you eat influence weight gain. Of course, accepted wisdom works to a large extent and there’s no getting away from foods that are high in fibre, have no added sugar, low salt and are low saturated fat from meat and dairy, as well as being generally active – you need to take at least 8,000-10,000 steps a day for your heart and muscles to get the workout they need.

But, to misqoute Shakespeare, there are more things in heaven and earth than mentioned in biology textbooks.

As good as it gets

Recent studies have found that the 100 trillion microorganisms from over 500 different species that inhabit a healthy human gut and break down food for absorption also play a role in harvesting, storing and burning of calories. An imbalance in the gut flora may cause a clutch of intestinal disorders, including infections, inflammatory bowel diseases, intestinal tumours and lesions.

So critical is the role of the gut microbes that scientists call them an “auxiliary, virtual organ” that crucially influences the normal structural and functional development of the mucosal immune system.These organisms have a collective metabolic activity equal to a virtual organ within an organ, and they collectively influence mucosal stability and immune responses to infectious and inflammatory and neoplastic disease within the intestines, report researchers in EMBO Reports, a Nature journal.

With refrigerators full of high-calorie foods, we very often eat more than our body needs to function. The result is widening waists, frustrating bellies and a relentless pressure to lose weight. (Shutterstock)

The gut flora is highly sensitive to insults and imbalances triggered by what we drink and eat, including medicines, with the composition of the microbiota changing rapidly in response to what you eat. It also differs in lean and obese humans, which explains why we digesta nd absorb nutrients and calories differently, shows research published in American Journal of Gastroenterology Supplements. So strong is the effect on metabolic activity that they also trigger the conditions characterised by low-level inflammation, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.

A study in the journal Nature demonstrated that introducing gut microbiota from obese mice into lean ones raised their body fat by 60% and caused insulin resistance within two weeks despite food being reduced by 29% and activity being raised by 27%. Another study in Nature found that just transferring the gut microbiota from genetically obese mice to lean mice led to a transfer of the obese phenotype, which mad the lean mice overweight.

Probiotic foods work

There is growing evidence that probiotics in found naturally in foods or taken as supplements help restore gut health. Live, active probiotic strains are abundant in yoghurt, which eases diarrhoea and intestinal queasiness associated with the use of antibiotics used to lower infection. Antibiotics, which kill good bacteria along with the bad, change the intestinal microbiata, which can be restored by having yoghurt three times day, reported researchers in the journal, BMJ Open. It also lowers uneasiness associated with inflammatory bowel disease.

Yoghurt also helps increase resistance to and recovery from respiratory and gastrointestinal infection, including infection from the multi-drug resistant Meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), reported a study in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents. Apart from yoghurt, probiotics are found naturally in fermented and unfermented milk, miso, some juices and soy drinks.

Read: Obese people can not only lose weight, they can keep weight off too

With grocery stores full of a staggering array of probiotic-laced drinks and food, , most people usually arrive at a brand by trial and error. Many probiotics are sold in grocery stores as dietary supplements and lack the rigorous testing and approval processes that medicines go through. Look for products that mention the amount of live bacteria used and buy products stored in refrigerators to ensure the active agent is alive and viable. For example, chocolates claiming to be probiotic are not so because the manufacturing process involves heating, which kills the live bacteria. Similarly, frozen yoghurts and ice creams cannot have active probiotics because they are stored at near-zero temperatures, which again destroys the good bacteria.

It’s best, then, to make your own yoghurt and using live culture and have prescription probiotics to pamper your gut at the first signs of unease.

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