How To Improve Gut Health For Weight Loss

Posted: December 14, 2021

Gut health and weight loss go hand in hand.

You’ve probably heard of gut health, but have you ever really thought about how important it is for your OVERALL health?

What is gut health?

Gut health is the function and balance of bacteria in the many parts of the gastrointestinal tract. The term “gut microbiome” refers specifically to the microorganisms living in your intestines.

If you’ve ever “gone with your gut” or had that “gut feeling” to make a decision, or felt “butterflies in your stomach” when you’re nervous, this is a sign that the brain and gut are communicating with each other. This is also why your gut is known as the second brain, or the enteric nervous system (ENS). 

This “brain in your gut” is the link between digestion, mood, your overall health and even your body weight. Research also shows that a healthy gut can also improve your thinking and boost memory.

gut health is important for overall health and weight loss
Gut health is important for overall health and weight loss.

There are many different types of bacteria in the gut; good and bad.

We will not talk much about bad bacteria in this post. For now, just be aware that bad bacteria causes digestive issues like constipation, diarrhea, and has even been linked to mood fluctuations. This is known as dysbiosis, or the disruption in the balance of the microbiota.

On the other hand, your body have a symbiotic relationship with your good gut microbes. This means the bacteria living inside of you is beneficial for both you and the bacteria.

One of the health benefits of having a high levels of healthy gut bacteria is the production of short-chain fatty acids. The release of these short-chain fatty acids play an important role in reducing the risk of inflammatory diseases, type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and other conditions while improving the immune system.

In today’s blog post, I am sharing a roundup of facts on how gut health works and how it can affect your ability to lose weight.

Gut health is an important, yet often neglected, factor in losing weight and can impact your overall health.

In fact, in a new study, scientists found that weight loss is heavily influenced by the genes and enzymes within the bacteria living in your gut. 

Even though the science relating to the gut microbiome and its effect on weight loss (or weight gain) is still in its infancy, there are a number of new studies, like this one, that are starting to expand our understanding on how the gut microbiota influences weight-loss outcomes.

Gut Health and Weight Loss: How To Improve Gut Health For Weight Loss

Your gut health can either aid or cause resistance to weight loss. Thankfully, you can drastically improve the health of bacteria in your gut by doing just a few simple things on a daily basis.

Fill up on fermented foods and prebiotics

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for you, especially your digestive system. Probiotics are found in yogurt, kefir, tempeh and other fermented food like sauerkraut, kimichi and pickles. Because probiotics are living organisms, they need food to survive and thrive.That’s where prebiotics come into play. Prebiotics are the food for the bacteria’s growth.

You find prebiotics in fiber rich foods like apricots, artichokes, almonds, pistachios and legumes, berries, apples (tip: try to eat these fruits and vegetables with their skin to boost fiber content). So when you eat more prebiotics, you are essentially feeding your gut bacteria (probiotics) so they can thrive and grow.

Here is my favorite smoothie recipe that is fiber rich and loaded with prebiotics!

Fermented foods like pickles helps improve gut health which can lead to weight loss
Fermented foods like pickles are loaded with probiotics which can help the good bacteria in our gut thrive and multiply.

Limit processed foods

Even though most foods are processed these days, pay attention to the ultra-processed and refined foods because they lack diversity and fiber. Ultra processed foods are filled with added sugars, salt, artificial sweeteners, additives and preservatives. These foods spike blood sugar levels and can create an imbalance in the gut by affecting gut bacteria and their metabolism.

Your microbiome thrives on diverse fibers that can be found in a variety of plant-based foods like colorful fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  Try to choose a wide variety of colorful produce items when you go to the grocery store to maintain a healthy microbiome.

highly processed foods can alter gut health
Try to limit ultra-processed foods as they have been shown to disrupt your gut health and microbiome.

Manage your stress

Stress can impact the health of your gut depending on the length of time you’re experiencing stress. The longer you leave your stress unmanaged, the more severe your symptoms are due to the inflammation that stress causes. This can range from loss of appetite to irritable bowel syndrome. Therefore, reducing stress lowers inflammation in the gut which eases GI distress.

Furthermore, when you are stressed, hormones like leptin and ghrelin (two hormones involved in appetite and sensation of fullness), are altered. Stress levels can cause an imbalance in these hormones so you either feel hungrier or lose your appetite. When you use food to cope with stress, this can create an unhealthy relationship with food making long term weight loss more difficult. The same goes for those who loses their appetite when they are stressed. When you do not eat enough food, this can really affect your metabolism and further alter hormones in your body making permanent weight loss harder in the long run.

You can read more about hormones and weight loss in this blog post here.

A few ways to reduce stress include practicing gratitude and mindfulness, taking a walk outside, doing some deep breaths, journaling, surrounding yourself with positive people and venting to someone trustworthy about what’s causing you stress.

Medications and the gut microbiome

Let’s quickly talk about common medications as they can disrupt the balance of your gut microbiome.

This is NOT to say you need to stop taking your medication. But if you do take some of these meds mentioned below, it may be a good idea to focus on strengthening your gut microbiome.

Some medications you should be mindful of and that can affect gut health include:

  • Antibiotics – While antibiotics can be highly effective in treating serious bacterial infections, there is concern about misuse and overuse.
  • Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) – NSAIDs (i.e., Motrin, Advil and Aleve) disrupt the normal balance of the beneficial bacteria living in your gut.
  • Antacids – All antacids neutralize the acid in your stomach, which is the body’s first line of defense from harmful pathogens that we eat every day. We increase our risk for stomach bugs and infections if we are taking antacids regularly.
  • Antidepressants – One of the most popular classes of anti-depressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). About 90 percent of serotonin is made in the gut. Imbalances in serotonin have been linked to diseases including irritable bowel syndrome, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.
  • Sleeping pills – Like antidepressants, sleeping pills are fat-soluble drugs. They can penetrate the gut wall and injure the natural balance of the digestive system.
  • Laxatives – Laxatives can also affect the balance of gut bacteria.
  • Statins – Statins, or cholesterol lowering medications, may negatively influence the balance of gut bacteria.

Please review with your physician or primary care provider before taking or stopping any drugs and medications.

Pills and medications can alter gut microbiome
Certain medications have been shown to alter the microbiome.

Bottom line, it is important to remember that the gut microbiota is ONE of many factors that influences weight and body fat. There are many other variables that play a role including age, physical activity, diet, gender, genetics and much more. However, I do believe it is important to take care of your gut health because your overall health is heavily dependent on the health of your gut.

If you want to learn more about how to build your meals for a healthy weight loss that prioritizes your gut health, click here.