As a boy on the farm, my grandmother used to ask me every day: “Have you had a bowel movement today?” As a child, I did not understand the importance of this question. As a health care professional with 20 years of education and 40 years of professional experience, I now see the wisdom of my grandmother’s question. Even the uneducated farmer knew the importance of gut microbiome and a daily bowel movement.
“Death begins in the colon.” wrote the Nobel prize winner Eli Metchnikoff, PhD. Your gut contains about 100 trillion microbes that are symbiotic organisms. In exchange for you providing them with “room and board”, these organisms play a key role in your mental and physical health. The type and quantity of the bacterial species in your gut (digestive tract) influence your metabolism and determine how efficiently you will lose or put on weight on your belly. These little critters also have a huge impact on your overall health and cancer risk.
Research suggests that healthy gut microbiome has an important role in maintaining optimum health. It facilitates normal functioning of digestive system; controls appetite; regulates metabolism; maintains blood pressure; produces vitamins and hormones; and boosts immunity and mental health.
Healthy Gut Microbiome Reduces Inflammation
However, various lifestyle factors (chronic stress, poor diet and environmental toxins) cause significant overgrowth of unhealthy microbes in your body, which disrupts the balance in your gut and ultimately causes an unhealthy gut microbiome. This modulation in the composition and metabolic activity of your gut flora triggers inflammation and damages your intestinal lining resulting in leaky gut.
As a consequence of leaky gut you get elevated blood sugar levels, which stimulate production of insulin (fat-storing hormone) and leptin (the hunger hormone). This condition makes it difficult for you to lose fat especially in your abdominal region and increases your risk of metabolic diseases, too.
If you have any of following symptoms (gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, fatigue, nausea, frequent illnesses, sugar cravings), improving your gut microbiome will see an improvement in your health.
Here are few steps to restore gut microbiome to promote healthy gut flora and lose belly fat:
Staying hydrated is crucial to foster friendly flora in your gut. Your gut needs water for proper digestion of food, maintaining balance of microflora and flushing out toxins and wastes from the body. Drinking water before meals besides increasing your metabolic rate; prevents overeating and makes you feel full for longer. It also helps in eliminating sugar or calorie consumed via sodas, juices or alcoholic drinks. So, keep yourself hydrated by drinking at least 8-10 glasses of water every day, to heal your gut and reduce belly fat.
Foods for Healthy Gut Microbiome
The food you eat determines the type of bacteria you are feeding in your gut.
Chose a Healthy Diet
Refined carbohydrates, sugary, fatty foods and alcohol, all these foods feed pathogenic bacteria and are toxins that stop good bacteria from growing in your gut. As, gut bugs thrive on such foods, they produce cravings for these junk foods. So, eliminating these foods from your diet besides helping you take control of your gut flora, aids in losing belly fat.
For the same reason avoid artificial sweeteners (splenda, sucralose and others) and watch your intake of fructose, as these sugars serve as fertilizer for unhealthy microflora (bacteria, yeast and fungi), which disrupts the balance in your gut.
Also a diet high in animal fat and protein (meat and cheese) feeds a type of bacteria that triggers inflammation and intestinal diseases. So, limit your meat intake to once a week.
Eat Plant-Based Diet
Whole grains (whole wheat, brown rice, oats, barley, millets), legumes (beans), vegetables and fruits are also called prebiotics, as these are rich in fiber, which acts like fertilizer in nourishing healthy and diverse microflora in your gut. These fiber rich foods make you feel full for longer and also discourage the growth of bad bugs, which helps in combating cravings. When you eat, whole fruits the fiber and polyphenols content help in balancing out the effects of fructose and reduce inflammation caused by unhealthy bacteria. So, do make sure that you eat a fiber rich whole food diet after a junk food treat to replenish good bacteria.
Probiotics are type of healthy bacteria that are similar to the ones found inside your gut and fermented foods are the natural source of probiotics. To enjoy fermented food with maximum amount of beneficial bacteria make your own fermented vegetables (kimchi and sauerkraut), kefir, raw pickles, olives, yogurt, cheese, tempeh, miso and natto.
Add variety in your meals
Eating variety of fiber-rich, nutritious, whole foods helps in nourishing diverse and rich microflora in your gut. This helps in controlling the population of unhealthy bacteria and thereby reduces the risk for inflammation and leaky gut syndrome.
Healthy Lifestyle Enhances Gut Microbiome
Exercise can Improve Gut Microbiome
Exercise helps in boosting healthy bacteria in your gut by increasing your intestinal flow rate and boosting metabolism. Research shows that microbiomes of people who do regular exercise are more diverse than that of people, who don’t. In another study, a significant increase in number of healthy bacteria was found in the microbiota of rats, who had access to exercise. Exercise helps to trigger peristalsis in the gut, which is the rhythmic action of muscles moving the feces toward the colon for a bowel movement. When you take your dog for a walk, that is what triggers the dog’s bowel movement and the need to clean up after your pet. Humans need movement to encourage a bowel movement.
Manage Your Stress
Stressful conditions trigger release of “fight-or-flight” hormones i.e. cortisol, norepinephrine and epinephrine. When you have chronic stress, your cortisol level remains high for a prolonged period of time, which creates a condition of chronic starvation and leads to formation of stubborn belly fat. Stress also weakens the health of your gut by releasing inflammatory cytokines and causing imbalance in your microbiome. So, to heal your gut schedule sometime daily for stress reducing activities such as relaxation exercises (mindfulness, yoga and meditation), spending quality time with family, watching or reading something funny.
A consistent sleep cycle helps in production of hormones melatonin and prolactin. Research shows that these hormones help in proper digestion of food by maintaining balance in your gut. Circadian disorganization due to travel, shift job or other reasons alters intestinal microbiota, so you must practice good sleep hygiene and get at least 7-8 hours of sleep, to restore balance in your gut.
Less Exposure to Toxins
When toxic chemicals from your environment, food and household products make way into your gut, they trigger an inflammatory cytokine response. This leads to increased fat storage and decreased fat breakdown. So, limit your exposure to toxic chemicals by choosing pesticide, fertilizer and antibiotic free organic food and using all-natural household products.
Excessive and inappropriate use of antibiotics can cause serious damage to your long term health, as these antibiotic pills kill both healthy and unhealthy bacteria in your gut. GMO food is genetically modified organisms, which means altered to tolerate lethal doses of glyphosate (Roundup) which was patented as an antibiotic. There are 12,000 lawsuits pending against Bayer/Monsanto for lymphoma cancer caused by Roundup, because it affects the microbiome. Eat organic food whenever possible. Avoid hard liquor which acts like antibiotics on the gut.