Our gut health is at the center of our overall well-being - from the gut-brain connection to skin health. Our gut microbiome can impact your mood, cause bloating and can even make or break your immune system. But can it also impact your ability to lose weight?
By now, we understand that there's no magic weight loss pill (we know what you’re thinking - Ozempic, but that's a topic for another day), and that our journey to a healthier weight is shaped by a combination of conscious choices. We've often heard that achieving and maintaining our ideal weight requires mindful eating, balanced meals, staying active, getting enough sleep and a long-term commitment to healthy habits. But one crucial puzzle piece often goes unnoticed: the impact of gut health on your ability to lose weight and keep it off for good.
In this article, we dig deeper into the impact of your gut health and microbiome, and how it influences everything from blood sugar management to how hungry you feel. We will also discuss small changes you can make today to improve your gut health for more effective weight loss and management.
Four Ways Your Gut May Be Sabotaging Your Weight Loss
1. A Leaky Gut Can Increase Inflammation and Fat Storage
The mucous lining of our intestines is designed to absorb water and nutrients from our food into our bloodstream. But some people have increased intestinal permeability, or a “leaky gut”, which means your gut lining becomes more porous than it should be, allowing harmful substances to sneak through into your bloodstream. These toxins may trigger an inflammatory response in your body that can impact everything from your energy levels to your skin. This inflammation can also cause insulin resistance, which makes it easier for your body to store fat and more difficult to lose weight. But it doesn't stop there – leaky gut can also bring along chronic fatigue, skin breakouts, and mood swings. None of which will help your weight loss journey!
There are many things that can contribute to a leaky gut, such as consuming too much sugar and unhealthy fats, chronic stress, not eating enough fiber and even taking antibiotics. While there is no clear way to diagnose a leaky gut, common symptoms include constant stomach discomfort and bloating, chronic fatigue, unexplained breakouts, weakened immune system and mood swings.
2. Poor Gut Health Can Lower Appetite-Suppressing Hormones, Making You Constantly Hungry
Your gut is responsible for releasing over 20 different hormones, and is part of a communication line between your digestive system and your nervous system. Your gut health is really at the core of regulating your metabolism and appetite, and your gut hormones play a pivotal role in transmitting information about your body's energy requirements to the brain, allowing it to respond effectively.
The levels of these gut hormones are influenced by a variety of factors, including the foods you eat, your stress levels, and the health of your gut microbiome. When your gut is in harmony, it contributes to proper appetite control. However, when things go awry, like during periods of high stress, unhealthy eating habits, or the consumption of gut-unfriendly foods, it can throw this delicate balance out of sync.
This imbalance can lead to overeating and a constant sense of hunger, a recipe for weight gain. Interestingly, super low-calorie diets, which might seem like a quick fix for shedding pounds, can backfire by altering hormone levels and making your metabolism less efficient in the long run. This, in turn, makes it even harder to maintain the weight you've lost.
On the other hand, when you consume fiber-rich foods, beneficial bacteria in your gut ferment these fibers, producing short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These SCFAs do wonders for your gut health, promoting the secretion of gut hormones that signal to your brain that you're full and reduce your food intake. So, by making mindful food choices, you're not only nurturing your gut but also ensuring your appetite is in check, which is a win-win for your weight management journey.
3. Your Gut Can Impact Your Body’s Blood Sugar Response
There is a link between your gut health and your blood sugar levels. The amount of healthy bacteria you have in your gut impacts how your body responds to and processes sugar. This means that even though we may eat the same meal as someone else, our blood sugar levels will be different and in part depending on our gut health.
Poor gut health can lead to an unstable glucose response - you might experience a spike in blood sugar levels followed by a rapid drop, which can lead to fatigue and those irresistible hunger cravings that make it oh-so-difficult to stick to your weight loss goals. This blood sugar instability can also be closely linked to insulin resistance, which also promotes fat storage and makes it difficult to maintain a healthy weight. On the other hand, nurturing your gut health can lead to more stable blood sugar levels, reducing those energy crashes and mood swings, and setting you on the path to more effective weight management.
4. An Unbalanced Gut Microbiome May Be Linked to Long-Term Weight Gain
Studies have revealed an association between the balance and diversity of healthy bacteria in our gut and reduced long-term weight gain. When your gut microbial genes are in a state of balance and diversity, you’re more likely to maintain a healthy weight. However, things can get out of balance. Individuals with lower bacterial richness in their gut can find themselves dealing with higher levels of fatty tissue, insulin resistance, abnormal cholesterol levels and chronic inflammation. While it isn’t the only factor, having an imbalanced gut microbiome can set the stage for weight gain and make it harder to maintain weight loss in the long run.
Research also indicates that individuals carrying excess weight often have a different composition of gut microbes compared to their lean counterparts, and that the gut microbiota of obese individuals tends to be less diverse and contains fewer beneficial bacterial strains. While there is no conclusive cause of an unbalanced gut, we do know that diet, lifestyle and genetics all impact your microbiome.
How To Improve Your Gut Health to Support Weight Loss & Management
Ready to enhance your gut health and supercharge your long-term weight loss goals? Whether you want to lose weight, reduce inflammation or just maintain your overall health, there are easy diet and lifestyle change you can make to build a healthy, balanced gut microbiome.
Eat a Balanced, Diverse Diet
Your diet plays a critical role in gut health and your overall weight loss journey. Eating a balanced and diverse diet can support the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut, which can improve your overall health and support your weight loss and management goals. It’s also important to include a variety plant-based and fiber-rich food into your diet to ensure you are maintaining a diverse microbiome. Here is a quick guide of the types of food to incorporate, and which ones to avoid for optimal gut health.
Foods To Incorporate
- High fiber foods like oats, bananas, berries and legumes to help
- Foods and supplements high in amino acids, like bone broth and collagen.
- Anti-inflammatory and adaptogenic herbs like ginger and peppermint.
- Fermented food and drinks that are rich in probiotics like pickles, sauerkraut and kombucha.
- Foods that naturally contain digestive enzymes like papaya and pineapples.
Foods To Avoid
- Food and drinks high in refined sugar and carbs.
- Processed foods, and foods that contain high levels of unhealthy fats.
- Artificial sweeteners and colors.
- Fried foods.
- Too much red meat and dairy.
Manage Your Stress
Stress, as we've all experienced at some point in our lives, can be a formidable disruptor of gut health. When you find yourself in the midst of stress, whether it's due to work deadlines, personal challenges, or daily life pressures, your body responds by releasing a hormone known as cortisol. This stress hormone serves a vital purpose in the short term, helping us cope with immediate threats, but when stress becomes chronic or unmanaged, it can wreak havoc on the delicate balance of bacteria in your gut.
The prolonged presence of high cortisol levels in your system can create a domino effect within your gut. It can lead to imbalances in the gut microbiome, potentially allowing harmful microbes to flourish and beneficial ones to dwindle. This shift in the gut's equilibrium can trigger various digestive issues, such as bloating, gas and irregular bowel movements.
The good news is that you have the power to regain control by adopting stress-management techniques. Practices like meditation, deep breathing exercises, or engaging in calming activities like yoga can help alleviate stress and subsequently contribute to improved gut health. By managing stress effectively, you're not only nurturing your emotional and mental well-being but also supporting your gut in maintaining its balance and promoting overall health. Check out our five minute meditation for gut health.
Take Gut-Healthy Supplements
There are many supplements that you can take for your gut health that provide a variety of benefits.
- Probiotics - Adding a probiotic complex can also greatly improve your gut health and restore balance to your microbiome. A probiotic complex that contains different strains of beneficial bacteria is better than just one type of probiotic because it provides a wider range of benefits. Additionally, taking a complex can help prevent the overgrowth of one specific type of bacteria, which can lead to an imbalance in the gut microbiome. We include five different strains of probiotics in our Daily Essentials multivitamin.
- Glutamine - Glutamine is the most abundant amino acid in the body that is essential for many bodily functions. Adding a glutamine supplement can help support overall gut health, and has been shown to help address a leaky gut by supporting cell regrowth and repairing the gut lining.
- Multivitamin - Adding a quality multivitamin is an easy way to incorporate a wide range of vitamins and minerals that support overall wellness and gut health. Look for a multivitamin that uses natural ingredients and is free from artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. Be sure to avoid synthetic ingredients or other fillers like magnesium stearate that can cause stomach inflammation and digestion issues.
- Digestive Enzymes - Digestive Enzymes play a crucial role in breaking down the food we eat into its fundamental components, making it easier for our bodies to absorb and utilize nutrients. While our body naturally produces digestive enzymes, there are instances where adding supplemental enzymes can provide substantial benefits to our gut health and overall well-being. Digestive Enzymes have also been shown to help alleviate bloating and gas, and may be beneficial in addressing leaky gut syndrome. There are many types and forms of digestive enzymes, but the three main ones to incorporate are Amylase (helps break carbohydrates into sugars, Protease (helps break down proteins into amino acids) and Lipase (helps break down fats into fatty acids).
While you might not immediately associate sleep with gut health, the quality and quantity of your sleep play a vital role in maintaining a healthy digestive system. During a good night's sleep (yes this means 8 full hours!), your body enters a state of rest and repair. This is when it can focus on healing and rejuvenating various systems, including your gut. Sleep is a critical time for the gut to repair damaged tissue, regenerate cells, and maintain the protective barrier that guards against "leaky gut" syndrome.
Adequate sleep also supports the balance of the microorganisms in your gut. Poor sleep can lead to disturbances in your gut microbiome, potentially favoring harmful bacteria over the beneficial ones. This microbial imbalance can contribute to gut issues and may even impact your body's ability to manage weight effectively. Having trouble sleeping? Check out our tips to achieve restful, natural sleep.
Ensuring you stay hydrated is crucial to maintaining optimal gut health. Proper hydration ensures that your digestive processes run smoothly. It helps keep things moving through your gastrointestinal tract, reducing the risk of constipation. Staying hydrated also helps ensure that your gut lining is functioning properly and that you are effectively absorbing nutrients from your food, and can help prevent you from developing leaky gut syndrome. Drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day will also help you maintain balance in your gut microbiome, and allow the healthy bacteria to thrive.
Staying hydrated is not just about drinking enough water - it's about making mindful choices that prioritize your gut health. Aim to consume at least eight glasses of water each day as a general guideline, but remember that individual hydration needs can vary based on factors like climate and activity level. It’s also important to limit the drinks and food that can deplete your hydration levels, such as highly caffeinated beverages, sugary drinks and too much salt.
Setting Yourself Up For Success
Your gut health is an often-underestimated powerhouse that can significantly impact your weight loss and management journey. You’ve learned how an imbalance in your gut can sabotage your weight loss efforts, how your leaky gut is impacting your body and how your gut impacts your blood sugar response.
With mindful changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can set yourself up for success with your weight loss and management goals. Consuming a balanced and diverse diet rich in fiber, probiotics, and anti-inflammatory foods can be a game-changer. Managing stress effectively, taking gut-healthy supplements, prioritizing quality sleep, and staying adequately hydrated are all steps in the right direction for nurturing your gut health.
In order to stay healthy and happy, it is important to focus on achieving harmony within your body, from your gut microbiome to your metabolism and hormones. By embracing the idea that your gut can be a powerful ally in your weight loss and maintenance journey, you can create lasting, positive changes in your overall health and well-being. Your gut just may hold the key to unlocking your full potential, so treat it well, and it will return the favor in kind.
Gastroenterology & Hepatology, the Independent Peer-Reviewed Journal. Gut Bacteria in Health and Disease. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3983973/
Leaky Gut Syndrome: What Is It? We What you should know if you think you have leaky gut syndrome. Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD. https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/features/leaky-gut-syndrome
Gut Bacteria May Play a Role in Diabetes. Cedars Sinai, Los Angeles. https://www.cedars-sinai.org/newsroom/gut-bacteria-may-play-a-role-in-diabetes/
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2020, November). The digestive system and how it works. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/digestive-system-how-it-works.
University of Wisconsin-Madison. (n.d.). The importance of gut health. University of Wisconsin-Madison. https://news.wisc.edu/the-importance-of-gut-health/.