Anyone who’s been around me any length of time quickly learns that I’m fascinated with the human gut. I’ve been blogging and writing about gut-related illnesses and quick-fixes for years. But as the years wear on, I realize that nobody knows much about the gut and all of the quick-fixes we came up with only helped a small portion of the people that tried them. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are no quick-fixes for the gut. The best fixes for the gut are eating good food, exercising, getting quality sleep every night, and living a stress-free life. Do all that and your gut will be the best it can be.
Gut Health, Antibiotics, and Weight Gain
Many experts feel that damage to the gut from widespread use of antibiotics in children is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic. Luckily for us, the use of antibiotics has seen a dramatic decline over the last 20 years, but still most children are prescribed 1-2 courses of antibiotics per year for the first decade of their lives. We should consider ourselves lucky to have access to antibiotics. Most antibiotics for children are prescribed for conditions that simply cannot be treated any other way. Ear infections, respiratory tract infections, and skin or other bacterial infections can easily maim or kill children if left untreated. The Centers for Disease Control indicates that approximately 30-50% of all antibiotic prescriptions are not needed, but most doctors feel the rewards outweigh the risks and caution on the safe-side. There are many dangers to overprescribing antibiotics, weight gain being just a minor one. Whereas 1000’s of experiments have been conducted on using antibiotics for fattening farm animals, hardly any research has been done to study the effects of antibiotics as a “fattening agent” for humans.
Healthcare Industry Insider Secret: Livestock farmers fatten their animals for market by feeding them antibiotics. The antibiotics alter the bacteria in the guts of animals which causes massive changes to how the animals absorb nutrients and store body fat. Thousands of experiments have been conducted on the use of antibiotics for livestock fattening programs and they’ve gotten it down to a science. Medical researchers have known for many centuries that the gut is an important organ not just for digestion, but as the mediator of weight stability.
The solution isn’t to ban antibiotics, it’s to feed kids better. After most children are weaned onto whole foods, their gut health starts going downhill. Gerber’s baby-food isn’t much better than Carl’s Junior in terms of quality, and once kids start eating real food it gets even worse. Hotdogs, Hot Pockets, and Hamburger Helper are not appropriate foods for growing children.
Gut Problems Got You Down?
Most people never consider their gut as a cause for weight gain, but it’s quite possibly the most important piece of the puzzle. By the time you’ve become quite overweight you’ve also most likely developed gut problems. A bad gut is not doing you any favors, but instead is treating you like a sheep being led to slaughter. It causes you to stay hungry and store fat where it doesn’t belong. Gut problems usually start out slowly.
We’ve become the Pepto Bismol generation: “Heartburn, nausea, indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea…Hey! Pepto Bismol!” It’s a funny jingle but once your gut is trashed, it’s very hard to recover. This is the modern dyspeptic gut. This list of common gut problems is saddening:
• C. diff Infections
• Celiac Disease
• Crohn’s Disease
• Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
• Inflammatory Bowel Disease
• Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
• Ulcerative Colitis
Having any of these gut issues can make life miserable and the treatments are often harsh requiring surgery or multiple rounds of antibiotics and a special diet. It’s better to try to get ahead of gut disease. For the overweight and obese, the gut is a ticking timebomb.
If you’ve avoided these common problems thus far in your life, consider yourself lucky…60-70 million people in the US are affected by these diseases. Learn from the risk factors to prevent becoming a statistic. Common causes of gut disease are:
• Lack of sleep
• Western diet
Does this list look familiar? It should. The causes of gut disease are the same things that cause obesity. Coincidence?
Your gut is home to your immune system and it converses regularly with your brain. I could fill volumes telling you how amazing your gut is, but the words are long, and the concepts are quickly lost on everyone but the most well-studied microbiologists. Researchers have learned lots about our gut microbiome, they know the common inhabitants, the good and the bad. Most bacterial genes have been cataloged and we even know how bacteria and yeast interact to cause disease. But what we can’t do is to define exactly what a good gut flora looks like. All we can do is tell you that you need to eat more high-fiber plants and less Western foods.
A Bit of Advice
In my experience, people should look first at all of the other issues in their life before tackling gut problems unless they have a serious gut disease. If the gut is compromised, that takes priority. Many times, however, people are convinced by slick marketers and internet “doctors” that the root of all their problems lie within the gut. This leads to years of gut-tinkering: Unneeded gut tests, consultations, specialized diets, pills, herbs, or more invasive techniques requiring colonics, enemas, and oftentimes harmful detoxing protocols.
The overweight and unhealthy should instead focus on the external factors they control directly (eating, exercise, sleep, stress) before tackling “leaky gut” or “SIBO.” Most often these undiagnosable conditions are eliminated by switching to a better diet and other controllable variables. If your gut is giving you worries, talk to your doctor, but expect a long, hard road with many gods and goddesses tempting you to try their cures.
Gut health is quite possibly more important to weight maintenance and human health than all the other factors we’ve discussed so far put together. Gut health is more important than food, exercise, sleep, stress, medications, smoking, and any other thing that effects our health. But here’s the kicker: The health of your gut is a product of everything you do; how you eat, exercise, sleep, etc. You cannot expect to have good gut health eating the Western diet, if you don’t exercise, if you’re stressed all the time, or if you continually deprive yourself of sleep. Get everything else right and good gut health will follow. Pills and powders cannot replace fruit and veggies.
7 thoughts on “Gut Health and Weight”
Tim—I was intrigued by the fact that you didn’t discuss prebiotics, probiotics, or resistant starch. Are you planning to discuss these elsewhere?
Great post, hits close to home for me! My husband has a IBS diagnosis (tested negative for food allergies), and we can track the start of it back a couple years ago, when he developed a tooth infection and self medicated with high doses of Ibuprofen for two weeks, before finally going into the dentist (where he was then put on 2 rounds of antibiotics/tooth pulled).
That, coupled with new stresses in his job, led to his IBS symptoms which then created a vicious cycle-it caused him to not be able to sleep, weight gain/pronounced bloating, stomach pain, lethargy etc. He actually was put on ant-depressants from his doctor, because things were going in a very bad direction.
Fast forward to today-he just started a new job last week (huge reduction in stress yay!!!), and he also started taking daily RS with a probiotic about two weeks ago. Those things combined has caused a decrease in his bloated stomach (even though his weight has stayed the same), he’s sleeping again through the whole night, and he no longer has the pain/discomfort that he was dealing with every single day.
I’m now a huge believer in gut health being a legitimate issue 🙂
And very hard to recover from! Stress reduction is huge, as well as prebiotics and good food.
Here is my latest gut tale: for the past few weeks things have been amazingly good, eating my usual starchy diet with some eggs and fish. Two days ago I decided to try a turkey meatball. Organic, paleo prepared, gluten free. One. Everything came to a screeching halt. No movement for two days. Was it the turkey ball? We’ll never know.
By the way, Tim, do you have any feeling or info on meditation to deal with the stress most of us experience that impacts our guts?
Debbie – Two words: Stewed Prunes.
No, I don’t have any thoughts on meditation. Never did it, other than spending lots of time alone in the wilderness, which is probably the best mediation there is. I think meditation is a good stress-relief technique, and I’m sure there’s scientific evidence as to why.