For easier comprehension we will keep the explanation brief at this point, but will build on this ‘crucial to our health’ subject throughout your Health Results programme.
‘Microbiome’ is the name given to the collective array of more than 10,000 different species of microscopic living organisms residing in and on our body. Known as microbes, these organisms are too small to see with the naked eye, but rest assured we humans are all home to a colossal quantity of them - in fact, so many of them that they vastly outnumber or own body cells. These microbes include bacteria (good and bad), fungi, protists, archaea, viruses and even microscopic animals.
Today, there is much research that suggests that the type of microbes that are most prevalent in our gut actually play a large role in controlling our feelings of fullness or hunger. In other words, it’s not just our brain telling us that we are hungry or full, but also the colony of microbes that, via our diet, we have allowed to gain a disproportional critical mass in our digestive system.
While there are said to be more than 10,000 different species of microbes in our body, adding up to some 100 trillion in total and meaning that statistically we are 90% microbe and only 10% human, just two groups dominate our guts. I didn’t just pluck these numbers out of thin air - there is a fascinating and wonderfully written book by biologist and zoologist Dr Alanna Collen called 10% Human, which is certainly worth getting hold of. 10% Human brilliantly details the intertwined lives of microbes and humans and provides an insight into what is happening inside our guts and what a huge contributing factor to body weight and obesity our microbes play.
Let’s get back to the two varieties of microbes that play a dominating role in our gut, Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes. These two strands of microbes alone can control whether we stay lean or get fat.
First, let’s talk about Firmicutes. Even though their name might sound as if they make us firm and cute, they are actually responsible for the total opposite! These bacteria are experts at extracting as much energy (calories) as possible out of the food that we eat. Of course, the more calories that are absorbed, the more weight we will put on.
If we can keep our not-so-cute Firmicutes under control, and let our Bacteroidetes flourish, we are less likely to put on weight. Bacteroidetes carry out the opposite task to Firmicutes. After extracting vital nutrients and vitamins from food in our intestines, they let many calories slip through the net and exit the body by catching a ride on the fibre in our poo.
An article in the Huffington Post in December 2014 stated, “Avoid sugars and processed carbs. Firmicutes are so well-suited to grow on sugar that they’re known to grow rampantly in factories that process sugar cane into table sugar”.
If you’re still not convinced that the difference from being fat or slim could be as simple as taking care of our gut microbiome and ensuring our Bacteroidetes triumph over our Firmicutes, then let me tell you about a biological study involving human twins and a group of healthy slim mice. One of the twins had become obese, and scientists injected bacteria from her gut into the gastrointestinal tract (the gut) of half of the mice. The other twin had remained svelte and the scientists injected her bacteria into the second group of mice. Guess what happened. Those mice given the bacteria from the obese twin became obese and those that received the bacteria from the slim twin remained lean.
What is this research telling us? If we are overweight or obese, it might not be our fault at all, instead we could have developed a faulty microbiome. It might not have anything to do with a lack of willpower, or genetics, but the fact our bad bacteria are constantly rinsing every last calories out of the food we consume and at the same time messing with the signals we send to our brain, making us always feel hungry. It’s yet another good reason to cut out CARBS and other sugars, and to start eating healthy fibrous foods.