Microbiome and Obesity: The Connection
Have you heard the word microbiome?
The study of microorganisms in the body goes back to the 17th century, but researching it has become more popular due to to advances in technology and the 2007 Human Microbiome Project.
So what is a microbiome?
The microbiome is a giant pile of bacteria. The human body is an ecosystem of genetic organisms including bacteria, fungi, and viruses. We have 100+ trillion microorganisms inside us and they outnumber our cells ten to one. This ecosystem is called a microbiome.
Some people think the microbiome lives in the gut — because the majority of microorganisms can be found in the large intestine — but the bacteria is found everywhere, from the skin, to the lungs, in the brain, up our noses, etc.
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Microbiome and Obesity
From the moment we are born, this pile of bacteria influences and affects our health.
A healthy person has a good balance of friendly and unfriendly bacteria. They have both richness and diversity:
- Richness : The total number of different bacteria species in your microbiome
- Diversity: The amount/count of each bacteria species in your microbiome
To illustrate, let’s say your microbiome is a hospital. The richness of your microbiome is the different types of doctors ( surgeons, pediatricians, etc.) and the diversity of your microbiome is the count of each doctor (5 surgeons, 10 pediatricians, 30 gastroenterologists, etc.).
If there’s a major highway accident, the hospital needs more than 5 surgeons and has no need for 30 gastroenterologists.
The hospital got into a situation it couldn’t handle because it was unbalanced. When this happens in the body, it leads to:
- Weakened immune system
- Weight gain
- Poor skin health
- Debilitated brain health
The more rich and diverse the bacteria is in your body, the better balanced your microbiome.
A balanced, healthy microbiome is vital to:
- Digestion, allowing us to absorb nutrients in food
- Supporting the immune system
- Producing vitamins the body needs to function
- Insulating us from toxins
- A functioning brain
- Fighting off disease
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What to Feed Your Microbiome to Prevent Obesity
So how do we ensure our microbiome has rich and diverse bacteria?
A diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and high quality protein will do the trick, right?
Finding truly diverse food sources in America is next to impossible.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United States (FAO) published a report showing the types of food available to Americans from diverse plant and animal sources is quickly vanishing.
And once lost, we cannot get them back.
For example, humans only eat 2% of the plants available to us. Over 60% of the plants we do eat comes from just three sources: wheat, rice and corn.
What caused the loss of food diversity in America?
- Population growth and urbanization
- Changes in land and water use management
- Over-exploitation and deforestation
That last one, mono-cropping, is when a single crop is grown across thousands and thousands of acres. This has contributed significantly to the lack of food diversity.
To protect crops from disease, farmers spray them with chemicals. The chemicals drip down into the soil, stripping it of its nutrients. Crops derive their nutrients from soil but unfortunately modern farmers harvest the crops before they have a chance to absorb the nutrients in the soil.
This is why a tomato from the store doesn’t taste as good as the tomato grown in your backyard.
So you might eat a delicious salad full of vegetables, but if those vegetables were all mass produced, then the diversity of bacteria you’re feeding your microbiome is limited.
In addition, the chemicals sprayed on those vegetables, or absorbed by the soil, are fed to your microbiome and disrupting the balance of bacteria in a way that has never been tested.
So if you’re overweight, eating a salad is good, but eating a salad with organic, homegrown produce is much better.
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Microbiome and Obesity: The Government’s Role
It’s frustrating that America’s produce is deplete of nutrients and covered in chemicals that contribute to the nation’s obesity issue.
But you know what’s even more frustrating?
To know that the US government spends over $20 billion a year supporting the initiative.
Agriculture special interest groups are extremely powerful and every 5 years, they bribe our politicians to set aside a large chunk of the national budget for farmers.
The money goes to the largest agriculture powerhouses in the country, the same ones that sell you chemical-covered apples and lookalike tomatoes.
Below is an excerpt from Chris Edwards, published on Downsizingthegovernment.org:
The lion’s share of handouts go to the largest producers of corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, and rice. The money pays for their conservation efforts, insurance coverage, marketing, export sales, research, and other activities. Farm subsidies are costly to taxpayers, but also harmful to the economy and the environment. Subsidies discourage farmers from innovating, cutting costs, diversifying their land use, and taking other actions needed to prosper in the competitive economy.
Good health requires a balanced microbiome.
To maintain balance, a microbiome needs to be fed foods from diverse plant and animal sources.
The government uses our taxpayer dollars to support the depletion of nutrients in our food supply.
Why can’t our money be used to support farmers that use natural bug repellents? Or farmers that care about the soil and keep it fresh?
But nope, our government has no such guidelines in place.
Our taxpayer dollars, $20 billion of it, goes directly to corporations selling us shit produce.
And people wonder why Americans are sick.
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Microbiome and Obesity: Antibiotics Don’t Help
So what else affects the microbiome?
Antibiotics have saved millions of lives. But they aren’t perfect.
Antibiotics eliminate bad bacteria that causes infections. The problem is they can’t discriminate between good and bad bacteria — so they just kill everything.
A healthy microbiome requires both good and bad bacteria. Antibiotics are great for killing off really bad bacteria, but killing the good bacteria disrupts an otherwise balanced microbiome.
Destroying the body’s bacteria creates problems for the patient down the line, such as gut infections, allergies, weakened immunity, etc.
In 2016, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 30% of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary.
That means 1 in every 3 antibiotic prescriptions is not needed.
Why are doctors prescribing so many antibiotics?
Doctors prescribe antibiotics when they aren’t sure the root of the problem. Most patients want a quick fix, and antibiotics deliver.
They also prescribe antibiotics to be on the safe side.
A patient might have the common cold, which is a virus, but their symptoms are similar to a bacterial infection. Antibiotics are effective for bacterial infections, not viruses, but doctors often prescribe antibiotics just to be safe.
Taking antibiotics to be safe could destroy the patient’s microbiome for life.
Other reasons doctors prescribe antibiotics:
- Defensive medicinal practices (to avoid malpractice)
- Insufficient health exam to determine root cause
- Resistance to natural, non-medical remedies
- Kick-backs from pharmaceutical companies to prescribe drug (link)
- Pressure from patient to resolve issue quickly
- Overlooking long-term effects on patient health
- Decision fatigue
We should have studied the long term effects of antibiotics before doctors normalized prescribing them.
If you’re obese, I would seriously think about how antibiotics could have contributed to your weight gain.
Each time you took a round of antibiotics, they destroyed your gut flora which results in your intestines not properly absorbing nutrients from food.
If you aren’t absorbing the right nutrients, no matter how healthy you eat or how much you work out, your body responds by holding on for dear life, i.e., excess fat.
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Microbiome and Obesity: Pass Me the Sanitizer?
Antibiotics kill the bad bacteria, but they also kill the necessary good bacteria.
Antibacterial agents work the exact same way.
Everyone loves a clean kitchen. And clean bathroom. And clean cars, desks, hands and clothes.
But believe it or not, our over-sterilization is killing all bacteria and causing our microbiomes to become unbalanced (leading to obesity, reducing our immunities, etc.)
Bacteria has a bad rap, but it’s actually vitamins for our bodies.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a report that we should skip using antibacterial soap, and use regular soap instead.
The FDA says that the long-term use of antibacterial soap may have negative effects on your health.
In 2016, the FDA also banned 19 antibacterial additives found in over-the-counter soaps, proving that companies add these antibacterial chemicals to everyday products that don’t need it.
This means you could be purchasing products with antibiotics in them — which contributes to the destruction of your microbiome — without even knowing it.
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The Connection Between the Microbiome and Obesity
Humans have succeeded as a species largely because we can manipulate the world around us.
The problem is our level of control makes us forget that we come from nature, not the other way around. To protect what is human, our health and mental strength, we need to remember that humans are nature.
Many of us look at an obese person and think all they have to do is eat less and exercise more.
But just like nature, humans are complex and the answer is not black and white.
The world is gray and factors that lead to obesity are nuanced. I know people who have lost weight, not by decreasing their caloric intake, but by switching from grocery produce to farmers’ markets. Or switching from eating out to eating in. Or by cutting out gluten (which impacts the microbiome).
If you’re eating fast food and drinking soda, this article wasn’t for you.
This article was for the hundreds of thousands of overweight people in America who are confused.
Industrial farming is necessary to feed the world. But perhaps our government could implement quality controls before handing over billions of dollars to Big Agriculture.
When we become sick, we need to remember we are mammals and should first look to our own body to heal. If that doesn’t work, then we should use nature’s remedies first (i.e., herbs, fruits, vegetables, grains).
What we shouldn’t do is resort to a pill. Every manufactured pill we take disrupts the bacteria in an otherwise balanced microbiome.
Bacteria and germs, which we are all made of, should be embraced. Help spread the word to create a healthier world, and a healthier you.