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Gut Health and Your Physique

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In the past few years alone, gut health has become a very popular topic with regards to long-term health, fat loss and your physique.

Research has recently discovered that the brain and gut interact on a much deeper level than we had ever imagined. Additionally, our bodies’ gut bacteria health may be the root cause or at least a key factor in many diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and inflammatory disease.

Primarily due to factors associated with their lifestyle, close to 70 million people in the United States alone suffer from some sort of digestive related issue which accounts for almost 10% of all healthcare spending [1].

In this article we will breakdown how your gut may be the missing link in optimizing your health and physique and explain how our daily lifestyle and dieting decisions can either damage or improve our gut.


What is meant by the Gut?

Anatomically speaking, our entire digestive system, from our mouth to our rectum, is considered part of the “external environment”, while the inside of our body is considered the “internal environment”. The gut is a part of this external environment, but acts as a barrier, preventing or allowing nutrients and toxins to enter our internal environment [2].

The bacterial makeup of our gut dictates what nutrients and/or toxins enter the body, or internal environment, which can impact numerous aspects for our health [2].

Considering the fact that the body consists of an estimated 40-50 trillion bacteria (more than 10 times the number of cells in the body) and most of them are found in our gut, we are only just discovering the effects and role of our gut bacteria [3].

With that being said, we do know that the gut has much more of an impact on our health and physical appearance than we had ever believed. Although the research in this article may come as a surprise and be very fascinating, new research will no doubt establish an even greater connection to our gut health with many aspects of health and disease.


Good vs Bad Bacteria

As with all things in life, there are good and bad bacteria. You may have already guessed that it is the ratio of good to bad bacteria that can dictate where our health and physique may be heading.

A diverse microbiota packed full of different types of bacteria is considered a healthy one. In other words: the wider the variety of bacterial species available in your gut the healthier it tends to be [4][5][6][7].

Interestingly, the more diverse your diet is, the more diverse your gut microbiota is and therefore, the healthier it will be. Unfortunately, the modern-day Western diet largely consists of artificial fats and refined sugars which limits the variety of wholefoods we consume and therefore, limits the variety of our gut microbiota [8][9][10].

Along with a generally diverse and mixed whole food diet, it is foods such as vegetables, legumes, beans and fruit, which provide an excellent source of fiber and so help stimulate healthy bacterial growth within your gut. The two main healthy bacteria where we want to stimulate growth are Bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. These specific bacteria have a large amount of research showing they may help prevent inflammation, cardiovascular diseases, cancers and many more [11].

Bifidobacteria can be increased via consumption of apples, artichokes, blueberries, almonds and pistachios. Lactobacilli are generally found in fermented food (yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, tempeh, etc.). Studies have shown that people who have high amounts of lactobacilli in their gut have fewer Enterobacteriaceae, which is a “bad bacteria” associated with lower respiratory tract infections, skin & soft tissue infections, UTIs, CNS infections, and more [12][13][14][15].

Another way to help foster a healthy gut microbiota is to eat prebiotic foods. These are essentially high fiber foods or complex carbohydrates which cannot be digested by human cells and are broken down by certain species of bacteria and used as fuel.

Probiotic and pre-biotic supplements have also become a popular choice to improve an individual’s gut health. You can obtain pre-biotics from high fiber foods and resistant starch. Probiotic supplements can also be effective if you find a research proven formula with live strains.


How Your Gut Health Affects Your Physique

Many of these prebiotics have been shown to reduce insulin, triglycerides and cholesterol in obese populations, which may help improve body composition indirectly. However, one of the most interesting studies to date – for the athlete, of course – investigates how a healthy gut microbiota can directly improve your physique!

Both human and animal studies have discovered that the gut microbiota between obese and lean subjects is vastly different. Some of the most interesting animal research was conducted in mice where they took the gut microbiota from obese mice and transplanted them into lean mice.

In these studies, the lean mice quickly got fat without changes to diet/exercise and the obese mice lost weight, very quickly becoming lean. In other mice research, they’ve also found that those with a healthy gut bacteria gained less fat and had healthier markers of glucose and insulin from a high fat/carb diet [16][17][18].

In other words, if you ever wondered why certain individuals gain fat more quickly whereas others can eat what they want and stay lean, their gut health may have a role to play.

In humans, alterations to our gut microbiome may affect aspects of both type 1 & 2 diabetes. Some of the initial research has highlighted a specific strain known as Clostridium to be linked to our blood glucose response and metabolic health [19].

Another interesting area of research has been conducted in newborns, showing that the bacteria formation in babies is altered by their diet (breast milk vs artificial), method of birth and birth weight [19].

While there is not yet any controlled research in humans, there is a project currently in progress known as the American Gut, which is the largest known crowdfunded science project, consisting of over 8,000 people.

It allows you to claim a place on the “microbial map,” which helps individualize novel treatment, using fecal transplants, for those in need of new therapies. Whether it be from insulin related issues, cancer, malnourishment, obesity, leaky gut, various digestive issues – the sky is the limit with what we currently know and the continual data becomes more and more promising.


Gut Health & Disease Risk

Some of the most interesting research to date revolves around gut health and disease. At present, there is supportive research showing gut health can benefit the following areas:

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD): Chronic inflammation of the digestive track is a common issues these days, with research highlighting it to be closely linked to diseases such as ulcerative colitis, arthritis and Crohn’s disease [20].

Certain Cancers: Prostate and gastrointestinal cancer are two types of cancers that may be closely linked to our gut health. Some research has highlighted that specific strains of bacteria may even have an anti-tumor effect reducing the progression or even formation of cancer [21].

Heart Disease: Our gut health may also have a positive effect on many aspects of cardiovascular disease, including blood glucose levels, cholesterol and may also help reduce the build-up of plaque within the arteries [22][23].

Additional Diseases: Other research has linked gut health to inflammatory diseases, sleep issues, liver disease, autism and HIV.


Take Home Points

  • Our body is 90% bacteria.
  • 10% of all U.S. health care costs are digestive related.
  • Your gut may have more of an impact on your health than anything else, so eating a colorful and plentiful diet can improve not only your quality of life, but also your physique.
  • The most beneficial and well known “good bacteria” include:
    • Bifidobacteria: apples, artichokes, blueberries, almonds, pistachios, raspberries, green peas, broccoli, chickpeas, lentils, whole grains
    • Lactobacilli: fermented food sources such as yogurt (plain, no sugar added), kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, and tempeh
  • Our healthy bacteria are damaged by diets with little variation or by chronic and excessive intake of refined sugar and processed foods.
  • Poor gut health is closely linked to numerous diseases including heart disease, cancers, diabetes and other metabolic and inflammatory diseases.
  • NSAIDS and antibiotics can severely harm your gut microbiota and increase bad bacteria (Enterobacteriaceae).
  • A novel therapy, known as fecal transplant, can positively change your gut microbiome, and therefore your health and physique, by producing a healthy gut microbiota if unable to obtain it from your diet.



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About the author

About Rudy Mawer
Rudy Mawer

Rudy Mawer is human performance researcher and a certified Sports Nutritionist from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN). He has a first class bachelor's degree in Exercise, Nutrition and Health and a Master's degree in Exercise and Nutrition Science. Rudy has worked as a sports nutritionist and trainer for 7 years, and has helped...[Continue]

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