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Why You Can’t Ignore the Microbiome if You Want to Lose Weight

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37.2 trillion. That’s approximately the number of cells in our bodies. But that’s nothing compared to how many microorganisms we have just in our intestines. 

That collection is what makes up the microbiome, one of the most popular areas of health science over the past decade. It contains things we may think of as bad, like bacteria, viruses, even fungi. But in the right combination, they’re really just the opposite – helpful. As many as 100 trillion microbes line our intestinal tract, playing a huge role in the health of our bodies and brains.

Why is the Microbiome Important?

“The second brain” is a common nickname for the gut for good reason.

The brain and the intestinal tract are constantly communicating with each other, and our tens of trillions of microbes have a lot of say.

Think of serotonin, something most of us know to be in the brain and involve feeling good. Well, it does involve feeling good…but 90% of it isn’t in the brain. It’s in the gut.

And that’s just the beginning. In addition to mood, things directly affected by the microbiome are weight, the immune system, metabolism, even brain function. So without a healthy gut, everything from diabetes and obesity, to autism and dementia, depression and anxiety, is at greater risk of occuring.

The Microbiome and Weight Loss

It is nearly impossible to lose weight with an unhealthy gut, and a famous study shows why.

It involved two groups of rats, one an average weight and the other obese. In what’s called a fecal transplant (gross, we know, but hear us out), stool taken from one group and transplanted into the other, actually would change the weight of the receiving group over time. So the obese rodents would lose weight, and the lean ones would become obese.
Scientists are still working to verify if and how this transplant technology can benefit us humans, particularly for C. diff colitis. If it can, the health improvements could be massive. In the meantime, make note that an unhealthy microbiome means more hunger, more cravings, and more difficulty maintaining a healthy weight. Who wants that kind of struggle?

Brain to Belly

In our brain to belly connection, the vagus nerve is like the main freeway. It’s our biggest influencer, sending electrical signals based on the fuel we’re giving it. Eat a bunch of bad stuff, and over time this important nerve will lose its signaling capacity that the brain relies on.
This explains why the microbiome is best viewed as a messenger. Give it bad information like sugar, carbs and hyper-palatable foods, and the brain will receive and be forced to use it. And our entire bodies pay a price. It’s all too common for patients that come to see Dr. Brown at Idaho BMI and Everest Surgical Institute.

Taking Care of Your Microbiome

Like most other habits Dr. Brown recommends, the small and simple stuff goes a long way. Eat the right stuff, at the right time, and try fasting when you can. Get good sleep. Stay hydrated, and try to limit stress. Making these habits long-term is especially important because the microbiome is extremely dynamic, meaning it reacts very quickly to however you treat it. Indulge in a piece of cake, and you’ll likely fight cravings for a couple days. But also, eat only healthy fats for a few meals, and your microbiome will thank you.


There’s growing evidence that antibiotics are overprescribed these days, because of how much we’ve learned about them damaging the microbiome. On the other hand, prebiotics and probiotics help the microbiome. Sure, you can get them in supplements, but the best way is by eating them. Yogurt is a popular food that’s loaded with healthy cultured bacteria. Leafy greens and any fermented food such as kimchi is going to treat the gut very well.

Overall, just don’t judge yourself too harshly as you introduce these tiny habits to enjoy great gut health, and the brain health that comes with it. The body is very complex, but with small steps taken to treat it right, there’s nothing like seeing and feeling the results.

Brain Over Belly is available wherever you get your podcasts. Subscribe now for this episode on the microbiome, and others discussing weight loss, general health and longevity. Brain Over Belly, get it on Listen Boise today. What have you got to lose?

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