This Lifestyle Factor Harms Gut Health as Much as Junk Food

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When we think of obesity, we tend to blame junk food, but diet isn’t the only culprit when it comes to weight gain. Discover the lifestyle factor that increases obesity-linked gut microbes.

We all know that junk food is harmful to our health. I recall some friends many years ago referring to cola as “gut rot” and probably for good reason. We all know that soda as well as other junk foods harm our gut health but new research shows that stress can be just as damaging to our gut health as junk food.

In the study, published in the medical journal Nature, researchers found that stress had a significant effect on changing gut microbes among female animals but not on males. The researchers explored the connections between obesity, stress, mood disorders, and gut microbes. They found that the gut microbes of lean female animals changed when they experienced stress to more closely resemble the varieties and volumes of microbes in obese mice. The male animals did not experience the same effect from stress.

As an aside: While stress did not have the adverse effect on males’ gut microbes, the researchers also explored the effects of a high fat diet on both female and male mice and they found that males were more likely to experience anxiety caused by eating a high fat diet. But, I digress.

The study shows us that stress, particularly when it becomes chronic, can cause us to gain weight or become obese, so it is imperative that we find coping methods for reducing stress in our lives. Obviously, there are many and some will be more effective than others depending on your unique personality, but here are a few of my favorites: deep breathing, venting with a trusted friend, changing jobs if it is job-related stress, changing homes if housing costs exceed our budget, meditation, exercise, getting out into nature, or into a hot bath with some stress-alleviating essential oils like lavender or vetiver.

While few studies truly examine the ways that different things affect females versus males, this study demonstrates that this should be a consideration in future studies, because clearly there are major differences.

Additionally, the study gives us insight into how stress may be damaging humans, and that it may severely alter metabolism in women by transforming gut microbes to resemble the gut microbes found in obese women. Obviously, more studies need to be done, and human studies in particular, to determine the effects.

Having said that, there is a growing body of research that clearly demonstrate the link between gut microbes and obesity. Another study showed promising results in preventing and treating obesity and related metabolism disorders simply by changing the balance of intestinal flora in favor of the healthy probiotics found in many fermented foods.

In that study scientists examined the effects of administering probiotics and they found that the beneficial microbes balanced blood sugar levels (which in turn, reduces cravings for sweets and fatty foods but also the levels of fat storage hormones in the body). The probiotics also resulted in lower body weight, lower abdominal fat, lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, all markers for improving obesity.

In addition to reducing the stress in your life as much as possible, you can also increase the variety of fermented foods in your diet to boost beneficial microbes. There are many excellent choices, including: vegan yogurt, sauerkraut (not the pasteurized varieties sold in most grocery stores), kimchi, and kombucha. By eating a range of fermented foods daily you’ll increase the number beneficial microbes in your intestines but also increase the diversity of microbes in favor of ones that promote a healthy weight and healthy body and mind.


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