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Microbiome May Have a Larger Impact on Body Composition Than Genetics

Microbiome May Have a Larger Impact on Body Composition Than Genetics

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Just about everyone who wants to lose weight starts out following a similar pattern: eat better, exercise more. 

Sometimes, that doesn’t work right away, and when it doesn’t, people are told that they’re genetically predisposed to holding onto extra body fat, or that genetically their metabolism is slower than it is. 

Do genetics hold that much influence on your body composition? 

While genetics do play a role, a growing body of research says your microbiome, which is the community of microbes that lives in your body, has a larger influence on your weight than your genetics do. 

The microbiome’s role in your body

Your microbiome plays such a crucial role in the way that your body functions that it’s been called a separate organ, even though it is a collection of individual beings. Without these microbes helping you digest your food, fight off infection, create nutrients, break down toxins, and all of the other jobs they do for you, you wouldn’t be here today. It’s a truly symbiotic relationship – you help them thrive, and they help you thrive. 

Microbiome and metabolism

One thing that your microbiome does is regulate your metabolism and energy balance, which is the balance between the energy (calories) you take in through eating and drinking and the energy you use (calories you burn) through physical activity and everyday body processes. Several studies have documented the interplay between your microbiome and your metabolism. 

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Here’s what the science says:

  • Diet-induced obesity in mice resulted in changes in their microbiome. These changes were reversible. 
  • The ratio of two microbial species, Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes, is higher in obese populations and smaller in populations with less body fat.
  • Probiotics are being researched as a possible way to address obesity. 
  • The microbiome may play a role in the development of type 2 diabetes. 
  • Your microbiome may play a role in turning on genes that make you harvest more energy (calories) from the food you eat, tipping the balance toward having more energy than you can burn.

Weight management is complex, with a lot of factors playing into it. Diet, exercise, stress levels, sleep, toxic load, and other factors play in, all on top of your microbiome. Some factors are easy to control, other factors are more difficult. As far as your microbiome goes, the best course of action is to keep your gut flora healthy and imbalance – for many reasons, only one of which includes maintaining body weight. 

What makes your microbiome healthy or unhealthy?

In the health and wellness world, there’s a lot of talk about balancing your gut. What exactly does that mean? 

Within your microbiome, there are friendly microbes that benefit you, and unfriendly microbes that are okay in small amounts but can be harmful if they grow out of control. 

Even beneficial microbes that proliferate and take over can have a detrimental effect. 

What you want is a balanced flora, where no one or few species are thriving. A variety of species is preferable to few species, even if the few are predominantly beneficial. A diverse microbiome is a balanced microbiome. 

Things that cause microbiome imbalance

There are a lot of foods, lifestyle behaviors, medicines, and other factors that can throw off the balance of your microbiome:

  • Recent illness. An illness happens when a harmful pathogen proliferates in your body quickly, which can destroy certain helpful strains and throw off your gut balance. 
  • Poor sleep. Shifts in sleep patterns can affect the composition of your microbiome. 
  • Stress or trauma. Stress, especially chronic stress, can disrupt the balance of your microbiome. 
  • Aging. The diversity of your microbiome decreases as you age, which may mean your gut requires a little extra attention with each passing birthday. 
  • Limited or unhealthy diet. If you eat a limited diet or an unhealthy diet, your microbiome will not be as diverse as it would be if you ate a varied diet with lots of different vegetables. 
  • Certain medications (especially antibiotics). Antibiotic use is of particular concern because friendly microbes are killed along with the bacteria that you’re trying to target. It’s important to work toward restoring your flora after a course of antibiotics. Fermented foods, probiotics, high-fiber vegetables, and prebiotic fiber can help. 
  • Excessive sugar intake. High-sugar diets can lead to overgrowth of candida albicans, which can cause a lot of problems if it is able to proliferate and dominate other species.