Diet is the key to addressing the problem. Did you know that even with a high quality diet some people barely lose weight and their health does not improve? An increasing number of factors are associated with weight gain. Diet, of course, but also lifestyle and pseudo-healthy food choices, which include sleep, stress, pollutants and processed food in the modern diet. These factors also have a combined impact on the intestinal flora, part of a larger whole called the human intestinal microbiota.
The human intestinal microbiota is remarkably diverse: the microbes in the microbiota outnumber the cells in the human body by 10 to 1 (100 trillion vs. 10 trillion). According to a dozen recent studies, there are over 10,000 species in the microbiota, and the number of genes that contribute to human survival within this diversity is even more impressive that the human genome itself (8 million vs. 22,000). It is quite clear that human beings are greatly influenced by the bacteria within the body. The intestinal flora is, therefore, extremely important.
Stress is a scourge. Just coping with it significantly affects the body's normal processes from inhibiting/activating the digestion/transit to slowing down the basal metabolism and altering the intestinal flora. All types of stress are hard to manage, so it is important to address the ones you can manage, like sleep.
Sleep, or rather the quality of sleep, is an often-discussed subject and essential to weight control. Around eight hours is considered a good night's sleep. About three out of four people sleep less than that—the average American was sleeping seven hours a night in 2002, and many less than five. Admittedly, these statistics do not indicate the quality of sleep, but the quantity. However, less sleep often means less quality sleep. We know that sleep deprivation reduces insulin sensitivity, increases cortisol, reduces letpin—a hormone that suppresses appetite—–and increases ghrelin—a hormone that increases appetite. As leptin also affects the basal metabolism, chronic sleep deprivation will affect it, too. Leptin and insulin work hand in hand to prevent obesity. So we see very clearly that sleep plays an important role in weight control.
Pseudo-healthy food choices have also upset the fragile balance of the body, particularly with the introduction of the infamous artificial sweeteners, like aspartame, sucralose and saccharin. These sweeteners, found in a wide range of diet products, have been identified as culprits in the fight against obesity. In fact, excessive use causes more problems to those trying to lose weight. A few calories are saved, but at the expense of satiety control and changes to the intestinal flora that are directly related to fat weight gain and which can damage the intestines. Artificial sweeteners may only taste sweet and contain no calories, but they alter, in the short-medium term, how the body perceives calories and therefore negatively affect satiety control with certain foods. So people who consume a lot of artificial sweeteners—especially those already struggling to control their eating behaviours—will soon make up the calories saved elsewhere.
Refined sugars also have a role to play in appetite control and ever-increasing weight. The consumption of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is also directly related to increasing obesity rates. Fructose, unlike glucose, barely stimulates insulin or leptin and therefore does not help appetite control. This also contributes to increased inflammatory processes, which are related to weight and body fat gain. As if that weren't enough, sugar—or rather a high-sugar diet—changes the composition of the intestinal flora and therefore tends to promote weight gain.
It all seems terribly complicated. But in fact, it is amazingly simple. We don't pretend to have a solution to obesity, but we can see that demographically the more people live at a normal, relaxed pace, the less overweight they are. The fewer pollutants, additives, sugars and processed foods that disrupt digestive health there are, the less obesity per capita. The more we respect our physiology, the more likely we are to keep a healthy weight and HEALTH!
Fourteen commandments for restoring balance!
- Quit sugar!
- Eat at regular times. This will prevent fluctuations in blood sugar and the hormone rush.
- Drink water, green tea and a little black coffee, if you like it. No calories in the form of liquid sugar. A small glass of wine every now and again is OK.
- Learn to breathe. Relax and learn to enjoy activities other than eating!
- Go to bed at a reasonable time.
- Magnesium is excellent for relaxation and the proper functioning of many metabolic processes. Most people are deficient.
- Life is short but may drag if your body is not working with you. Respect it.
- Consuming sugar gives you 10 minutes of happiness for 24 hours of suffering — Dr. Pierre Cloutier MD.
- Favour natural sources of carbohydrate and know your limits. If your waistline increases, sugar is making you pay the price.
- Consume sweeteners sparingly. Favour Stevia.
- Vary your diet and consume lots of vegetables and unprocessed fibrous carbohydrates (according to your carbohydrate tolerance).
- Probiotics and prebiotics are your friends. Do not ignore them.
- If you have questions about anything, consult a professional. If you cannot find one, we can advise you.
- Reread this article because it is not easy to remember everything in one go!
To your health
- MB Abou-Donia, et al. Splenda alters gut microflora and increases intestinal p-glycoprotein and cytochrome p-450 in male rats. J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2008; 71 (21): 1415 - 1429.
- AN Payne, et al. Gut microbial adaptation to dietary consumption of fructose, artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols: implications for host–microbe interactions contributing to obesity. ObesityReviews. 2012; 13: 799 – 809.
- National Sleep Foundation. Sleep in America Poll, 2001-2002. Washington, DC: National Sleep Foundation.
- Turnbaugh PJ, Ley RE, Hamady M, et al.: The Human Microbiome Project. Nature 2007, 449:804