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Why Your Body’s Bacteria Make More Sugar Than You Do

You have enough sugar in your diet that it could contribute to weight gain. So do the bacteria. If we ate less and exercised more, it wouldn’t be much of a problem, we’re told.

Many people have high blood sugar. But what they don’t get is what the bacteria in their guts are doing. High blood sugar doesn’t just cause high blood sugar — it can cause weight gain, too. That’s what’s known as your microbiome, or the trillions of microscopic creatures that live in your intestine.

Your Gut, the Ultimate Laboratory

The vast majority of these are friendly. They help you digest food and keep your gut bacteria in balance. But they can also cause you to gain weight.

“Everyone is at a different stage of gut diversity and it may vary from person to person. It is also very hard to know what the individual microbiome profile of a person might be,” wrote Dr. Alan Gordon, a microbiologist in the division of gastrointestinal diseases at the University of Toronto and director of the Canadian Gut Project, in an email.

“But the average of all people of European descent is more diverse, with more Bacteroidetes and fewer Firmicutes compared to the general population.”

But the average of all Europeans contains fewer Bacteroidetes than Africans or American Indians. “Many people believe that more diversity is good and less diversity is bad. However, in the absence of a large number of people, if diversity is reduced, it is typically replaced by lower levels,” writes Gordon.

A 2009 study using the Human Genome Project showed that the gut has a genetic component. That is, it contains a number of genetic variants in bacteria (bacteria have genomes, not just genes). A few weeks in your microbiome lab should tell you if those are the ones that are the driving factors.

Here’s the bottom line: The more diverse you are the more effective the gut bacteria are at making you fat.

Don’t get discouraged, say the scientists. They found that it is possible, for example, to replace a single bacteria through the use of a probiotic. So, by eating probiotics from different foods you’ll learn more about your local gut bacteria, and, possibly, how their levels are affected by foods and dietary habits.

And don’t wait to discover a “missing link” in the body. For example, when we eat too much or too little fiber, and the gut bacteria that are in control are not getting their supply. These bacteria can make more insulin than they eat. And by regulating the growth and secretion of insulin, they can promote excess body fat storage. This is why it’s so important to eat something at every meal — not because you’re being fatter, but because the gut is growing more resistant to nutrient input.

The Gut And Weight

Gerald Weiss MD, of the Mayo Clinic , says the most effective thing people can do is to eliminate processed foods and foods with added sugars.

“It’s amazing that in the United States, one-fifth of adults have a subclinical high (or non-insulin resistant) level of glucose intolerance, a group that, with appropriate medical care, can live a normal and happy life,” she told New Media. “This is simply because the gut does not process carbohydrate very well, which has very negative consequences.”

The good news is that the gut and metabolism are very complex. You can’t really take a diet, a lifestyle change or any medical intervention and expect immediate results.

“The key message is that people who want to lose fat or make changes in lifestyle and/or diet need to understand how their environment is affected by their own gut bacterial ecosystem.”