How the microbiome and your metabolism are related.
The microbiome and gut health are hot topics in the nutrition and wellness world. The specific mechanics and reach of the microbiome are far from being fully understood, but we have a lot of research to show that taking care of your gut and your microbiome is a great way to take care of your entire body and your health.
First, let’s take a look at what your metabolism and microbiome actually are.
What is Metabolism?
Essentially, metabolism is the chemical reactions necessary to change food into energy. We need this energy to do everything from walking to thinking to breathing to running. Specific proteins in the body control the chemical reactions of metabolism and thousands of reactions are happening constantly all the time to keep your body healthy and functioning.
Metabolism has two distinct activities happening at once: Anabolism (building up body tissues and energy stores) and catabolism (breaking down body tissues and energy stores to get more fuel for the body).
Metabolism is “controlled” by a number of different functions and systems in the body. Several hormones help control the rate and direction of your metabolism. Your thyroid produces thyroxine which plays a massive role in the speed or rate of the chemical reactions of metabolism. Your pancreas releases hormones that determine whether the metabolic activity should be anabolic or catabolic. For example: when you eat food, anabolic activity is signaled by the release of insulin to respond to the increase in glucose levels in the body.
The microbiome is essentially trillions of microorganisms (microbiota or microbes) of thousands of different species inside your body. You have bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses in you at all times. In healthy humans, these coexist in harmony mostly inside the small and large intestines (but they are everywhere in your body). The microbiome is often labeled as an organ because it plays a massive role in nearly every function of the human body.
Your microbiome is completely different from the person next to you. It’s unique and beautiful and is originally determined by your DNA. Then vaginal delivery and breast milk begin to diversify and influence your microbiome further. You have microbes that are helpful and potentially harmful at all times within your body and the goal is to have an optimal balance so that the “good” crowd out the “bad”. When the opposite happens, you are most susceptible to disease and illness.
The Gut & Metabolism
The microbiome plays a massive role in the health of the human body. From digestion (obviously) to nutrient absorption, immune functioning and hormonal balance – it does a lot. The microbiome may also contain indicators of metabolic function as well.
Healthy metabolic functioning is essential for human health. It has an impact on almost everything you do. New research suggests that the gut microbiome plays a significant role in regulating metabolism function and metabolic health. This occurs through generating metabolites (byproducts of the microbiome that play an essential role in regulating the metabolic processes and your overall health), influencing hormonal activity, and energy usage within the body.
Another study found that those with Type 2 Diabetes (a metabolic disorder) have lower gut microbiome diversity and less “good” bacteria than those without the disease. Even if you don’t have Type 2 Diabetes, the findings are consistent with the research suggesting that paying attention to your gut microbiome, supporting it well, will have an impact on your metabolism and metabolic health.
The Gut and Nutrient Absorption
The gut plays a role in regulating your metabolism by influencing the absorption of, and the interaction among, nutrients in the body, studies show. The bacteria in your gut product metabolites like short-chain fatty acids (aka the rockstars of your gut) which positively influence energy metabolism, improve glucose metabolism and support insulin sensitivity. These SCFAs are produced from complex carbohydrates and fiber that your body can’t digest and then are used as little microbiome superheroes. Another byproduct of the gut microbiome are bile acids – involved in fat absorption and cholesterol metabolism which can positively affect associated health outcomes.
The Gut and Hormones
The gut microbiome plays a role in hormone function as well. Research shows that certain gut bacteria is positively associated with the hormone that regulates satiety (aka fullness). A vast number of people (especially women who have been dieting for a significant amount of time) have difficulty producing this hormone as well as ghrelin – the hormone for signaling hunger. Luckily, a healthy microbiome can help with that too! Those with higher levels of certain bacteria species in their microbiome can counteract ghrelin dysregulation which can lead to the overconsumption of food.
As an Intuitive Eating Counselor, one of the primary goals is to help clients feel and honor their hunger and satiety. But without a properly functioning gut microbiome and hormonal system, some find it impossible to feel their hunger and fullness – because the hormones associated with those signals aren’t functioning properly! Nourishing your gut microbiome and creating balance within can play a major role in honoring your hunger and fullness by allowing you to actually feel it.
More research is definitely needed to further explain the relationship between the microbiome and metabolism but given the connections we already know about, it’s safe to say that supporting a healthy microbiome will go a long way in supporting metabolic function.