Obesity is a complex health problem. Many factors contribute to obesity: diet, genetics, and lifestyle choices. While there are no quick fixes to weight loss, gut bacteria do play significant roles in our health. Microbes in our gut help to regulate fat metabolism, maintain cholesterol levels, and block weight gain.
In fact, a study has shown that the gut microbial environment of obese individuals is different from those of lean people. What’s even more interesting is that an obese person who loses weight has gut bacteria that resemble the bacteria found in a lean person.
Further studies in the area of gut bacteria have shown that these bugs produce an enzyme called bile salt hydrolase (BSH) that changes bile acid in the digestive tract. The modification of bile acid by BSH has been shown to improve fat metabolism. In one study, a group of researchers in Cork, Ireland examined lab mice and found that BSH significantly affects cholesterol and lipid metabolism to control obesity and prevent elevated cholesterol. High-level BSH expression in mice resulted in significant weight loss.
So what does all of this actually mean? While the exact mechanism of BSH activity is not clear, the enzyme’s influence on lipid regulation is apparent—BSH controls cholesterol and weight gain. To understand why the bacterial production of this enzyme is important to our health, you have to understand the function of bile acids.
Bile is made in the liver and stored in the gallbladder. It’s a fluid that comprises many molecules such as water, electrolytes, cholesterol, and, of course, bile acid. When we eat, the gallbladder contracts to release bile and the acid in bile is essential for the digestion and absorption of fats. As a result, bile acids are involved in maintaining an intricate balance in regulating fats in the body to prevent obesity and other metabolic conditions associated with excess fat storage (e.g., cardiovascular disease, diabetes).
The regulation of fats by bile acids is influenced by BSH, which is produced by bacteria in the gut. The study demonstrates the importance of gut microbiota in health. In particular, BSH production and its affect on regulating weight gain and cholesterol are strong indicators for obesity and cardiovascular disease. Bacteria in the gut compose 99% of the body’s genetic information, which is why it’s important to ensure healthy intestinal bacteria.
To maintain a healthy gut (1) stay hydrated by drinking lots of water, (2) eat foods that are high in fiber, and (3) consume foods like yogurt and kefir to boost good gut bacterial populations, and (4) add probiotic supplements to your diet. My latest book, The Gene Therapy Plan: Taking Control of Your Genetic Destiny Through Diet and Lifestyle, will be released in April from Viking and includes many healthful foods to beat obesity and rein in high cholesterol levels.