Unlock the Secret to Better Metabolism Through Your Gut Microbiome
We always seem to be blaming our metabolism for something.
Whether our dieting doesn’t seem to be budging the number on the scale or it seems to be so hypersonic we can’t quite absorb enough food to make a difference... Either way, it rarely seems to be functioning the way we would prefer. Nor is it an isolated event. Some people seem to struggle to harness their metabolism all their lives.
The Basics of Metabolism
Metabolism involves the numerous regular chemical functions and processes that are running continuously throughout your body to keep you alive and functioning normally.
You may be familiar with your basal metabolic rate (BRM), or the minimum amount of energy/calories that your body needs to simply exist at rest and perform those vital functions needed to get through the day. Your BRM can be calculated using your total lean body mass, usually the amount of muscle tissue in your body.
There are quite a few factors that influence your metabolism, both internally and externally, including your muscle-to-fat ratio mentioned above, your age and gender, your daily physical activity, and hormone function.
But by now, you probably wouldn’t be too surprised to hear it isn’t necessarily all you behind the wheel all the time when it comes to your metabolism. Rather, your gut microbiome may be the one calling the shots. After all, your gut microbes play a tremendous role in digestion and communicate with various regions of your body (like your brain!) – is it so surprising that they might be regulating your body’s metabolism, too?
The Power of Energy Homeostasis
Despite all this talk on “metabolism,” it tends to be one of those words that everyone uses – but doesn’t actually know what it is. Sure enough, the way many talk about their metabolism is similar to an organ, giving it a specific function tied to many tissues. In truth, metabolism is so much grander, and yet so specific to each organism. Each and every cell, in every living organism – plant, animal, bacteria… - has its own metabolism that plays into a larger, all-encompassing energetic state.1
It’s all about energy balance. Metabolism, simply put, is the way our cells produce energy. This energy is used for all sorts of things including movement, replication, healing, maintenance, and cellular-specific activity; like the way a liver cell works doing liver-specific activities or a muscle cell works doing muscle-specific activities.
Where does this energy come from? From the food we consume.
The act of digestion breaks down food into small, easily absorbable nutrients that can be dispersed into our bloodstream and to the rest of our body: liver cell and muscle cell alike.
Starting from the tip of your tongue, the moment food touches your mouth, your saliva begins secreting digestive enzymes to break down foods. Once swallowed, your stomach gets to work with a high acidic environment and even more digestive enzymes that quickly degrade carbohydrates and proteins, and some fats. When it reaches your small intestine, immediately your body preps for even more digestive enzymes used to break down all foods into microscopic nutrients easily transported through your bloodstream and to other parts of your body.
But some foods are a little more difficult to digest and make it all the way to your gut microbiome. From here, these foods interact with your gut and can impact which microbes survive and thrive and can change what kind of microbial activities are conducted. These microbial activities have a monumental effect on not just our gut, but our overall health, and can change how well we absorb nutrients, how much energy is produced, and even flip on our fat storage switch.
Gut Microbes and the Energy Machine
Metabolism can seem to be finicky, relying heavily on the availability and absorption of nutrients. Normally, during digestion, energy-dense nutrients like glucose (from carbohydrates) and triglycerides (from fat) are released into the bloodstream to be absorbed into cells. Depending on the levels in circulation, and with hormone messengers like insulin, our cells extract these nutrients to be used for energy to build, maintain, or replicate our cells.2
However, many of these hormone-regulated activities can be regulated by our gut microbiome – an endocrine organ in its own way. The activities of our gut microbes are heavily dependent on the type of nutrients they consume. When they have access to healthy, whole foods, they often promote beneficial activities that can regulate our blood sugar and manage our cravings through the gut-brain axis, communicating along the vagus nerve that travels from gut to brain. Although, when they gain access to less nutritious foods, or a diet excessively rich in sugar and fats, they can instead function in a different way that can disrupt how we store fat and lead to insulin resistance – a dire consequence for individuals facing issues with blood sugar metabolism.2
Disrupting beneficial microbial activities and supporting the survival of the wrong kinds of microbes can also promote microflora imbalance. An imbalance of your gut microbes can shift the gut ecosystem toward an inflammatory state, increasing the levels of activated immune cells throughout your body. These immune cells are highly skilled at what they do – bringing down pathogens and taking names – and require a high level of energy. This may result in your immune cells hijacking all that circulating energy set out for your cells and starving them. This can disrupt their normal metabolism and slow it down to a trickle.3
These are just a few of the ways gut microbes can impact our metabolism and set us up for metabolic disorders. Many studies examining individuals with obesity have seen just that: increased immune response, increased fat storage, insulin resistance, and slowed metabolism among various tissues.
Mapping the Metabolic Mystery
Because the link between our metabolism and gut microbes seems to be growing each day, many researchers believe the answer to understanding metabolic disorders may be found in our gut microbiome. Scientists have sought to map out the gut microbiome of individuals with obesity to determine if they exhibit unique gut microbial patterns, in hopes of identifying which microbes may be pulling the strings that lead to metabolic issues – but science has only ever assured us one thing: the truth is far often more complex3.
There is no individual “secret gut microbe” calling the shots behind the scenes. Each person is different. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. Instead, it assures us what Viome has been saying the whole time about how unique each person is. Rather, scientists are seeing patterns in the different kinds of microbial activities. By focusing on optimizing the gut ecosystem and promoting beneficial bacterial activity, we can work to reduce the negative hold an imbalanced gut microbiome may be orchestrating.
The best way to do this is to choose foods that help support not only you, but improve the health of your gut microbiome. Viome’s personalized recommendations factor in your current gut dynamic to support returning your metabolism to a healthy state. By lessening inflammatory activity and recalibrating the energy being sent to your human cells, you might be able to shift your metabolism back into gear.
We Hear You
We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from many of our Viome family about their metabolic changes. Some of our users complained that previously, they were unable to drop excess weight. Despite trying practically every diet under the sun, they ended up giving in to cravings or just stalling out on their weight management journey. After getting their personalized recommendations, here is some of what they’re saying now:
“My weight has stabilized and my digestion has improved.”
“After my last test and food change, my weight started coming off again.”
“I feel so much better. Weight is coming off again. My allergies are gone.”
For so many of our users, switching to a diet right for them has made the difference they needed to jumpstart their metabolism, restore their healthy weight, and put their weight maintenance journey back on track. With so many people making the switch and seeing real results, it’s a wonder we haven’t been doing this from the get-go.
Ah, thank you, science!
Originally published Oct. 29, 2019
Updated June 23, 2023
1 Galgani J, Ravussin E. (2008). International Journal of Obes (Lond). 2008;32 PubMed Central.
2 Martinez KB, Pierre JF, Chang EB. (2016). Gastroenterol Clinics of North America. PubMed.
3 Boulange CL, Neves AL, Chilloux J, Nicholson JK, Dumas ME. (2016). Genome Medicine. genomemedicine.biomedcentral.com.