Victoria Frankel

Host Metabolism: How Your Gut Microbes Are Calling the Shots

Oct 28, 2019

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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 harnessing their metabolism all their lives.

But by now, you probably wouldn’t be too surprised to hear it isn’t necessarily you behind the wheel. 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 that 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 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 level 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 foods, they often promote beneficial activities that can regulate our blood sugar and manage our cravings through the gut-brain axis. 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 diabetes(2).

Disrupting beneficial microbial activities and supporting the survival of the wrong kinds of microbes can also promote gut dysbiosis. 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 trickle3.

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 inflammation, 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 dysfunction – but science has only ever assured us one thing: the truth is far often more complex(3).

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 kinds of microbial activities. By focusing on stabilizing 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 inflammation levels 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 lose weight. Despite trying practically every diet under the sun, they ended up giving into cravings or just stalling out on their weight loss journey. After getting their personalized recommendations, here is some of what they’re saying now:

My weight has stabilized and my digestion has improved.”

It has helped [me] get rid of inflammation and helped me lose weight.”

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 and get their weight loss (or gain) 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!

 

Resources: 

1.     Galgani J, Ravussin E. Energy metabolism, fuel selection and body weight regulation. Int J Obes (Lond). 2008;32 Suppl 7:S109-119.

2.     Martinez KB, Pierre JF, Chang EB. The Gut Microbiota: The Gateway to Improved Metabolism. Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 2016;45:601-614.

3.     Boulange CL, Neves AL, Chilloux J, Nicholson JK, Dumas ME. Impact of the gut microbiota on inflammation, obesity, and metabolic disease. Genome Med. 2016;8:42.



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Host Metabolism: How Your Gut Microbes Are Calling the Shots

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