Do you feel it’s harder for you to stay thin than it was for your grandparents at your age? You are right! Though we may be eating the same foods and exercising just as much as they did, we are about 10 percent heavier than people were in the 80’s. This may be due to changes in lifestyle and environmental factors that impact our BMI, or body mass index.
Recent research by York University’s Faculty of Health shows it’s more difficult to maintain the same weight at a certain age than it was for someone 2 or 3 decades ago. Even if you eat exactly the same macros (protein, fat, and carbs) and perform the same amount and type of exercise, you are likely to be heavier than they were at your age.
In fact, accounting for all the factors, the predicted BMI has risen 2.3 points between 1988 and 2006.
Jennifer Kuk, the study’s author, states “Our study results suggest that if you are 40 years old now, you’d have to eat even less and exercise more than if you were a 40-year-old in 1971 to prevent gaining weight. However, it also indicates there may be other specific changes contributing to the rise in obesity beyond just diet and exercise.”
Specific factors contributing to our increased BMI
In the past, we tended to look only to dietary and exercise habits when we considered our weight or BMI (body mass index).
However, managing your weight is much more complex than simply watching what you eat and working out regularly. Our BMI can be impacted by many factors such as:
- Medication use
- Environmental toxins
- Timing of meals
- Stress level
- Gut bacteria populations
- Nighttime light exposure
While the study’s authors admit we need more research to determine exactly how these variables contribute to the changed BMI picture, they suggest three main factors:
Increased environmental toxins. Compared to 30 years ago, we are exposed to a higher level of environmental toxins such as pesticides, air pollution, heavy metals, flame retardants, plastics found in food storage containers, and more. These toxins place a heavy burden on the endocrine system and alter the hormonal processes which affect metabolism and weight management.
Increased use of prescription drugs. Since the 1970s, prescription drug use has risen dramatically. In the US, antidepressants are the most prescribed drugs for those between the ages of 18 and 44 and are also linked to weight gain.
Our gut microbiome has changed. The gut microbiome, which is comprised of the good and bad bacteria that naturally inhabit the digestive tract, has drastically changed since the 1980’s.
Americans eat differently than they did in the past. The products we eat now contain more antibiotics, pesticides, and other toxins; we consume more artificial sweeteners; and we eat more junk food. All of these factors may negatively impact the population of our gut bacteria.
A hot topic of research, the gut microbiome is now being connected to more and more aspects of health and disease. For example, some gut bacteria are linked with weight gain and obesity. In fact, doctors are even using fecal implantation — inserting gut bacteria from a healthy thin patient into the gut of an unhealthy obese patient — to reduce chronic obesity.
Support your microbiome with SCFA
In functional medicine we consider the gut microbiome to be a foundation of health. An imbalanced gut microbiome can prevent healing from many health disorders, so it’s important to do everything you can to support yours.
One important factor is oral tolerance, or the body’s ability to properly recognize food proteins. When we lose oral tolerance, the immune system mistakenly thinks more and more foods are actually pathogens. This leads to more food sensitivities, increased hormonal issues, increased autoimmunity, and imbalanced metabolism and weight gain.
You can support oral tolerance by fixing leaky gut, supporting liver function, taming histamine reactions, reducing stress, and balancing blood sugar. But one of the best ways to support it is by providing your body with plenty of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA).
SCFA are powerful gut signaling compounds found in fruits and vegetables that affect not only the gut but also the brain as well as other parts of the body.
Your gut bacteria not only make SCFA, they also need them as fuel to generate more SCFA. The more you eat them, the more your good gut bacteria can outnumber the bad.
Three main SCFAs include:
SCFA bind to cell receptors that control your hunger and appetite, turn off insulin resistance, and burn body fat more efficiently.
When you are low on SCFA you will:
- Have a bigger appetite
- Be prone to insulin resistance (e.g. pre-diabetic)
- Store more body fat better than you burn
When gut diversity is ruined, SCFA can’t communicate properly and you end up with what is called an “obese microbiome.”
How to support SCFA
To support healthy levels of SCFA, adopt the following habits:
Eat a wide variety of produce. Eat plenty of diverse vegetables so your gut bacteria stay adept at recognizing many different food proteins. Ideally, you should aim for 7 to 9 servings per day. One serving equals a half cup of chopped vegetables or one cup of shredded greens. You should also reduce your consumption of high-sugar fruits to keep your blood sugar stable.
Supplement with SCFA. You may also benefit from supplementing with butyrate, propionate, and acetate. I like to use Enterovite by Apex Energetics.
Boost glutathione levels. Glutathione is the master antioxidant that helps reduce inflammation, a main factor that reduces the diversity of your microbiome. Take absorbable glutathione such as s-acetyl glutathione (regular glutathione is not easily absorbed), or its precursors such as n-acetyl cysteine.
For more ways to support a healthy microbiome, contact my office. We can help you evaluate your microbiome health and show you how to improve it so you can maintain a healthy weight.