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Probiotics Benefit Metabolic Syndrome Patients

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Posted by Dr. Mercola | May 13 2010

A study found that probiotics could help improve the metabolic syndrome by counteracting the adverse effects of a high-fat diet. Metabolic syndrome is a condition characterized by central obesity, hypertension, and disturbed glucose and insulin metabolism.

The benefit comes as a result of reduction in tissue inflammation and metabolic endotaxemia.

NutraIngredients states that:

“The current study involved administering the probiotic strain B420 to diabetic mice on a high-fat diet. According to the researchers, the probiotic improved the fasting glycemia and restored the glucose turnover rate to the level of the control mice fed with normal chow.”


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We’re hearing more and more about the benefits of probiotics on metabolic syndrome and obesity these days, which is a good thing. Most people do not have the optimal balance of good and bad bacteria in their intestines. This imbalance can wreak havoc on your health in many ways, and yes, it may even contribute to overweight and/or difficulty in shedding excess weight.

Although I’m not a major proponent of supplements (as I believe the majority of your nutrients need to come from food), probiotics are one of my exceptions.

Ensuring that you’re getting a regular supply of good bacteria in your digestive system is so important because an estimated 80 percent of your immune system is located there. So supporting your digestive health is essential to also supporting your immune system, which is your number one defense system against ALL disease.

How Do You Know Your Gut is Out of Whack?

Signs and symptoms that you may need to address your intestinal balance include:

  • Gas and bloating
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Sugar cravings, and cravings for refined carb foods

These are all signs that unhealthy bacteria have taken over too much real estate in your gut, and rather than reaching for the Pepto Bismol, aspirin, or another cup of coffee to fend off the symptom at hand, the real answer may simply be to add some healthy probiotics to your diet.

What about Probiotics for Metabolic Syndrome and General Weight Loss?

Several studies have now found that lean people tend to have higher amounts of various healthy bacteria compared to obese people, and researchers suggest that certain bacteria may cause low-grade inflammation in your body, contributing to obesity and difficulty to lose weight.

One such study found that the bifidobacteria counts taken from infants at the age of 6 months and 12 months were twice as high in healthy weight children as in those who became overweight, while S. Aureus levels were lower. (Interestingly, this finding may explain why breast-fed babies are at a lower risk of obesity, as bifidobacteria flourish in the guts of breast-fed babies.)

Two other studies found that obese people had about 20 percent more of a family of bacteria known as firmicutes, and almost 90 percent less of a bacteria called bacteroidetes than lean people.

Firmicutes help your body to extract calories from complex sugars and deposit those calories in fat.

When these microbes were transplanted into normal-weight mice, those mice started to gain twice as much fat. So this is one explanation for how the microflora in your gut may play a key role in weight management.

As you probably know, metabolic syndrome and obesity are closely linked, and it actually makes sense that probiotics could help improve both of these conditions, since both are caused by a diet high in sugars and unhealthy fats (think processed trans fat, not saturated fat), which leads to insulin resistance, fuels the growth of unhealthy bacteria, and packs on excess weight.

Keep in mind that processed foods in general will destroy healthy microflora and feed bad bacteria and yeast, so the other half of the equation is to switch to a diet of whole, organic foods, as they naturally support a healthy balance.

It doesn’t make much sense to use the drug approach to probiotics, thinking you can maintain a diet high in processed foods while taking a probiotic supplement to counteract the ill effects.

Nothing good will come from that in the end, although you may be able to temporarily suppress some of the troublesome symptoms caused by that kind of diet.

The Health Benefits of Maintaining a Healthy Balance of Bacteria

Your body contains about 100 trillion bacteria -- more than 10 TIMES the number of cells you have in your whole body.

The ideal ratio between the bacteria in your body is 85 percent “good” and 15 percent “bad.”

This ratio is essential for:

The probiotics in your gut also play a role in helping numerous bodily functions, such as:

  • Digesting and absorbing certain carbohydrates
  • Producing vitamins, absorbing minerals and eliminating toxins
  • Keeping bad bacteria under control
  • Preventing allergies. Friendly bacteria train your immune system to distinguish between pathogens and non-harmful antigens, and to respond appropriately

    One Washington University professor has likened the functioning of this gut microflora in your body to that of an ant farm that works together as an intelligence to perform an array of functions you're unable to manage on your own.

The Viral Component of Obesity – Yet Another Theory

Taking the gut bacteria/obesity connection one step further is the relatively new term “infectobesity,” which suggests that some cases of obesity may be caused by a virus or other disease-causing organism.

For instance, the human adenovirus-36 (Ad-36) -- a cause of respiratory infections and pinkeye -- may be a contributing factor to obesity, as it’s been found to transform adult stem cells into fat cells that are capable of storing additional fat.

As odd as it sounds, infectobesity is actually a plausible theory, and it is possible that there are significant viral causes underlying some cases of obesity. However, please don’t take this to mean that losing weight is out of your control, or something that can only be accomplished with medication.

On the contrary, this theory only further supports the importance of balancing out the bacteria in your gut, because what is the most important thing you need to fight off a viral infection?

The foods you eat, and the integrity of your immune system are two important ones.

So it seems all roads lead back to this one central premise: optimizing your gut bacteria is essential for your good health.


How to Optimize the Bacteria in Your Gut

The good news is that optimizing the ratio of good versus bad bacteria growing in your body is relatively easy.

Like I mentioned earlier, one of the most important steps you can take is to stop consuming sugary and processed foods. When you eat a healthy diet that is low in sugars and processed foods one of the major benefits is that it causes the good bacteria in your gut to flourish and build up a major defense against the bad bacteria getting a foothold.

This is one of the many reasons I highly recommend reducing, with the plan of eliminating, sugars and most grains from your diet.

Yet, even with an extremely low-sugar diet, there are other factors that influence your gut bacteria, so you’ll also want to avoid some of the factors that destroy healthy bacteria, such as:

  • Antibiotics
  • Chlorinated water
  • Antibacterial soap
  • Agricultural chemicals
  • Pollution

Considering the many toxins that surround most of us on a daily basis, it’s generally a wise choice to “reseed” your body with good bacteria from time to time by taking a high-quality probiotic supplement or eating fermented foods.

In the past, people used fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut to support their digestive health, as these foods are rich in naturally beneficial bacteria.

This is still the best route to optimal digestive health.

Other healthy choices include:

  • Lassi (an Indian yoghurt drink, traditionally enjoyed before dinner)
  • Fermented milk, such as kefir
  • Various pickled fermentations of cabbage, turnips, eggplant, cucumbers, onions, squash and carrots
  • Natto (fermented soy)

If you were to eat a diet rich in fermented foods that have NOT been pasteurized (as pasteurization kills the naturally occurring probiotics), then you would likely enjoy great digestive health without any additional supplementation.

However, if you simply do not like any of these types of fermented foods, your next best option is to use a high quality probiotic supplement.

I have used many different brands over the past 15 years and there are many good ones out there. I also spent a long time researching and developing my own, called Complete Probiotics, in which I incorporated everything I have learned about this important tool over the years

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