As we watch America’s waistline continue to expand, and along with it the perpetual increase in diseases associated with this increased incidence of obesity, it’s really important to identify potential causes associated with this issue. No doubt, our lust for sugar and carbs is playing a central role, as I discussed in Grain Brain. In fact, the number one source of calories in America is now high fructose corn syrup.
It would be simple to call it a day, point an accusatory finger at the dramatic dietary changes that have shifted Western cultures away from fat in favor of sugar and carbs, and do our very best to get this information out to those involved in such areas as public health, product development, advertising, etc., and hope for the best.
But there’s new research that quite clearly reveals that another factor may well be playing a role not only in the soaring rates of obesity, but also in increasing the risk for metabolic syndrome, which is the name given for a group of risk factors known to increase the risk for such conditions as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and others.
Components of metabolic syndrome include lab studies like high triglycerides, low HDL, high fasting blood sugar, as well as other measurements including a large waistline and blood pressure elevation.
New science, including a report from the University of Cambridge shows that changes in the human microbiome, the resident bacteria that live within our intestines may actually exercise strong control of various aspects of human health. Researchers are now able to indentify patterns in the types of bacteria in the gut that may either correlate with obesity and metabolic syndrome, or may relate to superior health. This is revolutionary news. It presents an entirely new scenario related to our health and focuses on the gut bacteria that actually outnumber the cells of the human body by an amazing factor of 10 to one.
Basically, a healthy microbiome translates into a healthy human. And while we don’t yet know exactly what the therapeutic options are that will allow us to establish an optimal bacterial colonization of the gut, it is clear that trauma to the gut microbiome can have serious consequences.
That means, moving forward, it’s a good idea to avoid antibiotics unless absolutely necessary. Antibiotics clearly change the microbiome as you would expect as they are designed to kill bacteria. The temptation of the all too common practice of asking your doctor to “call something in” when you have a simple cold should be resisted. Think twice before drinking chlorinated water and recognize that the very foods you eat also have a role in nurturing or damaging the very gut bacteria upon whose health your health depends.