HomeTraditional Chinese MedicineArticlesLecturesAikidoBioContact

The Practical Herbalist

Gut Bacteria And Weight Loss

If you have caught one of my lectures or have been reading my articles, you should have come across this interesting concept; In Chinese Medicine, obesity is regarded as malnourishment. This concept is supported with the recent medical study that showed some connection between the bacteria in your gut and how well you process food and maintain a healthy weight. The study backs up some basic Chinese medical concepts. The study and its implications are far reaching, and I feel it is important to understand how this study may affect the future of medicine.

Lets start with the single cell organism, the bacteria. Your body actually relies on a large number of different types of bacteria which have a symbiotic relationship with the human body. Some types of bacteria don't belong in our bodies and are the ones that cause infection and disease. Humans are a host providing some bacteria a place to live and the bacteria in turn perform various functions needed for human survival. The really surprising bit of trivia is that if you were to count up all the individual bacteria cells in our bodies, and count all of the human cells, there are more bacteria then there are human cells. The largest concentration of bacteria is in our digestive tracts. Here there are many different families of bacteria that help us to digest and process food as well as protect us from some infections. What the new study showed was that people who are overweight are missing certain families of bacteria when compared to people who maintain a healthy weight. The conclusion is that these families of bacteria may be key to proper digestion and to maintaining a healthy weight.

From a Chinese Medical perspective, obesity and weight gain is seen as malnourishment. This is because Chinese medicine focuses on the functional dynamics of the body rather than the physical structure of the body. In an obese patient we see lack of energy, low muscle tone, poor healing, and desire for more food. All signs that we would see in classic malnourishment due to lack of food. In the case of most Americans the problem isn’t lack of food but too much, which creates this deficiency of function. The classic analogy is dropping big logs on a small fire. The logs are fuel for the fire, but because there is too much fuel it smothers the fire. The American habit of chronically overloading food (logs) into the digestive system (fire) creates ongoing problems with the proper digestion of food. Many obese patients present the same symptoms that are seen when gut bacteria is killed off due to heavy use of antibiotics. These symptoms include, diarrhea, pale complexion and cold sluggish feelings.

What this study implies is that a poor mix of bacteria in the gut could create a situation where you are not digesting food well, thus you feel like you didn't get what you needed, causing you to crave more food. Over eating then further hampers the digestion, creating a vicious cycle of overeating. In Chinese medicine we try to break this cycle by using herbs that help the digestion function better. Many alternative medical practitioners have long been advocating the use of probiotics, which are supplements of various gut bacteria. This is particularly important after the use of antibiotics which can kill off many gut bacteria. The problem with trying to rebuild the gut bacteria with probiotics (or live culture yogurt) is that even the best probiotics only contain a few of the thousands of different types of bacteria our bodies need. This new research may identify the families of bacteria are most important, which ultimately will result in better probiotic formulas.

The benefits could extend beyond obesity. There have been other studies that showed that children raised in traditional family farms where they are regularly exposed to various animal fecal materials, ( which are loaded with bacteria, not to mention these kids had lots of fresh food, fresh air and exercise) have a much lower incidence of asthma and allergies. Research may also eventually show how obesity as well as asthma and allergies in families are at least partially tied to the bacteria in the gut. Babies are born without bacteria. The "starter set" set of bacteria comes from the mother via the birth canal, the breast and the early household environment. Some mothers may have a poor set of bacteria to pass down to the child. Many have suspected that a child who is born by c-section, bottle fed, exposed early to antibiotics and lives in a house overly cleaned with antibacterial products may be more likely to have health problems. More research will have to be done, but it is an interesting area of study that may reveal more about how our modern lifestyle impacts our health.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

Return to the Articles archive

David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066