Weight & Wellness: Belly Brain Blog

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If you’re like most people, chances are you’ve experienced some lethargy after a heavy meal. It is a commonly known fact that the more food you consume, the more likely you are to feel lethargic afterwards 1. However, something that fewer people are aware of is that the types of food you consume can also have a significant effect on your mental health.

In this post, I examine the relationship between gut bacteria and mental health, as well as how you can improve your diet to benefit your mental health and general well-being.

What is Gut Bacteria?

Gut bacteria is a general term that commonly refers to the trillions of microbes, fungi, viruses, and other microscopic creatures that populate the gastrointestinal tracts of every human being. Collectively, these gut bacteria and microbes constitute what is known as the gut microbiome.

Studies have shown that the health of a person’s gut microbiome can have an effect on their immune system, metabolic function and even their basic physiologic functions 2.

The Gut-Brain Connection

At this point, you might be wondering: how exactly is the digestive system linked to the brain?

In short, the vagus nerve is one of the body’s longest nerves systems and the brain uses this neural pathway to control many of the body’s involuntary functions, including digestion, heart rate and muscle function 3. This is also known as the gut-brain connection, and it is through this pathway that gut bacteria is able to affect your mental health.

The Relationship Between Your Gut Microbiome & Mental Health

Scientists have studied the connection between gut microbiomes and physiological conditions such as obesity for decades. The gut microbiome is widely accepted as one of the key risk factors that can contribute to obesity 4.

However, the link between gut bacteria and mental conditions such as depression or anxiety is a one that has only been established in recent years.

Gut Bacteria and Depression

Recent studies have shown that gut bacteria can send signals to the brain via the gut-brain barrier 5. As a result, changes in gut microbiome compositions have also been linked to changes in mood.

Some bacteria such as butyrate-producing Faecalibacterium and Coprococcus have been shown to increase the quality of life experienced by their hosts 6. Conversely, a lower population of these bacteria could result in depression and a lower quality of life.

Gut Bacteria and Anxiety

If you find that you’re often feeling anxious or panicky, chances are that your gut health might also be one of the factors causing you to feel that way.

As with depression, gut bacteria can send signals to the brain via the gut-brain barrier, affecting neurological functions such as mood regulation 7. Imbalances in gut bacteria, also known as dysbiosis or dysbacteriosis, have also been shown to cause stress and stress-related behaviors such as anxiety.

Gut Health and Mental Health: Changing Your Diet to Improve Your Mood

The composition of an individual’s gut microbiome can be affected by a variety of different factors such as genetics and even their method of delivery at birth 8. The gut microbiome is generally resilient to external influences and short-term dietary changes typically have limited effect on the composition of one’s gut bacteria composition and gut health. However, recent studies have shown that long-term dietary patterns can have a significant impact on an individual’s gut microbiome 9.

Thus, changing your diet can be a good first step to improving your gut health and consequently, your mental health. Here are some changes you can make to your diet dietary habits to improve your mental health:

Consume More Probiotic-Rich Foods

Commonly touted as health foods that can contribute to weight loss, probiotic-rich foods can also do wonders for your mental health. Probiotics is a term that generally refers to a family of gut-friendly bacteria and yeasts that are beneficial for your gastrointestinal health when consumed regularly. Some of the most commonly available probiotic-rich foods that you can get include yogurts and soft cheeses.

Studies have shown that probiotics can help to prevent dysbiosis, enabling you to maintain a healthier gut microbiome 10. This can in turn have mood-regulating effects, helping you to improve your mental health and mitigate your risk factors for depression and anxiety. Moreover, you can also enjoy the added benefit of lowered obesity risk when you consume probiotic-rich foods as part of your regular diet.

Consume More Fermented Foods

While it may not seem immediately obvious to most people, there is actually an abundance of health benefits that you can enjoy from consuming fermented foods. The process of fermentation introduces bacteria into foods such as kimchi, miso, kombucha, sauerkraut, and even beer 11. If done right, the fermentation process can be hugely beneficial and can help to introduce beneficial bacteria into your gut microbiome when you consume them.

Consequently, fermented foods can bring with them significant health benefits such as lowered blood pressure, reduced cancer risk and antioxidant effects 12. They also contribute to healthier guts and improved mental health.

Consume More Fiber-Rich Foods

Like all living organisms, gut bacteria require nutrients to survive. Foods that are rich in dietary fibers have been found to promote gut health and contribute to the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut 13. Thus, you can also consider adding more fiber-rich foods to your diets such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and cereals.

Foods with high fat and sugar content can also be detrimental to your gut health and you should avoid consuming these in excessive quantities. Studies have found that individuals who regularly consumed foods with high fat and sugar contents often experienced dysbiosis 14.

Apart from negative impacts on their cognitive and behavioral functions, such individuals typically also had higher risk factors for various metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome and colorectal cancer 14. Thus, while the occasional fast food treat be too detrimental to your mental health, it would be advisable to avoid making these foods a part of your daily routine.

Sources:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22155490/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4290017/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5859128/
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0929664618304376
  5. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41579-019-0163-z
  6. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41564-018-0337-x
  7. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0166223613000088
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5483960/
  9. https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/dietary-effects-on-human-gut-microbiome-diversity/E9B592DB4E5C570C6D5142B99CE74D3E
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5003832/
  11. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/1028415X.2018.1544332
  12. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10408398.2017.1383355
  13. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0255085720302668
  14. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09637486.2020.1826913

About Sonja Schoonenberg, RDN, CDE

Sonja Schoonenberg, RDN, CDESonja Schoonenberg is a Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator. Having worked in corporate America for many years she quickly realized that her passion and fulfillment wasn’t in a traditional job. Thirteen years ago, she fell in love with entrepreneurship. She created Dietitian With A Mission in her relentless determination to help others.

A friend has been trying to lose weight for the past eight months.

When they started their weight loss journey, their weight dropped quite rapidly, but after several months the weight loss completely stopped.

What they’re experiencing is a frustrating weight loss plateau.

What is a weight loss plateau?

When your body weight doesn’t change anymore despite you continuing to eat a healthy diet and regularly exercising, you’ve reached a weight-loss plateau. The plateau typically happens after your initial weight reduction and when you are struggling to shed those final few pounds.

Most people who attempt to slim down eventually reach a weight-loss plateau, so it shouldn’t shock you if it happens to you.

According to research [1], weight loss plateaus occur after roughly six months of low-calorie dieting.

Although doctors don’t fully understand why weight reduction plateaus happen, some explanations include:

  • The initial rapid weight loss slows down metabolism preventing further changes in body weight.
  • The body adjusts to losing weight and guards itself against continued weight loss.
  • After a few months, people stop being totally committed to their healthy diets.

To start losing weight once more, there are several things you can do.

5 Ways to Overcome the Demoralizing Weight Loss Plateau

If you don’t see any change in your weight for about a month, you’re most likely experiencing a weight loss plateau.

This can last indefinitely if you don’t make changes to your current weight loss program.

Here are a few eating and exercise tweaks you can make to jump-start your weight loss so you can get down to your goal.

  • Exercise More

Your body adapts to your workout program. So, if you reach a point where you’re not sweating or feeling challenged as you exercise, your body has gotten accustomed to your exercise routine, and you’re not burning calories as fast as when you started.

As an example, if you begin regularly running for 30 minutes on a treadmill to lose weight, you might burn about 300 calories at the start.

Four months later, your body will likely be more efficient at energy conservation, and you might only burn 200 calories while performing the same treadmill run.

To continuously see results in your weight loss journey, you should adjust your workout intensity to keep your body challenged.

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans [2], adults should engage in 75-150 minutes of high-intensity exercises or 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week.

If you’re currently doing the minimum 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercises, moving up to 300 minutes or switching to 75 minutes of high-intensity workouts per week could help boost your metabolic rate, which slows down when you’re losing weight, and unlock a weight loss plateau.

Incorporating more weight training in your workouts can also help you burn more calories.

A 12-week research study [3] involving young, obese women who engaged in 20 minutes of daily weight training and consumed a low-calorie diet found they lost an average of 2 inches (5 cm) from their waistlines and 13 pounds (5.9 kg) overall.

  • Consume a Low-Carb Diet

Several studies [4] have found that a very low-carb diet (less than 50 grams of carbs daily) provides better weight loss results than normal weight loss diets.

This is because a low-carb diet can help you eat less by controlling hunger through a feeling of fullness.

Additionally, the diets induce the creation of ketones in your body, which decrease appetite [5].

So, if you’re struggling with a weight loss plateau, switching to a low-carb diet if you’re not already on one could be all you need to get back to reducing your weight.

  • Closely Track Your Calories Intake

When you start dieting for weight loss, you’re likely to be committed to measuring your calorie intake daily.

However, after a few weeks or months, you might become less strict with counting your food intake.

You shouldn’t stop keeping proper records of calorie intake because most people who don’t regularly track their eating significantly underestimate the number of calories they’re consuming, and this gets in the way of their weight loss.

For example, a group of obese people in a study [6] reported they consumed close to 1,200 calories daily. A 14-day detailed analysis of their calorie intake, however, found on average, they were consuming almost double what they thought they were.

A proper record ensures you know where you need to cut back or increase your calorie intake to continue losing weight.

To show you how important tracking your calories is, another study the American Journal of Preventive Medicine [7] published showed individuals who monitored their food intake daily lost almost twice as much weight as individuals who didn’t keep records.

To better measure your calorie intake daily, consider using a calorie counting app. As you track your calories, you might find that you were eating a lot more than you thought and can adjust accordingly for the weight scale to start pointing in the direction you want.

  • Increase Your Protein Intake

If you’re no longer losing weight consuming more proteins can also help break your weight loss plateau.

Research has found protein burns 25-30% more calories than carbs and fats, which boost your metabolic rate by 5-10% and 0-3% respectively.

One study [8] on young healthy women, conducted over two days, found a high protein diet almost doubled their metabolic rate.

Studies have also found that protein reduces your appetite [9] and cravings, helping you eat less to lose weight.

  • Avoid Stress

Are you stressed about your work, finances, relationships, etc.? This could be getting in the way of you continuously losing weight.

When you’re stressed, your body produces a stress hormone known as cortisol, which plays a crucial role in managing your stress levels. Cortisol, however, also slows down your weight loss by boosting the storage of belly fat.

Being stressed can also be a trigger for food cravings and lead to you quitting your healthy diet because you want to indulge in comfort foods.

It may be difficult for you to be stress-free, but when you do experience it, look for ways to better manage your stress to avoid a weight loss plateau.

A study [10] done on 34 obese and overweight women over eight weeks found stress management techniques like diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation helped them lose an average of 9.7 pounds (4.4 kg).

Without going into too much detail about them, other strategies to help you get past a weight-loss plateau include:

  • Intermittent fasting. Several studies have shown going for 16 to 48 hours without food can help reduce your overall weight by 3-8% [11] and waistline by 3-7% in 3-24 weeks.
  • Get quality sleep. Sleeping for 7-9 hours regularly can also help you lose more weight [12] or overcome a weight loss plateau.
  • Don’t limit your physical activity to the gym. Instead of driving to the convenience store, walk there if it is close to where you live. Go out dancing, and spend more time doing yard work or cleaning up around the house because any physical activity gives you better weight loss outcomes.
  • Cut back on the alcohol. Your favorite beer or cocktail contains a lot of calories. A craft beer, for example, can have 300 plus calories, and most people drink more than one beer in one sitting. While drinking, you may also eat more, and your chances of consuming junk food increase. If your weight loss has plateaued, it might be time to quit booze until you reach your target weight.
  • Drink more water. Water can play a major role in your weight loss journey. For example, if you regularly take water before meals this can help you eat less. Also, studies [13] show drinking 500ml of water can boost the burning of calories for 1.5 hours by 24-30%.

Sources:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4135489/pdf/ajcn1003787.pdf
  2. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-09/Physical_Activity_Guidelines_2nd_edition.pdf
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24393798/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23651522/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25402637/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1454084/
  7. https://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(08)00374-7/fulltext
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11838888/
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16950139/
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23627835/
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24993615/
  12. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41366-019-0401-5
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14671205/

About Julie Reynolds, LPC

Julie Reynolds, LPCJulie Reynolds is a licensed professional counselor who has been helping children, adolescents and women with their mental health for over 15 years. She has done extensive work both in her private practice and in the schools helping women of all ages gain a strong understanding of the mind-body connection. She’s passionate about helping ladies lead their best life.

When most people encounter the word bacteria, they immediately think about the terrible diseases and infections that these microorganisms cause. While that may be true for some strains, most bacteria actually help keep your gut healthy, and, as new evidence suggests, they may even promote weight loss.

The gut is home to about 100 trillion microorganisms from more than 500 species. These microorganisms aid digestion, keep harmful pathogens in check, and impact nutrient absorption.

These microorganisms that are beneficial to your health are known as probiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria and/or yeast that naturally live in your body and help it stay healthy and functional. Probiotics are now the center of attention in the quest for an effective weight loss solution. Some people believe that taking supplements with live beneficial microorganisms may help shed some weight; after all, they naturally live in the gut. But can probiotics help you lose weight?

Does Taking Probiotics Help With Weight Loss?

We can’t definitively say that probiotics will help you shed extra weight at the moment, as most research available focuses on how they can improve gut health and improve digestive issues. However, mounting evidence suggests that probiotics may help.

The most compelling evidence on the link between probiotics and weight loss is a 2013 study [1] that investigated the effects of Lactobacillus rhamnosus, one of the most widely used probiotic strains, on weight loss.

The researchers followed 125 obese men and women throughout a 24-week study period. Half the participants were given the probiotic and the other half a placebo and subjected to 12 weeks of moderate energy restriction followed by 12 weeks of weight maintenance. The study found that the women in the probiotic group lost significantly more weight than those given placebo after the first 12 weeks and continued losing weight even during the weight maintenance period.

Another study [2] found that the gut microbiota in people with obesity was different from people with average weight. To confirm the findings, the researchers implanted the microbiota from twins, one who was obese and the other average weight, into germ-free mice. There was no weight change in the mice that received gut bacteria from an average-weight person, but the mice that received microbiota from an obese person gained weight. From these findings, it seems possible that probiotics may have a hand in regulating weight.

This effect has also been observed in patients who received fecal transplants from obese donors. In one case report [3] , a patient who underwent a fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) gained more than 40 pounds in the months following the procedure. But does this mean probiotic supplements can help with weight loss?

The jury is still out on this issue, but more research is underway. That said, one new study [4] has found evidence that gut microbiomes can influence your ability to lose weight. This suggests probiotics could help build better gut bacteria and positively impact your weight loss journey! Here’s how probiotics may benefit weight loss.

Benefits Of Probiotics For Weight Loss

1. Probiotics May Help Improve Energy And Glucose Metabolism By Promoting Bacterial Diversity In The Gut

One study [5] states that obesity results from prolonged energy intake and use disparity. So, would improving metabolism help lose weight? While metabolism is linked to weight, it’s not always the cause of gaining excess weight.

However, some studies [6] have linked certain strains of probiotics to improved energy and glucose metabolisms. So, taking probiotics to promote bacterial diversity may help you utilize energy from foods better and store less fats.

2. Probiotics May Help Improve Gut Health

Gut health is essential to weight loss or gain. If your digestive tract isn’t functioning normally, you may be susceptible to abnormal weight gain or inability to lose weight. By taking probiotics, you can help balance gut microbes which could aid in weight loss.

A weaker gut lining is usually linked to people with obesity. So anything that can help rebuild the intestinal barrier may help promote weight loss.

3. Probiotics May Help Balance Gut Microbes

Several studies [7] suggest that the imbalance of gut microbes may contribute to obesity. Gut bacteria are a vital part of the ecosystem regulating digestion, hunger, metabolism, etc. Your microbiome needs diversity to function optimally as different microorganisms perform distinct roles in the ecosystem.

If your intestinal environment is imbalanced, you have fewer beneficial bacteria or reduced diversity, which may lead to dysbiosis. This imbalance may be why you may find yourself gaining weight more quickly.

Research studies [8] suggest that probiotics may help prevent and rebalance the gut microbiota ecosystem. This suggests if an imbalanced gut ecosystem was the cause of your weight problem, using probiotics may help stop gaining, and you can focus on losing extra weight.

4. Some Probiotics May Help Prevent Weight Gain

Preventing excessive weight gain in the first place may be the best way to avoid obesity, and new evidence suggests some probiotics may help you do that.

In a 2015 clinical study [9] investigating the effects of the probiotic VSL#3 on body and fat mass, 20 lean males were randomized to receive either a placebo or VSL#3 probiotics daily during a four week study period of consuming a high fat, hypercaloric diet that provided 1000 calories than they needed each day. The study found that those in the probiotic group gained less weight than those in the placebo group.

These findings suggest that some probiotics may help prevent weight gain following a high-calorie diet.

5. Some Probiotics May Help You Lose Weight And Belly Fat

A 2020 study [10] examining the effects of Lactobacillus sakei, a probiotic derived from Kimchi – a traditional Korean dish of salted and fermented vegetables found that obese participants given the probiotic had significant decreases in body mass and waist circumference.

Another study [1] investigating the effects of Lactobacillus rhamnosus probiotics on weight loss found that female participants given the probiotic lost 50% more weight than those taking a placebo over 12 weeks.

Best Probiotic For Gut Health And Weight Loss

Honestly, there are no bacteria that will magically cause weight loss. However, some probiotics are more promising than others regarding weight loss. Here are some probiotics that may help with gut health and weight loss.

1. Lactobacillus Species – Lactobacillus bacteria form a significant component of the human microbiota in the gut. They are the most common probiotic found in foods such as yogurt and are the most studied when it comes to weight loss.

Lactobacillus gasseri is the most promising probiotic for weight loss and has been shown to help reduce body fat, BMI, waist size, and hip circumference. In one study [11] >, researchers observed a reduction of belly fat by 8.5% after taking this probiotic.

Other strains in this family, including Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus sakei, have also been suggested as potential probiotics for weight loss.

2. Bifidobacterium Probiotics – Several strains of bifidobacterium may help reduce body weight and belly fat, according to studies [12] . In one study [12], 135 people with obesity took Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis for three months. The researchers observed that they significantly lost belly fat reduced BMI, and weight circumference compared to the placebo group.

Other probiotics associated with weight loss include Christensenella minuta and Akkermansia muciniphila.

Sources:

  1. Sanchez M, Darimont C, Drapeau V, Emady-Azar S, Lepage M, Rezzonico E, Ngom-Bru C, Berger B, Philippe L, Ammon-Zuffrey C, Leone P, Chevrier G, St-Amand E, Marette A, Doré J, Tremblay A. Effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus CGMCC1.3724 supplementation on weight loss and maintenance in obese men and women. Br J Nutr. 2014 Apr 28;111(8):1507-19. doi: 10.1017/S0007114513003875. Epub 2013 Dec 3. PMID: 24299712.
  2. Venessa K, Jeremiah J, Jefferey I, Gordon. Gut Microbiota from Twins Discordant for Obesity Modulate Metabolism in Mice. Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1241214 https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.1241214
  3. Neha Alang, Colleen R. Kelly, Weight Gain After Fecal Microbiota Transplantation, Open Forum Infectious Diseases, Volume 2, Issue 1, Winter 2015, ofv004, https://doi.org/10.1093/ofid/ofv004
  4. Christian D, Shizhen Q, Yong Zhou, Sushmita P, Li T, Jennifer C, Andrew T, Nathan D, Leroy H, Sean M. Baseline Gut Metagenomic Functional Gene Signature Associated with Variable Weight Loss Responses following a Healthy Lifestyle Intervention in Humanshttps://doi.org/10.1128/mSystems.00964-21
  5. Brahe L. K., Astrup A., Larsen L. H. (2016). Can We Prevent Obesity-Related Metabolic Diseases by Dietary Modulation of the Gut Microbiota? Adv. Nutr. 7, 90–101. 10.3945/an.115.010587
  6. Harakeh SM, Khan I, Kumosani T, et al. Gut Microbiota: A Contributing Factor to Obesity. Front Cell Infect Microbiol. 2016;6:95. Published 2016 Aug 30. doi:10.3389/fcimb.2016.00095
  7. Harakeh SM, Khan I, Kumosani T, et al. Gut Microbiota: A Contributing Factor to Obesity. Front Cell Infect Microbiol. 2016;6:95. Published 2016 Aug 30. doi:10.3389/fcimb.2016.00095
  8. Gagliardi A, Totino V, Cacciotti F, et al. Rebuilding the Gut Microbiota Ecosystem. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(8):1679. Published 2018 Aug 7. doi:10.3390/ijerph15081679
  9. Osterberg KL, Boutagy NE, McMillan RP, Stevens JR, Frisard MI, Kavanaugh JW, Davy BM, Davy KP, Hulver MW. Probiotic supplementation attenuates increases in body mass and fat mass during high-fat diet in healthy young adults. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2015 Dec;23(12):2364-70. doi: 10.1002/oby.21230. Epub 2015 Oct 14. PMID: 26466123.
  10. Lim S, Moon JH, Shin CM, Jeong D, Kim B. Effect of Lactobacillus sakei, a Probiotic Derived from Kimchi, on Body Fat in Koreans with Obesity: A Randomized Controlled Study. Endocrinol Metab (Seoul). 2020 Jun;35(2):425-434. doi: 10.3803/EnM.2020.35.2.425. Epub 2020 Jun 24. PMID: 32615727; PMCID: PMC7386112.
  11. Kadooka Y, Sato M, Ogawa A, Miyoshi M, Uenishi H, Ogawa H, Ikuyama K, Kagoshima M, Tsuchida T. Effect of Lactobacillus gasseri SBT2055 in fermented milk on abdominal adiposity in adults in a randomised controlled trial. Br J Nutr. 2013 Nov 14;110(9):1696-703. doi: 10.1017/S0007114513001037. Epub 2013 Apr 25. PMID: 23614897.
  12. Yin YN, Yu QF, Fu N, Liu XW, Lu FG. Effects of four Bifidobacteria on obesity in high-fat diet induced rats. World J Gastroenterol. 2010;16(27):3394-3401. doi:10.3748/wjg.v16.i27.3394

About Sonja Schoonenberg, RDN, CDE

Sonja Schoonenberg, RDN, CDESonja Schoonenberg is a Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator. Having worked in corporate America for many years she quickly realized that her passion and fulfillment wasn’t in a traditional job. Thirteen years ago, she fell in love with entrepreneurship. She created Dietitian With A Mission in her relentless determination to help others.

Did you know that your mental state can affect your gut?

For example, if you’re worried about an upcoming work presentation or something you’re not looking forward to, this could make your tummy feel like it has butterflies or is on fire.

Vice versa digestive problems such as constipation, bloating and gassiness could cause you to be anxious and stressed out.

If you’re wondering how this is possible, it is because the brain and gut have a communication system often referred to as the gut-brain connection [1] .

Columbia University Medical Center gastroenterologist Dr. Daniela Jodorkovsky describes the gut-brain axis as follows, “The gastrointestinal tract is considered the ‘second brain’ because it contains a lot of nerve cells, which send signals back and forth to the brain. Chronic stress and anxiety release a compound in the brain called corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF). This can have effects on spasms or diarrhea, as well as increased pain signaling from the nerve fibers of the gut to the brain.”

In this post, I’ll delve deeper into the gut-brain connection and how to keep this link healthy.

How Are the Brain and Gut Connected?

These two organs are connected biochemically and physically in several ways.

Physically the gut and brain are connected by neurons.

Your gut has 500 million neurons that connect via the central nervous system [2] to your brain.

One of the larger neurons connecting your brain and gut is the vagus nerve [3] , which sends bidirectional signals.

Neurotransmitters commonly referred to as the body’s chemical messengers also connect the gut and the brain.

Neurotransmitters are produced in the gut and brain and help control your emotions.

For example, a large portion of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that contributes to you feeling happy, is produced in the gut.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) [4] , another neurotransmitter that helps your brain control anxiety and fear is also produced in the gut.

The Gut-Brain Connection and Mental Health

From the information above, it is possible to see how your stomach and intestines can cause you to experience sadness, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other mental issues.

I know it sounds crazy, but several studies [5] have found that people with functional bowel issues such as an upset stomach, diarrhea, and constipation, and those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may have drastic mood changes.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) estimates almost 90% of IBS sufferers have depression or anxiety.

New research on the gut-brain connection also suggests that gastrointestinal tract activity may also affect cognitive skills (memory and thinking), but more research is needed on this.

The Role of Nutrition in the Gut-Brain Connection

What you eat will determine if you have a healthy or unhealthy gut.

A healthy gut has a large number of good gut microbes which are bacteria and other microscopic living things found in your intestines.

Having good microbes in your gut not only helps you manage mental issues but also boosts your immune system, combats obesity, and offers many other health benefits [6] .

Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and foods rich in fiber contributes enormously to you having a healthy gut.

Processed, high-fat, and sugary foods can cause a decrease in the number of good bacteria in the gut, which can lead to an unhealthy gut and brain health problems.

Signs you have an unhealthy gut because of your diet include:

  • An upset stomach. This is the most obvious sign of an unhealthy gut and its symptoms include bloating, gas, heartburn, diarrhea, and constipation.
  • Unplanned for weight changes. If you suddenly lose or add weight without exercising or a diet change you might have an unhealthy gut.

For example, a decrease in good bacteria in your gut could affect your body’s ability to store fat and absorb nutrients leading to reduced weight. Decreased nutrient absorption could also cause you to feel hungry often resulting in you overeating and gaining weight.

  • Constant fatigue and sleep disturbances. An unhealthy gut may not produce the right amounts of serotonin, a hormone that stimulates the parts of the brain [7] that control your sleep. Due to this fact, you may experience poor sleep or insomnia causing you to suffer from fatigue.
  • Sugar cravings. The reduction in your gut’s good bacteria could cause you to have a big appetite for high-sugar foods. Giving in to your sugar cravings could further damage your gut.

Other signs that you have an unhealthy gut are skin conditions like eczema, autoimmune conditions, and food intolerances.

Pay close attention to your gut-brain connection to avoid digestion and anxiety problems

You should take your gut-brain link seriously because as you have seen it can cause many stomach and mental problems.

If you do find your gut is not in the best condition possible and it is causing you to have mood swings, anxiety, depression, etc., there are some steps you can take to remedy the situation.

Here are a few of them.

  • Change your diet

This is easier said than done, but to have a healthy gut you should avoid eating a lot of processed, high fat, and sugar-filled foods. Many people find that removing high inflammatory foods such as gluten and dairy products can improve the health of their gut.

Instead, try to consume more plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and legumes.

Lean protein foods such as white-fleshed fish, turkey, chicken, beans and eggs are also good options to include in your diet.

  • Drink lots of water

Health experts recommend that you take at least eight glasses of water a day. Following this advice is a simple way to ensure your gut remains healthy.

  • Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night

Lack of enough sleep can seriously damage your gut and lead to more sleep problems and mental issues. So, ensure you prioritize getting a good night’s sleep every day.

  • Keep your stress levels low

High levels of stress affect not only your gut but your whole body.

So if you’re stressed, look for ways such as walking, meditating, hanging out with friends, and yoga to lower your stress levels.

  • Take a probiotic or prebiotic

Probiotic or prebiotic supplements can significantly improve your gut-brain connection.

Probiotics are good live bacteria that give you several health benefits. Prebiotics, which provide a food source for probiotic bacteria, stimulate the growth of good bacteria in your gut.

One study [8] of individuals who took probiotics while they had irritable bowel syndrome and mild depression or anxiety showed their symptoms greatly improved after six weeks.

Another study showed prebiotics [9] significantly reduced stress hormones in the body which resulted in a healthier gut.

There are many probiotic and prebiotic supplements on the market and not all of them are high quality.

If you do choose to use one of these supplements consult your doctor first so that you can choose a probiotic or prebiotic supplement that gives you the best health benefits.

Sources

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4367209/#:~:text=The%20gut%2Dbrain%20axis%20GBA,microbiota%20in%20influencing%20these%20interactions.
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3845678/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29593576/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5127831/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25207649/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3983973/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2077351/
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28483500/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4410136

About Sonja Schoonenberg, RDN, CDE

Sonja Schoonenberg, RDN, CDESonja Schoonenberg is a Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator. Having worked in corporate America for many years she quickly realized that her passion and fulfillment wasn’t in a traditional job. Thirteen years ago, she fell in love with entrepreneurship. She created Dietitian With A Mission in her relentless determination to help others.

Please note, when considering any diet change like increased protein intake, it’s best to consult with a doctor or dietician regarding your own unique needs.

Are you currently trying to lose weight and wondering how protein can help you achieve your goal?

If you are, you have come to the right place.

In this post, I’ll share with you everything you need to know about how protein helps in weight loss and how to ensure you’re getting the right amount of protein in your diet to stay on your fat loss journey.

Let’s get into it!

What is Protein?

Like carbs and fat, protein is a macronutrient that performs several important functions in your body.

Among the key things protein does is, it helps the body grow, repair, and maintain healthy skin, bones, muscles, and hair.

Protein is built of amino acids. One of its primary roles is to ensure that your body’s organs perform optimally, and it can reduce the risk of heart disease, bad cholesterol, and several other lifestyle diseases.

You can get your recommended daily dose of this macronutrient from the following high-protein foods:

  • Eggs
  • Meats: Lean beef, turkey, pork, and chicken.
  • Dairy: Cheese, milk, yogurt, etc.
  • Fish: Salmon trout, sardines, etc.
  • Legumes: Lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, etc.

How Does Protein Help You Lose Weight?

To answer the question that brought you here, numerous studies [1] have found that consuming a high protein diet can have a big impact in helping you manage your weight.

I’ll explain how below.

  1. Protein helps you stay fuller for longer

Protein reduces the levels of ghrelin [2] , the hunger hormone that communicates to the brain that you’re hungry and should get some food.

What this does is that it makes you take longer to get hungry between meals, which can help in your weight loss journey because you might consume fewer calories in a day.

  1. Reduces your appetite

Protein also raises the levels of appetite-reducing hormones such as peptide YY [3] , GLP-1, and cholecystokinin.

One study [4] done on overweight women who increased their intake of protein from 15% to 30 of their meals found they experienced sustained reductions in appetite, which resulted in significant weight loss.

This goes to show the boost in appetite-reducing hormones can be beneficial in weight management.

  1. Protein reduces cravings

If you find yourself often craving a bag of chips, a bar of chocolate, or any other unhealthy snack, even when you’re not hungry, increasing your protein intake could help you deal with your unmanageable cravings.

In a study [5] of overweight men, it was found that when they took a diet rich in protein their food cravings went down by 60%.

Their urge to eat late at night, which is not recommended for anyone wanting to lose weight, was also drastically reduced when compared to overweight men who had a low or normal protein diet.

Another study on overweight teenage girls [6] also found a high-protein breakfast helped them minimize their cravings during the day and late-night snacking.

Protein can reduce craving significantly by boosting dopamine, a brain hormone that plays a part in controlling your cravings.

  1. Protein boosts your metabolism helping you burn more calories

Protein increases thermogenesis which is the energy required to digest, absorb and dispose of food nutrients.

This increase in thermogenesis means eating protein can help you burn 20-35% more calories than carbs, which has a thermic effect of 5-10% or fat at 0-3%.

So, by simply increasing your protein intake you can burn 80-100 more calories a day.

One research study [7] even found that people who had a 25% protein diet could burn 260 more calories than those consuming a low protein diet.

To put this in perspective, to burn 260 calories through exercise you would have to walk moderately for about an hour.

  1. It helps maintain your weight loss in the long term

If reading the above points on how protein can help in weight loss has got you excited there is even more good news.

Maintaining a high-protein diet reduces the chances of you regaining the weight you lost by 50% [8] .

This is welcome news because many people have a challenge ensuring they don’t gain back weight after losing it.

How Much Protein Should You Take to Enjoy Its Weight Loss Benefits?

Research done by various nutritional organizations shows that the minimum intake of protein the average person should take to maintain baseline health is 0.8-1.0 grams per kilogram of body weight (0.36g/lb), depending upon your goals. (If you’re interested in learning more, consult with a health professional like a dietician!)

Studies [9] have shown consuming 25-30% of your calorie intake from protein will boost your metabolism and lead to weight loss.

Note: when calculating your protein intake, don’t confuse the weight of the protein food you’re eating with the protein it contains.

This confusion happens a lot, and I’ll explain what I mean to ensure you don’t make the same mistake.

An egg could weigh 46 grams but only contain 6 grams of protein. Another example is an average chicken breast weighs 174g, but contains about 30 grams of protein.

Are There Side Effects of Too Much Protein?

If you’re wondering if there are any side effects if you consume too much protein, there have been claims that it could lead to diseases like kidney stones, and osteoporosis. However, no concrete scientific studies support this claim.

In fact, some studies have shown that a high protein diet can prevent osteoporosis [10] , fight diabetes, and lower blood pressure [11] .

You can consult your doctor or nutritionist if you plan to take a high-protein diet to find out what impact it will have on your health.

Sources:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4258944/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4443295/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16950139/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16002798/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20847729/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25098557/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25733634/
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14710168/
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11838888/
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21102327/
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20711407/

About Sonja Schoonenberg, RDN, CDE

Sonja Schoonenberg, RDN, CDESonja Schoonenberg is a Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator. Having worked in corporate America for many years she quickly realized that her passion and fulfillment wasn’t in a traditional job. Thirteen years ago, she fell in love with entrepreneurship. She created Dietitian With A Mission in her relentless determination to help others.

If you’re not familiar with Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA) it is a naturally occurring omega 6 fatty acid found in dairy and meat products.

Foods high in CLA include grass-fed beef and dairies such as butter, milk, yogurt, and cheese.

CLA is also widely sold over the counter and online as a syrup or pill dietary supplement that claims to help people burn fat, maintain weight loss, and manage type 2 diabetes, which is common in individuals with obesity.

Conjugated linoleic acid supplements were first introduced in the market in the early 2000s after studies [1] found CLA to be effective in burning body fat in animals.

Since then there have been a lot of studies seeking to find out whether CLA does burn fat and help humans lose weight.

In this post, I’ll tell you if CLA delivers the weight loss results it promises, if it does, how effective it is, and answer any safety concerns you might have about using conjugated linoleic acid supplements.

Does CLA Actually Work for Weight Loss?

In short, more research may be needed: most of the research conducted on conjugated linoleic acid so far has found limited evidence that it directly leads to weight loss.

For example, a review of 18 CLA studies [2] concluded that the average weight loss conjugated linoleic acid caused was 0.2 pounds (0.090 kg) per week. And that was for the first six months, after which the weight loss plateaued for close to two years.

The review also found that the source and amount of CLA taken determines the weight loss benefits gained.

Grass-fed beef and dairy [3] , which contains 3 to 5 times more conjugated linoleic acid than grain-fed beef and dairy, helps burn more fat.

Other sources, however, do appear to back CLA’s use to help reduce body fat: according to research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “Long-term supplementation with CLA-FFA or CLA-triacylglycerol reduces BFM [body fat mass] in healthy overweight adults.”

There have also been promising early studies around CLA’s ability to improve body composition and weight loss, but most have been done on animals, and the results for humans haven’t been as clear. In general, more research is needed to clearly show its efficacy.

For a person to register some weight loss, most studies found that at least 3 grams of CLA [4] was needed daily.

CLA does provide other health benefits such as:

  • A stronger immune system. CLA has anti-inflammatory properties which can help the body better fight off infections.
  • Increased bone strength. It does this by increasing the body’s uptake of calcium and reducing the activity of osteoclasts cells that wear down bones.
  • A healthier heart. Studies have found that CLA prevents the build-up of fatty plaques in the arteries which could cause a heart attack or stroke.

How Does Conjugated Linoleic Acid Help Burn Fat?

Different studies [5] have found there are three main ways conjugated linoleic acid can help in weight loss.

  1. When you consume CLA it may help you reduce weight by stimulating thermogenesis, which makes your body burn more calories throughout the day.

Research on the impact of CLA on the metabolism involving two groups of overweight people, one group using 3.2g of CLA supplements and the other placebos, found that people using the supplements burned fat more efficiently [6] compared to those on the placebo.

  1. Conjugated linoleic acid also controls the PPAR-gamma receptors [7] stopping fat cell production and fat storage.

A two-year study that looked at six individuals that used 3.14g CLA supplements [8] found that they lost on average 6 pounds (2.7 kg) of body fat in that period due to CLA decreasing their fat stores.

  1. Lastly, CLA when used by people dieting gives a sense of satiety causing the person to eat less which aids in weight loss.

Is It Safe to Use CLA Supplements for Weight Loss?

You probably already consume conjugated linoleic acid daily throughout your diet.

On average in the US, men ingest about 212mg of CLA per day [9] , while women intake 151mg.

People who get a lot of CLA from natural foods have been found to have improved metabolic health and a lower risk of getting various diseases including heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes [10] .

At a higher dosage CLA supplements may, however, cause some serious side effects because they are made from chemically altering linoleic acid found in vegetable oils, which is different from the natural CLA in foods. Also, supplements have much higher conjugated linoleic acid amounts than what is in beef, milk, cheese, butter, etc. The larger amounts can lead to increased fat accumulation in the liver, causing metabolic syndrome [11] and diabetes.

Conjugated linoleic acid supplements could also cause mild side effects such as oxidative stress, diarrhea, and insulin resistance.

That said, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gives CLA supplements a Generally Regards As Safe (GRAS) status.

And research has found up to 6 grams of CLA per day doesn’t cause serious side effects. So, moderately used conjugated linoleic acid supplements are safe.

Who can use CLA supplements?

If you’re in good health you can use conjugated linoleic acid supplements to try burn body fat and improve your body composition.

CLA is also an ideal supplement if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, because the body doesn’t make the heart-healthy fat it requires in small amounts.

You should avoid CLA supplements if your cholesterol is high because its fat could increase your LDL cholesterol and cause poor heart health.

If you decide to use conjugated linoleic acid supplements to experience its benefits, ensure you stick to under 6 grams per day as a higher dose could cause health problems. Also, CLA supplements are sold in varying concentrations; to get the best weight loss results, it is recommended you buy a product with 80% CLA.

The Bottom Line

Like many health supplements that are marketed for weight loss, CLA has been hyped as one of the latest and greatest weight loss products on the market. But it’s important to note: research to date has not clearly shown the omega fatty acid’s efficacy in burning body fat.

If you choose to use CLA supplements, be sure to do your research first. Make sure you understand the facts, and consult a doctor to find out if it is safe for you to use them.

As with other similar supplements, you’re unlikely to see a significant weight loss change using CLA alone. We suggest you try other proven weight loss methods such as exercise and proper nutrition while using CLA supplements for the best fat-burning results.

Sources:

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12923219/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17490954/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10531600/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4429457/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19494028/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17823448/
  7. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/01.cir.0000147614.85888.7a
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15795434/
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11340114/
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22648724/
  11. https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/319877

Additional References:

  1. Benjamin S, Prakasan P, Sreedharan S, Wright AD, Spener F. Pros and cons of CLA consumption: an insight from clinical evidences. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2015;12:4. Published 2015 Feb 3. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-12-4
  2. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/96/1/175/4571423?searchresult=1

About Sonja Schoonenberg, RDN, CDE

Sonja Schoonenberg, RDN, CDESonja Schoonenberg is a Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator. Having worked in corporate America for many years she quickly realized that her passion and fulfillment wasn’t in a traditional job. Thirteen years ago, she fell in love with entrepreneurship. She created Dietitian With A Mission in her relentless determination to help others.

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