Many people I’ve helped tell me they think of me fondly . . . every time they go to the bathroom.
It’s because their symptoms were eased by my suggestion for increased water and daily Metamucil (or other such psyllium husk product).
I love this recommendation and I’ve been making it for years and years—it’s so simple, affordable and effective for those who need it.
I always thought the psyllium husk worked by increasing the amount of water absorbed into the gut but it turns out, there’s more to the story.
Psyllium husk is now considered a PREbiotic (not probiotic). A prebiotic is undigestable fiber that feeds the billions of bacteria and other microorganisms that live in our gut.
Prebiotics support the vibrant ecosystem (microbiome) in our gut so it can protect your intestinal lining, boost your immune system, make vitamins available for use, aid in digestion, control inflammation and help regulate glucose levels.
Those gut organisms are busy!
Vital to a healthy, symptom-free gastrointestinal system is the right balance of bacteria. As in all of nature, diversity is a key to success.
Having only a few strains dominate can result in unwanted symptoms. This is easily seen in the example of someone who gets diarrhea after a course of antibiotics taken for a respiratory infection.
Unwanted symptoms from a microbiome imbalance are not limited to the gastrointestinal tract. They can include fatigue, skin sensitivities, food sensitivities, autoimmune conditions and, of particular interest to us here, weight gain.
It turns out obese guts have less diversity of bacteria then non-obese guts. Hmmmm.
One thing that’s hard to prove in humans, however, is which comes first, the obesity or the microbiome uniformity.
There have been studies on mice showing that taking the biome from a thin mouse and transplanting it into an obese mouse, will have the obese mouse get thinner and there’s evidence for the opposite being true as well.
There's even an anecdotal case of a thin person getting an obese person’s intestinal bacteria (it was a fecal transplant for treatment of unremitting diarrhea) and the thin person ended up with a bigger appetite and gained weight rapidly. (if you’re game, see this interesting 2016 medical article on obesity and fecal transplantation).
It seems clear then that our internal bacterial environments play a role in our weight. We don’t have all the details worked out just yet, but researchers are making headway.
While it has been shown that taking pre and probiotic supplements can help with weight loss, it’s a tiny influence—on the order of 1-2 pounds total in 12 weeks.
But the truth is you can change your gut flora with diet alone.
And it takes only a day or two.
Focusing on foods high in fiber, such as veggies and unprocessed grains, can provide the needed prebiotics, whereas eating yogurt or fermented foods, like kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut can help maintain your healthy gut flora (check out Fermenting Fairy for some yummy versions).
Having a diet of primarily whole foods will help much of what ails the Western world.
Until they come up with a shortcut involving poop transplantation—then you can have your cake and eat it too. We’ll see if America thinks it’s worth it.