A Banana a Day, Keeps the Belt Loops at Bay

Bananas are rich in inulin and resistant starch, which has prebiotic effects.

Scientists may have found a novel way to address childhood obesity: through the gut. Obviously. No really, a recently published study suggests that prebiotics, those nondigestible carbohydrates often confused for probiotics, may be one of the keys to fostering losses in body weight and body fat in overweight children.

Researchers from the University of Calgary recruited 42 children aged 7 to 12 who were classified as obese to participate in a double-blind placebo-controlled trial involving the effects of prebiotic fiber on various metrics of health. The participants were randomly assigned to the control group, which was provided a maltodextrin placebo, or the trial group, which was given oligofructose-enriched inulin, a common prebiotic combination of two substances found naturally in many conventional foods, such as bananas and garlic. The supplements consisted of a powdered fiber that participants were asked to mix with water and take once daily. Otherwise, participants were asked to maintain their normal food and physical activity routines over 16 weeks. At the beginning of the trial, and every four weeks thereafter, various health metrics were collected, including fat and lean muscle mass measured using dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry. At the conclusion of the trial, children in the control group saw an average 0.5% increase in bodyweight and 0.05% increase in fat mass, while the trial group experienced nearly 3% decreases in both weight and body fat. The trial group also experienced significant improvements in blood glucose regulation and serum cholesterol levels. Furthermore, the trial group showed distinct and statistically significant alterations in gut microbiota population compared to the placebo group. Although the study was focused on preadolescent children, researchers found no reason why the findings would not be generalizable across all age groups.

This latest finding isn’t surprising when evaluated in context with the rest of the recent research evaluating the influence of gut bacterial population on obesity. Metagenomic and metabolomic studies have shown that a strong population of healthy microbiota in the gut, due to a diet focused on whole unprocessed and high fiber foods, may help modulate energy balance from both sides of the equation: by more effectively converting food into energy and increasing energy expenditure through increased fatty acid oxidation. It is also believed that gut bacteria may influence the chronic inflammatory state of obesity by regulating the level of endotoxins in our blood. Other studies have provided further evidence that gut microbiota is a cause and not a consequence of obesity or altered dietary habits. In one animal study, researchers actually transplanted the caecal microbiota from lean and obese mice into the gut of germ-free mice and found that the mice hosting the “obese microbiota” showed several markers of decreased metabolic efficiency and ultimately gained weight while the animals with the “lean microbiota” actually lost weight despite the exact same caloric intake and physical activity regimen. In human studies, researchers have found that a lack of gut bacterial diversity was highly associated with obesity, including one study that examined twins. While the unfortunate truth is that the composition of our gut microbiota is highly genetic, numerous human trials have shown that healthy whole food diets and probiotic and prebiotic supplementation can positively influence gut bacterial colonization. Possibly even more interesting, maternal and paternal diets have been shown to influence the gut microbiota of their unborn children. Even more reason for parents to eat healthy and include plenty of fiber and fermented foods in their diet.

There is no doubt about it, prebiotics can be beneficial to health and weight management, especially in children. But as usual, the primary takeaway from this latest research is the importance of a whole food diet. While supplementation is always a great alternative, the best sources of fat-fighting prebiotics are densely fibrous foods, such as leafy greens, asparagus, onions, and bananas. For the size and composition of your gut, and that of your growing children, stick to the periphery of the grocery store on your next shopping trip.

Dr. Damian Rodriguez is the health and exercise scientist for doTERRA International, LLC. He holds a doctorate in health science, a master’s degree in exercise physiology, and countless professional certifications. He has spent most of his life researching nutrition, exercise, and the lifestyle behaviors associated with optimal health. Along with his passion for health, as someone who lives with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is also involved in bringing awareness to autism spectrum disorders. There are varying opinions about many health and fitness topics. His opinions are his own and not necessarily that of doTERRA International, LLC. Consult your healthcare provider before making any changes to diet and exercise.


Prebiotic vs. Probiotic Intake

Artichokes are high in prebiotic plant fiber.

If you aren’t adding copious amounts of raw garlic to every entree or topping your scrambled eggs with kimchi, you are behind the times. Research into the gut microbiome, that complex system of bacteria and microbes that resides within our stomach, is beginning to make it even clearer how important our diets are to our health. While probiotics have gotten most of the publicity—and GNC® shelf space—we are discovering that prebiotics may be just as important. In fact, recently published research has provided some intriguing evidence that prebiotics may be the secret to emotional health, improved sleep, and stress resiliency.

Although often used interchangeably and working synergistically in the gut, probiotics and prebiotics are vastly different things. Probiotics are the healthy bacteria that have everyone rushing to stock up on Greek yogurt and experiment with new fermented foods. Dense and active probiotic populations have been linked to digestive health, improved hormone regulation, and decreased risk for various chronic health conditions. Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates, basically a classification of fiber, that are the nutritional sustenance for the lactobacilli and bifidobacteria in your digestive tract. Garlic, asparagus, onions, artichokes and other whole, roughage-dense foods are full of those oligosaccharides that your gut bacteria feeds off of to induce its health-benefitting magic. Recent research suggests that prebiotic intake is closely associated with healthy inflammatory response, dietary bioavailability (allowing our bodies to get the most nutrition out of the food we eat), and possibly even weight management.

Previous research displayed that prebiotics can influence brain function and hormone regulation, but new evidence may make you want to ask for extra onions on that burger in the name of emotional health. In the latest study, researchers found that intake of a specific prebiotic, galacto-oligosaccharide (GOS), which is found in high concentrations in many legumes, not only decreased secretion of the stress hormone cortisol, but also improved several metrics of emotional processing. Compared to participants who were asked to supplement with a maltodextrin placebo, the research group taking 5.5 g of GOS each morning with their breakfast exhibited less of an effect from negative criticism and focused more on positive words. The data was so significant that researchers suggested that the anti-anxiolytic effect of prebiotic supplementation was comparable to many current antidepressant medications. A warm bowl of lentil soup may be the perfect antidote for another work day spent in cubicle torment.

Another group of researchers examined the influence of prebiotic supplementation on sleep and stress. What they found was that consumption of lactoferrin (LF) and milk fat globule membrane (MFGM), prebiotic substances found in high concentrations in human milk and in lower levels in cow’s milk, promoted increased time spent in non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, the first four phases of sleep that focus on physiological and neurological restoration. Furthermore, they found that LF and MFGM supplementation following an exposure to a stressor resulted in longer rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the final stage of sleep that is believed to be critical for sorting memory and recovering from trauma. Overall, consumption of LF and MFGM was highly associated with sleep quality, resilience to stress, and gut health. So, there may be a little more to that glass of milk before bedtime than calcium and vitamin D.

It’s amazing how the further we dig into nutritional science, the more we discover how closely linked our well-being is to the quality of fuel we provide our bodies. As science continues to reveal, a healthy gut microbiome can influence virtually every component of health. And it isn’t necessary that we feed those hungry bacteria with supplements, a diet of whole, fiber-rich foods will do the trick. Sleep the day’s stress away by adding a handful of leeks to your homemade bone broth soup, throwing some asparagus on the grill for dinner, and washing it down with a cold glass of milk.

Dr. Damian Rodriguez is the health and exercise scientist for doTERRA International, LLC. He holds a doctorate in health science, a master’s degree in exercise physiology, and countless professional certifications. He has spent most of his life researching nutrition, exercise, and the lifestyle behaviors associated with optimal health. Along with his passion for health, as someone who lives with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is also involved in bringing awareness to autism spectrum disorders. There are varying opinions about many health and fitness topics. His opinions are his own and not necessarily that of doTERRA International, LLC. Consult your healthcare provider before making any changes to diet and exercise.