How Digestive Problems Prevent Weight Loss – The Leptin Diet Weight Loss Challenge #2
Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist
Many potential monkey wrenches wreak havoc with your metabolism and impede your ability to lose weight. New science indicates that damage to your digestive tract heads the list of priorities for debugging stubborn weight issues. This applies to almost everyone who is overweight and not able to lose weight easily by cutting back on excess calories, following the Five Rules of the Leptin Diet, ensuring your basic nutrient needs are met, and exercising more. This is likely true whether you think you have digestive problems or not.
This new science demonstrates that cravings for sugar, carbohydrates and/or high calorie foods indicate a high likelihood of digestive inflammation and related toxicity that is interfering with metabolism. This issue is of immense importance. Extra body weight is linked to a survival strategy that may actually be protecting your body1 from higher levels of digestive damage than you would otherwise experience if you were not craving excess food.
The science on this is complicated, so I will stick to a simple and basic explanation. I will also give you effective strategies so you can get yourself headed in the right direction.
Your Stomach has a Mind of Its Own
Ghrelin is the hunger hormone made by your stomach; it travels to your brain and impacts your desire to eat. Overweight people have malfunctioning ghrelin2, which causes food cravings. The more you crave sugar or carbohydrates the greater your problem. The problem can extend to an intense craving for high calorie foods3 of any type, and a subconscious desire to excessively indulge in the pleasure of eating4 for pleasure’s sake. Binge eating is one example. Another is eating meals that are far too large to get a pleasurable feeling of fullness or satisfaction. In other words, two distinct regions in your brain respond to ghrelin. One region involves carbohydrate cravings. The other region involves pleasure and compensating for stress or other “brain pain” by eating excessively.
Ghrelin activation is vital to maintain your blood sugar during calorie restriction or starvation. Ghrelin does this by activating growth hormone5 in your brain. Most overweight people suffer from leptin resistance, which means they are in a false state of perceived starvation. This causes ghrelin to excessively activate even though there is excess food consumption – causing drastic metabolic confusion.
Ghrelin as an Anti-Inflammatory Hormone and Defense Against LPS
Ghrelin duties are also linked to a primary strategy your body uses to reduce inflammation, especially in your digestive tract6, which is loaded with receptors for ghrelin. Ghrelin also helps protect your body from higher levels of the bacterial toxin known as lipopolysaccharide (LPS).7 LPS is excessive in almost all overweight people due to bacterial imbalance in the digestive tract. Elevated LPS levels in the blood are found in almost all overweight people. In other words, bacterial imbalance injures or inflames the lining of your digestive tract, causing you to have food cravings. Ghrelin helps clear your body of toxic LPS. It trys to prevent intestinal permeability8 from the inflammatory stress caused by excess LPS. There is a real battle going on. LPS actually tries to knock out your ghrelin9 to further the survival of bacterial germ gangs in your gut. In fact, even higher insulin may be used to help combat toxic levels of LPS, setting the stage for insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Animal studies highlight the significant impact LPS has on multiple aspects of insulin signaling that create insulin resistance10. Adding insult to injury, elevated LPS blocks leptin entry into the brain11 and is another way you can have leptin resistance.
Ghrelin acts in part by directly turning off inflammation in the key nerve influencing your digestive tract12 and coordinating your nervous system response to digestive distress13. Furthermore, if your body does not raise ghrelin to combat the problem then overload from bacterial toxins14 results in sepsis and risk of death15. A lesser degree of this problem than the acute poisoning of sepsis is common in overweight people16. The latest science shows that these gut bacteria not only tilt your metabolism toward weight gain but they also interfere with your liver’s ability to clear toxins.
Antibiotics and Candida Albicans Worsen Bacterial LPS Problems
This problem of excess LPS from bacterial imbalance is partly caused by antibiotics, even those taken years earlier. This is because even two courses of antibiotics can alter digestive balance, possibly for many years, thereby chronically raising LPS, inducing digestive injury, provoking leaky gut, and contributing to undesirable food cravings and the consequent intake of too much food. Researchers have documented the link between the number of early life ear infections (treated with antibiotics) and the future risk for obesity.
Antibiotics and high sugar consumption also lead to an imbalanced overgrowth of Candida albicans. Candida is highly inflammatory to your digestive and respiratory lining17, and in turn causes cravings to lock into place. The combination of antibiotics, high sugar diets, high junk food diets, and excess alcohol intake set the stage for a lifetime of digestive inflammation, food cravings, thyroid problems, and ongoing struggles with weight. Science now overwhelmingly supports the idea that imbalanced gut flora are present in overweight people and are metabolically active in a way that promotes weight gain. Even imbalanced bacteria in your mouth, which reflects digestive imbalance in general, has been linked to obesity. Despite the medical profession’s denial, antibiotics are now proven to cause an overgrowth of Candida18 and risk for asthma via related inflammatory mechanisms, locking in poor digestive health as an underlying problem.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Expanding Fat, and Hypothyroid
Ghrelin levels can fluctuate wildly in response to ongoing digestive distress, as seen in people with irritable bowel syndrome19. A surge in ghrelin promotes constipation by slowing bowel motility, where a depression of ghrelin promotes diarrhea by speeding bowel motility. Ironically, ghrelin stimulates the release of histamine20 from mast cells lining the digestive tract. This would have value for the short term resolution of inflammation. However, it would work against a person when ghrelin is chronically activated, making a person more prone to food sensitivity/allergy and further impairing the health of the digestive tract while actually contributing to ongoing intestinal inflammation – a nasty catch-22. This also means that excess ghrelin could possibly cause any type of allergic reaction or if a person prone to being allergic was also going through a period of ghrelin problems, the allergic reaction is likely to be magnified by the ghrelin aspect of the problem.
Scientists have now demonstrated that elevated LPS in your gut increases gut permeability21 so that LPS then enters your bloodstream. One thing it does is go to your white adipose tissue and make your fat cells grow in number so you can store more fat. This study also showed that taking friendly flora supplements reduces LPS toxicity, helping solve the source of the problem.
Excessive ghrelin is associated with hypothyroid function22, where a lack of ghrelin is associated with hyperthyroid. Another study shows that malfunctioning thyroid23 is highly associated with malfunctioning ghrelin. Part of this problem is due to the state of leptin resistance24, where thyroid is set low on purpose (faulty signaling) to withstand “starvation” and ghrelin must elevate. However, it is also known that excessive LPS in the digestive tract can interfere with the biological activation of ghrelin, meaning that bacterial imbalance occurring with depressed ghrelin is a primary cause of hyperthyroidism. Conversely, your body will try to make high levels of ghrelin to combat the elevated LPS. This will prevent hyperthyroid but will leave you hungry and hypothyroid. This new science demonstrates that a number of people have thyroid problems specifically because of digestive problems. It has also been proven that digestive inflammation can trigger the production of thyroid auto-antibodies that attack the thyroid gland, yet another angle on the digestive/thyroid issue.
In summary, ghrelin in the right amount at the right time is needed for a normal appetite signal. Following the Five Rules of the Leptin Diet helps train your body for normal ghrelin release. Ghrelin is needed to regulate and coordinate the strategy for dealing with inflammation as well as being the number one backup system for the activation of growth hormone. Ongoing inflammation of any kind, especially digestive inflammation relating to imbalanced gut contents, results in food cravings and weight gain. Normal ghrelin function is required for proper sleep25 and properly timed release of all other hormones during sleep. Normal ghrelin is required for a good mood, the ability to adapt to stress, and learn. Normal ghrelin function helps orchestrate repair functions in your body by activating growth substances involved with tissue rejuvenation, including digestive tract repair. Normal ghrelin facilitates less inflammation in your cardiovascular system. Fixing your ghrelin-related weight problems has many possible positive ramifications for your health and well-being.
Solutions to Balance Ghrelin and Lower LPS
Fixing ghrelin is an issue of fixing the hormone’s efficiency. This is reflected primarily by having a normal appetite, a lack of cravings for food or a lack of subconscious drive to eat excess food at any one meal or as a binge episode. These issues are either under control or not.
When you are on the right track cravings lighten significantly or disappear altogether, which means that you have temporarily tamed the tiger. Keep in mind that ghrelin is highly connected to your brain circuitry, thus it takes weeks of being good to establish new food acquisition patterns that are more normal. It is best for your long-term training of this system that you keep a good pattern going for many months in a row. If you keep having indiscretions in terms of eating in response to cravings, eating too much at one meal, or breaking down and having a binge session, you will put yourself back at the beginning in terms of training your brain for long-term improved subconscious behavior. This means being mostly good all month long, month after month, especially during the time you are losing weight.
Besides digestive inflammation, the primary reason ghrelin is elevated is leptin resistance, which falsely makes your brain think you are starving when that is not the case. Thus, the most basic solution is to follow the Five Rules of the Leptin Diet and evaluate how your cravings are doing after three or four days. If your cravings are gone and you are losing weight then that was all you needed to do to get yourself back on track.
If you continue to struggle with cravings, have other obvious digestive symptoms, or are not losing weight even though you are following the Five Rules, then you need more help.
Too much fat causes LPS levels to elevate. It is typical that the absorption of fat will enable the concurrent absorption of LPS, especially if you lack DHA in your diet. Do not consume more than 30 percent of your calories as fat if you have this problem. You may need to reduce fat to 20 percent - 25 percent if your problem is significant. Boosting DHA to a higher level may help reduce the problem (2 – 3 grams of DHA per day).
Make sure that you are getting higher levels of fiber, 30 grams – 60 grams per day. Fiber helps bind LPS and acts as a substrate for the fermentation of friendly flora in your digestive tract. As mentioned, friendly flora supplements have been shown to lower LPS by promoting a better balance of bacteria in your digestive tract, and would be a basic step in addition to higher fiber intake, if needed. Friendly flora has been shown to reduce other types of digestive inflammation as well.
A key sign of ghrelin problems is the desire to make things taste sweet. Consuming or adding sweeteners, whether artificial or natural, is a basic sign of carbohydrate addiction, an imbalanced taste system, and bad nervous system training. I highly recommend eliminating all artificially sweetened foods and adding no sweeteners of any kind to your foods. Further, you must train your taste buds to tolerate bitter flavors typically found in vegetables. The germ killing compounds in vegetables are always in their skins. For example, don’t peel your carrots, wash them well and eat them. Powerful anti-fungals are in the carrot skin. Many spices are germ killers that help balance digestive flora. When you no longer care about sweetening food, your digestive tract ghrelin will be in much better shape. Eat a wide variety of herbs, spices, and bitter vegetables as part of a balanced diet.
Dietary Supplements for Cravings
In addition to adding friendly flora, a priority for extra supplements is to stop cravings. It is interesting that many of the supplements I have found effective for cravings over the years work in part by helping heal the lining of your digestive tract. My top choices in this category are pine nut oil and bovine colostrum/lactoferrin.
Taking 2,000 – 3,000 mg of pine nut oil whenever needed can help stop cravings for many people. Pine nut oil has been used in traditional folk medicine by Russian doctors to treat ulcers and other inflammatory digestive issues. I rank it as highly effective at curbing cravings for most people.
Colostrum has been shown to reduce the leaky gut. Bovine colostrum taken by humans has been shown to lower blood levels of LPS26 and inflammatory markers. It contains unique compounds that help heal an inflamed digestive tract. By protecting against damage to the intestinal linings colostrum was shown to prevent bacteria27 from entering the body. I will often combine colostrum with bitter herbs like gymnema sylvestre or inula racemosa to help curb cravings.
One of the primary active components of colostrum is lactoferrin, which is also available in a purified form for dietary supplements. Lactoferrin blocks LPS28 from binding on to cells and inducing inflammatory damage. Lactoferrin inhibits adverse changes in fat metabolism29 that are caused by LPS exposure. Lactoferrin prevents Candida and hostile bacteria from forming germ gangs, which I reviewed extensively in a previous article. Taking 300 mg of lactoferrin per day has been shown to help weight loss in humans by reducing inflammation. In clinical practice I find that supplemental lactoferrin is another helpful strategy to assist food cravings.
Boost Your Ability to Deactivate LPS
Being overweight is a highly inflammatory problem for multiple reasons. Vitamin D is needed to put a lid on high inflammation and extra antioxidants are needed to keep up with the inflammatory stress. Science shows that the antioxidants vitamin E and vitamin D30 are needed to help contain LPS toxicity in the presence of a high fat diet.
While a good solid base of antioxidants is certain to be helpful for the LPS problem, some may find it prudent to boost specific antioxidants that are known to help detoxification processes including processing LPS. Top choices are lipoic acid, silymarin, and chlorella.
Lipoic acid has been found to activate gene signaling that deactivates LPS31 and consequent inflammation. This has been proven in relation to cell energy production32, the brain33, and the heart34. Lipoic acid has other benefits in terms of helping metabolize fat and carbohydrates.
Silymarin is an antioxidant herb used worldwide to protect the liver from toxins and help it clear toxins. It is also known to support healthy cholesterol metabolism by the liver. Many studies show silymarin reduces LPS toxicity35 and consequent inflammation, including to the key macrophages36 that are involved with the inflammation of obesity. It also protects the dopamine nerves37 in your brain that are associated with food pleasure, which would help them not go into “brain pain” that so easily results in cravings for pleasurable food intake.
Chlorella has been shown to lower LPS levels in the blood while repairing the digestive tract, directly offsetting the stress of bacterial imbalance in the digestive tract. Chlorella helps lower high leptin levels, prevent excess new fat cells, and can help lower blood sugar and cholesterol.
Many other options can also improve this situation. Many nutrients may support healing the lining of the digestive tract, including glutamine, N-acetyl glucosamine, whey protein, or specially filtered whey protein. In addition, various flavonoids have been shown to reduce inflammation along the lining of the digestive tract as well as reduce LPS toxicity, such as quercetin38, grape seed extract39, and resveratrol40. Possibly higher amounts of bacteria balancing nutrients like oregano oil are needed, which has also been shown to lower bacterial LPS production41.
A Word of Caution for Diabetics, Those on Blood Pressure Medication, and Those in Weak Metabolic Condition
The strategies for improvement contained within this article are for informational purposes. Consult your physician if you have health concerns and want to know if something is right for you. In some cases, rather dramatic improvement could occur in a short period of time. People who are not on medication have nothing to worry about in terms of experiencing improvement. People on blood sugar or blood pressure medication need to go slowly and pay attention, consulting their physicians to make any needed changes in medication doses.
Blood sugar medication has no “brakes” on it. Thus, if blood sugar metabolism suddenly improves then the blood sugar medication could induce hypoglycemia. This means you will need to work closely with your doctor, explain what you are doing, and enlist your doctor’s support to help you adjust your medication dose to your improved state of health.
Likewise, blood pressure medication has no brakes on it. Removing toxic LPS from your circulatory system can significantly improve your circulation. Thus, if your circulatory system is suddenly working better, then the previous dose of blood pressure medication may now be too high and induce low blood pressure/low pulse. This will make you dizzy upon standing, dizzy in general, nauseous, and/or at risk for fainting/falling. It is important that you work with your doctor to adjust your medication dose, based on your improved state of health.
In weakened states of metabolism it is also common to be toxic from LPS regardless of body weight. Many people in this category are in frail states of health and are underweight, thus would not be interested in a weight loss program. There are also overweight people who are worn down from stress, have little appetite, and struggle with hypoglycemia. The lack of ghrelin, reflected by the lack of normal appetite, signals an inability to sustain blood sugar normally between meals. I suggest such people eat four smaller meals a day, four hours apart, until their metabolism and appetite improve. I will explain how to correct this problem in greater depth in my fifth article of this series. In the meantime such a person may want to add 25 mg – 50 mg of zinc per day to help strengthen appetite. Focusing on higher intake of DHA (2,000 mg – 3,000 mg) can also help restore better digestive strength.
Cravings for food and digestive problems in general are signs of problems that can have a serious impact on metabolism and weight loss potential. You need a strategy that is adequate to bring food cravings under control and reduce any digestive symptoms you may have. When you combine the approaches in this article with the basic strategies outlined in the first article in this series, then it is possible to get weight loss moving. You may not need to do everything I have suggested here, but you do need to do enough to get on track. The severity of this problem will vary from person to person. However, it is almost always a percentage of the problem in any person who is struggling to lose weight. It is worth understanding this topic because it opens the door for solutions that have not previously been understood.
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