While the old way of thinking was that bacteria is bad, exciting new research shows there are benefits to being dirty. A recent study published in the journal Microbiota found that having a family dog may protect infants from obesity later in childhood.

Fecal samples from infants showed that those who had been exposed to furry pets while in the womb or during infancy showed there was a twofold occurrence of Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, two types of bacteria associated with a reduced risk of obesity and allergies. The study demonstrates the importance of having healthy gut flora for preventing obesity and possibly weight loss. 

This is not the first time that research has shown a connection between gut health and obesity risk. Even imbalanced bacteria in your mouth, which is reflective of a larger digestive imbalance, has been linked to obesity. While there are thousands of different strains of bacteria, there are two main classes: firmicutes and bacteroidetes. Obese individuals show higher than typical overgrowth of firmicute strains in their guts, demonstrating at least part of the cause of obesity is correlated with the disruption of gut microbes (dysbiosis).

When there is not enough of the beneficial bacteria in the gut, or there has been antibiotic use, bad bacteria or candida albicans (a yeast) can overgrow. Candida is highly inflammatory to your digestive lining and in turn causes sugar cravings. The combination of antibiotics, high sugar diets, junk food, and excess alcohol intake sets the stage for a lifetime of candida, digestive inflammation, food cravings, and ongoing struggles with weight.

Too much bad bacteria in the gut means too much lipopolysaccharide (LPS). LPS is a bacterial toxin that is released by bad bacteria. The bacterial imbalance injures and inflames the lining of your digestive tract, causing a leaky gut and subsequent food cravings. Adding insult to injury, higher LPS levels can interfere with leptin entry in the brain, causing more cravings and weight gain. Elevated levels of LPS in the blood are found in almost all overweight people.

Due to the interconnected nature of obesity and the gut, if you have extra weight to lose, it is vital you work to improve your gut health. Reduce candida and bad bacteria that might be causing excessive LPS, inflammation, a leaky gut and weight gain with nutrients like oregano oil, noni, lactoferrin, olive leaf extract and monolaurin. These natural plant-derived compounds won’t disturb the good bacteria.

As this study shows, getting a healthy dose of good bacteria is also important for preventing obesity. If you happen to find yourself without a furry friend, there are other ways you can introduce good bacteria to your body. First, get out and play. While scientists aren’t exactly sure why or how furry pets help introduce obesity-preventing bacteria to our digestive tracts, one theory is that the bacteria is introduced to pets while they are outdoors and is carried indoors via the fur of their paws. Spend time in the garden, walk barefoot outside, jump in the leaves, or play in the park.

As you can imagine, your digestive health is very dependent on your diet.To boost your healthy gut flora, choose probiotic and prebiotic (fiber) rich foods. Fermented vegetables, kefir, and unsweetened yogurt naturally provide live probiotics. Include prebiotic fibers that help probiotics thrive from foods like artichokes, asparagus, bananas, chicory, dandelion greens, eggplant, garlic, raw honey, leeks, onions, and legumes.

If you have a lot of weight to lose, or if your digestion has been a problem for years, also add in extra prebiotic fibers like Fructooligosacharrides (FOS) and arabinogalactan with a refrigerated probiotic supplement that provides hardy strains of beneficial bacteria. Don’t forget to include other important gut health nutrients like vitamins A, C, D3, omega-3 fish oil, l-glutamine, and zinc which can heal a damaged digestive lining and improve the immune system of your gut.

New research continues to support the fact that the bacteria in your gut plays a vital role in your weight. If you have extra weight to lose, consider improving your gut health. Changing your diet is the first place to start, but nutrition can help to heal years of damage and completely reset your gut health. Reaching your weight loss goal depends on it.