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Boosting Gut Flora Without Probiotics

Obesity is so rare among those eating plant-based diets (see my video Thousands of Vegans Studied), nutrition researchers have been desperate to uncover their secret. Yes, they tend to eat fewer calories, but not that many fewer. In the past I’ve made videos about a couple of the theories that have emerged. Maybe because people eating plant-strong diets express more of the fat shoveling enzyme inside the power plants—the mitochondria–within our cells (How to Upregulate Metabolism). Maybe it’s because they grow different populations of good bacteria in their gut (Gut Flora & Obesity). Maybe it’s because they’re avoiding the endocrine disrupting industrial pollutants in the meat supply. An Obesity-Causing Chicken Virus may even be contributing. We’re still not sure, but the theories keep coming.

Maybe it’s the propionate, an anti-obesity compound made by our gut bacteria when we feed them fiber. Click on the video above for details.

Our friendly flora’s digestion of fiber also yields another short chain fatty acid called butyrate, which appears to protect against colon cancer. Butyrate may also explain why fiber-filled plant-based diets are so anti-inflammatory. A recent review concluded that “butyrate seems to exert broad anti-inflammatory activities and might be [a] good candidate to evaluate in the fight against obesity-associated and systemic inflammation in general.” See my coverage of that review in my 1-min. video Boosting Good Bacteria in the Colon Without Probiotics.

Since butyrate is a byproduct of fiber digestion, we can boost its production by eating more plant foods, and we can boost the number of butyrate-producing bacteria in our colon by really eating more plant foods–those eating vegetarian harbor more butyrate-producing bacteria.

For more on fabulous fiber, see What Women Should Eat to Live Longer and Relieving Yourself of Excess Estrogen. For a sampling of my other videos on keeping your colon happy, see Kiwifruit For Irritable Bowel SyndromeFlax and Fecal Flora, and Bristol Stool Scale.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here and watch my full 2012 presentation Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death.

Image credit: Hey Paul Studios / Flickr

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Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at


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6:14AM PDT on Aug 1, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

5:56PM PDT on Apr 26, 2013

thanks for the info!

1:49AM PDT on Sep 16, 2012

If I were to participate in any medical study as a typical vegetarian, I would distort the results.
The fact that I exercise regularly, ensures that I stay healthy - but that does not mean that my weight is regarded as healthy.
Nobody in my extended family is or was overweight, nobody has or had Diabetes II or high blood pressure - but then I'm the only one who moved to another country. Although I don't spend that same amount of time outside enjoying the sun, I go to more exercise classes.

2:42PM PDT on Sep 10, 2012

Thank you for sharing

8:09AM PDT on Sep 7, 2012

Thank you

6:39AM PDT on Sep 7, 2012


6:23AM PDT on Sep 7, 2012

interesting possibilities

2:53AM PDT on Sep 7, 2012


2:23AM PDT on Sep 7, 2012


2:06AM PDT on Sep 7, 2012


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