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Fawning Over Flora

The good bacteria in our gut can digest the fiber we eat and turn it into an anti-obesity compound called propionate that we absorb back into our system.

August 28, 2012 |
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Acknowledgements

Image thanks to Osborn via Wikimedia Commons.

Transcript

Obesity is so rare among those eating plant based diets, 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 gone through a couple of theories that have emerged: Maybe it’s because of people eating plant strong diets express more of the fat shoveling enzyme inside the power plants inside the mitochondria within their cells.  Maybe it is because they grow different populations of good bacteria in their gut. Maybe it is because they are avoiding the obesigenic endocrine-disrupting industrial pollutants in the meat supply. An obesity causing virus in poultry may even be contributing. We’re still not sure, but the theories keep coming.

Here’s the latest, maybe it’s the propionate? After all, what’s one of the things that are always in plant food and never in animal food? It’s fiber. Animals have bones to hold them up and plants have fiber to hold them up. I thought fiber was defined by our inability to digest it. Sure, we can’t break it down but the gazillions of good bacteria in our guts can. What do they make with it? They make Propionate, which gets absorbed into our bloodstream. So - technically we can digest fiber, just not without a little help from our little friends.

What does propionate do? Well, it inhibits cholesterol synthesis and it has a hypophagic effect meaning it helps us eat less. Apparently it does this by slowing down the rate at which our food empties from our stomachs thereby making us feel fuller, longer. Propionate may be able to regulate food intake or the generation of new fat cells, resulting in an overall anti-obesity effect. One of the many ways fiber containing foods - meaning whole plant foods can help us control our weight.

 

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by MaryAnn Allison.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

I thought this was so fascinating I included it in my 2012 presentation Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death. The fat-shoveling enzyme theory I mention is covered in How to Upregulate Metabolism. I mention the differential good bacteria in Gut Flora Obesity (and in tomorrow's video-of-the-day Boosting Good Bacteria in the Colon Without Probiotics). And the other theories I mention are covered in Obesity Causing Pollutants in Food and Obesity Causing Chicken Virus. How slim are those eating plant-based diets? See Thousands of Vegans Studied. For more on fabulous fiber, see What Women Should Eat to Live Longer and Relieving Yourself of Excess Estrogen (also covered just the other day in How Fiber Lowers Cholesterol). Please feel free to subscribe to my future videos (for free) by clicking here.

For more context, check out my associated blog posts: Stool Size and Breast Cancer RiskBoosting Gut Flora Without ProbioticsTreating Parkinson's Disease with DietAvoid Carnitine and Lethicin Supplements,Schoolchildren Should Drink More Water, and How Probiotics Affect Mental Health

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    I thought this was so fascinating I included it in my 2012 presentation Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death. The fat-shoveling enzyme theory I mention is covered in How to Upregulate Metabolism. I mention the differential good bacteria in Gut Flora Obesity (and in tomorrow’s video-of-the-day Boosting Good Bacteria in the Colon Without Probiotics). And the other theories I mention are covered in Obesity Causing Pollutants in Food and Obesity Causing Chicken Virus. How slim are those eating plant-based diets? See Thousands of Vegans Studied. And for more on fabulous fiber, see What Women Should Eat to Live Longer and Relieving Yourself of Excess Estrogen (and also covered just the other day in How Fiber Lowers Cholesterol). Please feel free to subscribe to my future videos (for free) by clicking here.

    • http://poxacuatl.wordpress.com/ Strix

      Wow, propionate may inhibit the growth of fat cells?! Interesting. I’ve not heard that one,.

      Is it possible to eat too much fiber?

      Keep ‘em coming, Dr. G! :^)

      • Toxins

        It is unfeasible to consume too much fiber. As you will see in Dr. Greger’s future video, humans during the stone age era consumed over 105 grams of fiber per day and as much vitamin c as 10 oranges. I currently do not have the study to share but when i find it I will link it to you.

  • gb

    There seems to be no end to the health benefits of eating lots of veggies and a high fiber diet. Before i thought fiber was just important for preventing constipation, but it’s so much more!

  • Georges

    Does it matter if plant fiber is blended in a smoothie?  Does drinking blended plant fiber in a smoothie affect, negatively or positively, the body’s ability to produce propionate?

    • Toxins

      The more you grind up the food, the more surface area you expose and the quicker it is absorbed and the larger potential impact on blood sugar and the quicker it leaves your stomach and the less filling it is. In addition, the ground up fiber does not work as well in helping control blood sugar and contributing to a sense of fullness.

      • Georges

        Thanks for the reply Toxins!  I appreciate the additional info.  Do you or anyone else know if blending reduces the body’s ability to process that fiber and effectively produce propionate?

        • http://twitter.com/gerard76 Gerard

          The shorter the fiber the easier it is digested, so I PRESUME it has less effect. On the other hand, blending gives me the ability to eat a lot more greens then I would be able otherwise. And if you eat only greens, this is a good way to get enough calories (and save your teeth)

  • guest

     Interesting that the propionate can cause us to take in fewer calories. In the video, the calorie difference between veg and non-vegetarian eaters is treated as minor, but if you add those calories up for a year, it amounts to 19 pounds worth! That’s a lot of calories.

  • Ronald Chavin

    Vegans who eat raw vegetables automatically have desirable gut microbial flora which create beneficial chemicals that cause weight loss (such as propionate, acetate, butyrate, CLA, and CLNA) and other beneficial chemicals that kill or inhibit the bad bacteria which cause endotoxic inflammation and weight gain (such as lactic acid and subtilisin). Why do vegans automatically have excellent gut microbes, even if they don’t eat yogurt or swallow probiotic capsules? Because (1)lactobacilli, bifidobacteria, and Bacillus subtilis thrive on the antioxidant-rich green leaves of living plants, (2)after plants are eaten, their antioxidants protect the beneficial gut microbes from being killed off by oxidative stress; meanwhile, the bad bacteria have Gram-negative cell walls that strongly protect them from free radicals, and (3)the soluble fiber in plant-based diets feeds the beneficial bacteria and causes them to greatly multiply to kill off the bad bacteria and increase stool volume and transit time:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9566667
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21811294
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23563705
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11068675
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3187134/
    http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Obesity_country_comparison_-_text.svg

  • cyndishisara

    How can a Vegan obtain vitamin D if they live a cold climate? Is Vitamin D2 from mushrooms (activated) effective for obtaining all the positive results from Vitamin D?