Tipping Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes

Tipping Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes
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Certain phytonutrients may tip the balance of healthy gut bacteria in favor of flora associated with improved weight control.

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Other than fiber, what else do plants make that animals don’t, that could help account for how dramatically slimmer those who eat plant-based diets tend to be? Phytonutrients!

Mammals, including humans, harbor two main types of friendly gut bacteria: Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes. In terms of obesity, though, one appears friendlier than the other. There is mounting evidence that the gut flora is different in healthy patients than it is in obese patients, which primarily involves higher numbers of Firmicutes than Bacteroidetes phyla, in the case of obesity and overweight. So, just to keep them straight, you can remember: fatter, Firmicutes; and bonier, Bacteroidetes.

Obese individuals seem to have more Firmicutes than Bacteriodetes in their guts. If you put people on a diet for a year, you can actually change the proportion. Give people certain antibiotics; you may actually trigger obesity, because you’re mucking around down there.

How can we improve our ratio? Well, there is a class of phytonutrients, called polyphenols, that do two things: they preferentially feed Bacteriodetes, while at the same time suppressing the growth of Firmicutes.

So researchers were like, hey, maybe that’s why the use of vinegar has been recommended for thousands of years for weight loss! What’s it often made out of ?Red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar—both of which, grapes and apples, packed with polyphenols. The weight-lowering properties of fruits, green tea, and wine vinegar in obese people may be partly related to the polyphenol content of them—which consequently changes the gut flora, which may consequently alter the balance between the two groups of Bacteroidetes and the Firmicutes bacteria, in the favor of Bacteroidetes.

It’s funny; you know, naysayers of the power of phytonutrients often point to studies like this, showing that up to 85% of those wonderful blue anthocyanins in blueberries end up in your colon, unabsorbed. But that may be exactly where some of the magic happens.

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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Other than fiber, what else do plants make that animals don’t, that could help account for how dramatically slimmer those who eat plant-based diets tend to be? Phytonutrients!

Mammals, including humans, harbor two main types of friendly gut bacteria: Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes. In terms of obesity, though, one appears friendlier than the other. There is mounting evidence that the gut flora is different in healthy patients than it is in obese patients, which primarily involves higher numbers of Firmicutes than Bacteroidetes phyla, in the case of obesity and overweight. So, just to keep them straight, you can remember: fatter, Firmicutes; and bonier, Bacteroidetes.

Obese individuals seem to have more Firmicutes than Bacteriodetes in their guts. If you put people on a diet for a year, you can actually change the proportion. Give people certain antibiotics; you may actually trigger obesity, because you’re mucking around down there.

How can we improve our ratio? Well, there is a class of phytonutrients, called polyphenols, that do two things: they preferentially feed Bacteriodetes, while at the same time suppressing the growth of Firmicutes.

So researchers were like, hey, maybe that’s why the use of vinegar has been recommended for thousands of years for weight loss! What’s it often made out of ?Red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar—both of which, grapes and apples, packed with polyphenols. The weight-lowering properties of fruits, green tea, and wine vinegar in obese people may be partly related to the polyphenol content of them—which consequently changes the gut flora, which may consequently alter the balance between the two groups of Bacteroidetes and the Firmicutes bacteria, in the favor of Bacteroidetes.

It’s funny; you know, naysayers of the power of phytonutrients often point to studies like this, showing that up to 85% of those wonderful blue anthocyanins in blueberries end up in your colon, unabsorbed. But that may be exactly where some of the magic happens.

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.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Doctor's Note

This is the third of a three-part video series on keeping our gut bacteria happy. The first two discussed propionate (see Fawning Over Flora), and butyrate (see Boosting Good Bacteria in the Colon Without Probiotics)—two health-promoting short-chain fatty acids produced by the fermentation of fiber that may be helpful in preventing obesity, cancer, and inflammation in general. This is a follow-up to similar studies, comparing gut flora between populations eating different diets, I talked about ages ago in Gut Flora & Obesity. More on phenolic phytonutrients in Best Fruit Juice. Vinegar may also help with weight loss via another mechanism detailed in Is Vinegar Good For You? Blueberries may be helpful in Improving Memory Through Diet, but are they the Best Berries?

For more context, check out my associated blog posts: The Ice Diet and Eating Green to Prevent Cancer.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

37 responses to “Tipping Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes

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  1. This is the third of a three-part video series on keeping our gut bacteria happy. The first two discussed propionate and butyrate, two health-promoting short chain fatty acids produced by the fermentation of fiber that may be helpful in preventing obesity, cancer, and inflammation in general. This is a follow-up to similar studies comparing gut flora between populations eating different diets I talked about ages ago in Gut Flora Obesity. More on phenolic phytonutrients in Best Fruit Juice. Vinegar may also help with weight loss via another mechanism detailed in my video Is Vinegar Good For You?. And blueberries may be helpful in Improving Memory Through Diet, but are they the Best Berries?

    If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.




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    1. It sounds like a Greek Tragedy,

      Or Homer’s Odyssey.

      I am visualizing a future Fantastic Voyage movie but through the colon.

      Some people may think this vid is crappy, but what keeps you slim will keep you happy.
      ;-}




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    2. I believe this is working in me.  I had very bad “colon blow” every 7 to 10 days for years.  Fever, nausea, the whole 9 yards so to speak.  But over the past 14 months+ on whole foods, plant-based, the flareups have decreased in frequency and lessened in severity. 

      One tip for others:  I now grind my date/walnuts/chia seeds with a small scoop of wheat germ and a little oat bran.  To a fine powder in a good coffee grinder has made it possible to eat without the usual reaction to nuts and seeds.  I mean really fine powder is needed.  The germ and bran “soak” up the gooey bit and permits extending the grind time.  GOOD LUCK. 




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  2. Suspiciously, this sounds like another cliff hanger.

    Thanks for giving the tip for remembering the difference between the two types of phyla.  I helped me to easily absorb the rest of the video. 

    I made a dish last night with vinegar in it.  Yeah.  :-)




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  3. I thought/heard the bacteriodes enterotype was associated with animal protein and a satfat diet whereas vegetarians and vegans tend to the prevotella enterotype? This is an emerging area of course but there do appear to be some microbiota markers for metabolic disorder, brain and heart function that I would really love to see some more NF videos on.




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    1. I looked up Bacteroidetes and found ORGANIC spirulina contains them. It must be from a pure safe source and organic Spirulina is a cyanobacterium, a bacteroidete.




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  4. What about the study by Chen et al that says this?

    Enterotypes were strongly associated with long-term diets, particularly protein and animal fat (Bacteroides) versus carbohydrates (Prevotella).




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  5. Actinobacteria and Firmicutes are gram positive, good? Firmicutes mostly in gut lining?
    Bacteroides and Proeobacteria are gram negative, bad? Bacteroides mostly in gut lumina?
    Which ones produce the most butyrate?




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  6. I strongly wish you would provide transcripts, as I cannot stand to watch videos. I don’t watch TV, either. It is just not in my makeup. So, while it looks like your site may be very informative, it is useless to me. :(




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  7. Interesting video…l I have just received results from a fecal sample I sent to Armerican Gut. I have been following a high fibre plant based diet for two years and my results showed a significantly high amount of firmicutes in relation to bacteroites. I’ve looked further into this as I am by no means obese! I’m actually underweight. I found articles actually demystifying the firmicutes = obesity therory. In fact firmicutes are the bugs you want. I’m therefore confused at the conflicting information.




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    1. HI Sophie, I have also had results back from The American Gut project which is great, but there is no summary of whether the results are actually good or bad or what you should do to improve your gut bacteria. I am very confused by all of this. Have you come across any information that has helped explain your results from the American Gut project that you could share?




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      1. Heyyyy
        I’ve not really! I was just thinking last night. I got that doe but have not really gained any real insight into what the best route forward is for new…. However I have heard that positively charged bacteria are not favourable! So I’ve had a google of the ones I host and I have a few positive so trying to eliminate those….. By eating Veggies!! Fibre!! Bitter foods!!!




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  8. Can someone please tell me; Are Fermicutes and Bacteroidetes both probiotics?
    This will tell me a lot about what can be done other that struggle with diets.




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    1. Yes, Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes are both consider to be Probiotic bacteria that are inhabitants of your colon……….. and I want to emphasized COLON.




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  9. I wonder what the effect of these colonizing bacteria will have within the healthy guts of those consuming probiotic bacteroidetes? The ultimate skinny pill or something more complicated..




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    1. One could ingest all he bacteroidetes they want but if they are not consuming the foods that those bacteria eat they won’t survive and propagate in the gut. They might as well be flushing their probiotics money down the toilet. (pun intended :-)




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  10. I just had my gut bacteria tested by the American Gut Project. They had to do it over because the first time, my profile matched a paleo meat eater’s perfectly and I don’t eat meat. The second time, I had zero enterobacter (before it was 45.8%) but my ratio of firmicutes to bacteroidetes was heavy on the firmicutes, much more than the general population. I’m 5’6″ and weigh 118, so I’m not sure how this can be. I eat a ton of fruit and veggies daily, no meat or dairy, and processed sweets rarely (less than once a month). Maybe they got it wrong again? It took them a whole year before they released the results this time. The first time it took several months.




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    1. Hi Joy – It sounds like your diet is on the right track. Unfortunately, I can’t speak to the accuracy or validity of the testing done by the organization you mentioned above. I would make sure you’re working with a credentialed group before proceeding with further testing. I would recommend consulting with a gastroenterologist if you have concerns regarding your GI health or if you’re experiencing any new or unusual GI symptoms.




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      1. It was just a curiosity question. I’m thrilled with my health. I supported the American Gut Project because it seemed a nice research project but I’ve been suspicious. The first test came back that my gut was 45% enterobacter, common to overweight meat eaters not thin vegans like me. I told them I thought they tested the wrong sample, so they offered a re-test, which took them a year to complete. This test also seems phony, yet the organization claims to have tested Michael Pollan. I certainly won’t waste any more time on this. Thank you.




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        1. So happy to hear you’re enjoying good health! I’m all for supporting research as well – but it sounds like this project isn’t exactly the right fit. Best of luck!




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  11. I’m 57 working on my gut . I’m 5.11 high weight 203 . I dance aftan , Zumba, and walking. The gut hates to go away




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