Millennials are having a hard time in life, if the internet is to be believed. Jokes abound that employers want someone in their mid-20s with more than 30 years experience. Student debt is at an all-time high, while Baby Boomers had to pay a pittance to receive an education. Owning a house seems impossible, while the previous generations ask why millennials live in hovels, trying to get by. And now, on top of these hardships, it’s harder to just lose weight.

An article by the Atlantic discussed a study published last year and concluded people between the ages of 20 and 30 in the 1980s had an easier time losing weight compared to someone in 2006. The typical gut microbiome – the good and bad bacteria in your digestive system – has changed since then. So much that it’s changed the typical metabolism and made it harder to lose weight.

The not-insignificant sample size was nearly 36,400 people, studied between 1971 and 2008 for the diet portion of the research, and about 14,400 people between 1988 and 2006 for the exercise portion.

The average person in the ‘80s had a body mass index score 2.3 points lower than a similar person in 2006. Last year, Professor Jennifer Kuk of York University noted a 40-year-old person in 1971 had it easier than a 40-year-old in 2015 – comparable to the other study’s results.

The Microbiome

There are plenty of studies that link the gut microbiome bacteria to obesity – though the link is well-known and researched, specific connections are still being studied. Obesity and metabolic disorders have been observed in both rats and humans, again linked to bacteria. For example, the gut microbiome affects acetate levels and higher levels increase appetite. Suppressing four gut bacteria – Lactobacillus, Allobaculum, Rikenellaceae, and Candidatus arthromitus – in young mice resulted in adult mice with better metabolisms. A number of other studies suggest more links between weight loss and gain and bacteria.

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Kuk’s study noted that Americans have increased their meat intake since the ‘80s. Increased levels of hormones and antibiotics, used to promote growth in livestock, could also be affecting humans – specifically the microbiome. Certain prescription drugs have also been linked to weight gain. For example, Prozac, introduced in 1988, is widely used as an antidepressant, but is also linked to weight gain.

The million-dollar question is how millennials can use this information to combat the change in microbiome, and how to utilize it to lose weight.

Losing weight through the gut

Step one is cutting down on processed foods, artificial sweeteners, fructose and sugar. Not only do these inhibit insulin production, which can kill off good gut bacteria, but also slow down the metabolic processes.

Too many of today’s snacks are processed foods – which often include sugar. Cutting these out is a start.

Sugar can also be hard to cut out – think of sugary Starbucks. And while some have tried to replace natural sugar with artificial sweeteners, this does not help the gut.

A high-fat diet, while associated with increased insulin production, also correlated to higher acetate production. The result is a better gut microbiome, but more of an appetite. It’s a balancing act.

Are Probiotics As Good as they Say?

Probiotics, known to most because of the ever-present yogurt commercials with Jamie Lee Curtis, are found in a number of foods. Indeed, Greek yogurt naturally contains probiotics, as well as iodine. The probiotics improve your immune system while decreasing stomach issues. The iodine promotes a healthy thyroid system which is involved in the metabolic process.

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A 2014 survey found that people who eat three servings of Greek yogurt per day resulted in more weight lost than those eating less than a single serving. On a side note, yogurt also decreases the chance of Type 2 diabetes, which is an added bonus.

Adding more probiotic-rich foods including kefir, aged cheeses, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, and some soy beverages is also on the to-do list for keeping a happy gut microbiome.

According to science, millennials’ parents had an easier time losing weight in their 20s and 30s. On the other hand, millennials have advancing science. Using science know-how, it’s entirely possible to promote a better microbiome while losing weight at the same time.