While the research is still in the preliminary stages, some recent studies do suggest that poor gut health is linked to obesity and that probiotics might help with weight loss. Probiotics are live organisms that occur naturally in the gut. Many supplements and fermented foods contain probiotics that may help keep the intestinal flora balanced and promote a healthy body by boosting the digestive and immune systems.
There are many different microorganisms in and on the human body, mainly in the form of friendly bacteria. Researchers think that some of these bacteria may play a role in weight loss and gain. In the gut, the beneficial bacteria help break down and digest food, which creates important nutrients and vitamins for the body to use. The probiotic bacteria feed on fibers and turn them into helpful compounds. An unhealthy digestive system may lead to dysbiosis, which refers to an imbalance in the gut microbes. When too many harmful microorganisms grow, there may not be enough of the helpful bacteria available to keep these harmful organisms in check. It also typically means the diversity of bacteria in the gut is lower.
Research suggests that gut dysbiosis contributes to the development of obesity, since people at a healthy weight and people with obesity show marked differences in their gut flora. Changing the gut flora in animals caused them to lose or gain weight. Even though changing the gut flora has not shown this direct effect in humans so far, evidence does suggest that there is a shift in a person’s gut flora when they gain weight which has lead researchers to believe this change is associated with obesity.
The research identified the following factors that can change a person’s gut flora from a thin to an obese pattern:
- a high-fat diet
- a high-calorie diet
- the use of artificial sweeteners
- a disrupted diurnal rhythm
Research in The British Journal of Nutrition studied the effects that one type of probiotic, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, had on people with obesity. Women who took the probiotic supplement lost more weight during the study than women who took a placebo (a harmless fake “sugar pill”). Additionally, the group taking a probiotic supplement continued to lose more weight in the weight-maintenance stage, after they finished dieting.
Another study looked at the effects of Lactobacillus fermentum and Lactobacillus amylovorus. During the study, individuals who were overweight but otherwise healthy ate yogurt that contained these Lactobacillus strains for 6 weeks. At the end of this period, the participants had lost an average of 3–4% body fat.
Researchers also examined the effects of Lactobacillus gasseri on fat loss. In this study, people with extra belly fat who drank fermented milk products containing the helpful bacteria lost 8.2– 8.5% of their belly fat over 12 weeks. However, when they stopped drinking the milk, all of this belly fat returned. This suggests probiotics can help people lose weight in some cases, but more studies are needed to back up this claim.
Types of Probiotics
The most common probiotics are from the groups Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Each of these contain many different bacteria. Probiotics may also contain other bacteria along with other organisms, such as the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii.
The more popular bacteria on the market and most studied for their health benefits include:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus
- Lactobacillus fermentum
- Lactobacillus amylovorous
- Lactobacillus gasseri
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
However, the gut contains hundreds of different types of microorganisms, totaling over 100 trillion microbes. There is no evidence that one type of probiotic can help a person lose weight more effectively than any other kind.
How To Use Probiotics
There are two different ways a person can add beneficial probiotics to their regular diet:
Many foods also contain these healthful organisms. Yogurt may be the most well-known dietary source of probiotics. Yogurt is milk which ferments with specific Lactobacillus or Bifidobacteriumstrains. Other fermented foods that often contain helpful bacteria include: kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, fermented raw cheeses, raw apple cider vinegar, kimchi, natto, miso, or tempeh.
Other Probiotics Benefits
Different probiotics may work in different ways, performing a wide variety of functions, including:
- outcompeting harmful bacteria to keep the gut balanced
- maintaining a healthful balance of helpful microorganisms
- stimulating the immune system response
- protecting the barrier of the digestive tract from harmful microorganisms
In addition to promoting healthy digestion, research suggests that a healthy gut colony is important for numerous body functions, such as:
- overall nutrition
- regulating the immune system
- keeping the hormones balanced
- regulating mood
- promoting the proper growth of the nervous system
Probiotics and their potential effects on certain health conditions still are not well understood. Supplements are not regulated, which means there is no guarantee that they contain the same strains of probiotics that have been proven clinically effective. A recent report from Consumer Lab found that 30 percent of probiotic supplements did not contain the amounts of helpful organisms touted on their labels.
Look for supplements with a USP label, which indicates that an independent third party has verified the ingredients. Ask your healthcare provider if they’ll interact with other medicines you take.
Research on probiotics is still relatively new and growing. Scientists believe that there is a link between reduced bacterial gut diversity and obesity but probiotics alone aren’t enough. You can maintain a healthier gut by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and limiting fat, sugar and animal sources of protein. In most cases probiotic are safe so including them in a healthy lifestyle and diet as well as regular exercise can’t hurt.
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