We’ve all heard about probiotics found in certain foods and supplements, but have you ever wondered what exactly they do? And does adding probiotics to your diet help you lose weight? It turns out that probiotics play a crucial role in the health and well-being of our digestive system, starting in the gut, and two recent studies support the idea that probiotics help you lose weight if that’s a goal. Here’s everything you need to know about probiotics, your gut health, and the relationship between “good” bacteria in the body and the ability to shed pounds.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are healthy bacteria that support the growth of so-called “good bacteria” in your gut that help your body maintain healthy digestion, boost your immune system, promote heart health, and even regulate your mood.
Our body contains a population of bacteria that reside in various parts of our body, most notably our gut, where there is a staggering number, estimated at 100 trillion, that help the body digest the food we eat and signal what to do with it is the by-products. The totality of this microbial population makes up what we call our gut microbiome, and there are more of these bacteria than human cells in the body, at a ratio of at least about 3 to 1. That National Institute of Health has stated that keeping these gut friends healthy can prevent certain medical conditions, including heart disease, autoimmune diseases, and mental disorders.
Probiotics, whether they come from food sources like fruits and vegetables or from supplements, contain many of the good live bacteria and yeast that live in our bodies. Consuming them can prevent the build-up of “bad” bacteria (which multiply when we eat unhealthy foods (including red meat, high-fat dairy, and fried foods)) and maintain the balance we need to stay healthy.
Probiotics and healthy gut bacteria have been shown in studies to help prevent chronic diseases like heart disease, but new ones are emerging research linking probiotic intake to improved body weight, smaller waist size, and reduced body fat. Here’s what you should know about probiotics and weight loss, and how best to incorporate them into your diet.
The link between probiotics and body weight
Although there is still uncertainty about how probiotics affect our body weight, two recent studies suggest there is a link. The first study, published in 2018, asks “Is it time to use probiotics to prevent or treat obesity?” and explores the link between gut health and obesity or the conditions that lead to it, including weight gain, such as high blood sugar , metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance.
The authors state: “Several studies have shown that the composition of the gut microbiota in obese individuals can differ significantly from the composition of lean individuals,” and they hypothesize that “your gut bacteria play a fundamental role in modulating energy metabolism and state that changes in the composition of the gut microbiota can be associated with an increase or decrease in body weight and body mass index.
A follow-up study 2019 in the British Medical Journal, examined the effect of “oral intake of bacterial probiotics on 15 variables associated with obesity, diabetes and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease”. The analysis found that “probiotic consumption improves anthropometric parameters and BMI” as well as improves blood sugar, chronic inflammation and blood triglyceride levels, and liver function.
How your gut bacteria regulate metabolism, weight gain and inflammation
First, keeping your gut healthy can help prevent inflammation. A Article 2017 states that chronic, low-level inflammation throughout the body can cause and even fuel obesity and metabolic syndrome, various conditions that increase your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
A Review 2020 also notes that beyond inflammation, problems with the gut microbiota can cause obesity due to the accumulation of lipids (or fats) leading to metabolic disorders, fatty liver, and insulin resistance. This study found that pregnant women who were given probiotics before delivery had babies who avoided obesity early in life, and children who were given probiotics also reduced their likelihood of becoming overweight, prompting the authors to write : “Modulating the gut microbiota with probiotics may be a means of alleviating some obesity-related disorders in children.”
Adults who took probiotics for 12 weeks ended up losing weight, but when they stopped taking the probiotics, the results reversed, suggesting that daily probiotics are necessary to keep gut bacteria balanced.
Our Verdict: Taking a probiotic daily to help maintain a healthy balance in the microbiome appears to reduce these unwanted side effects that can contribute to weight gain.
According to research, what are the best probiotics for weight loss?
Many studies have been conducted with the Lactobacillus strains to show a beneficial effect on weight and body fat. one 2013 study thought about eating yoghurt Lactobacillus yeast or Lactobacillus amylovorus Strains reduced body fat by 3 to 4 percent over a 6-week period. (These can also be taken in supplement form if you choose not to eat dairy.)
If you’re avoiding dairy or following a plant-based diet, kimchi can be a solution to getting your healthy dose of probiotics. Other Study 2020 found that taking the probiotic You said lactobacilli — found in fermented foods like kimchi and some sauerkraut — “might help people with obesity reduce body fat mass without serious side effects.”
Taking a probiotic with the strain Lactobacillus gasseri can help reduce body weight, fat around organs, body mass index (BMI), waist circumference and hip circumference according to a Study 2013 had 210 participants with higher percentages of abdominal fat consume 210 grams of fermented milk with a probiotic for 12 weeks.
The results concluded that the fermented milk had a nearly 9 percent decrease in visceral fat (the belly fat that’s so hard to lose) as well as significant decreases in BMI, body fat mass, and waist and hip circumference. The kicker is that the effects wore off after 4 weeks once the group stopped consuming the probiotic. This suggests that a probiotic will likely need to be consumed on an ongoing basis to maintain the benefits.
Longer research studies with larger groups of participants need to be conducted to confirm the promising benefits of taking probiotics for weight loss. The upside is that taking probiotics or eating foods rich in probiotics is healthy and can offer a variety of health benefits, like heart health and lower blood sugar — and typically doesn’t cause any side effects.
Probiotics even appear to prevent weight gain
When it comes to losing weight, you also need to keep your focus on not gaining the weight back once you’ve lost it. While more research is needed, a Study 2015 published in the journal Obesity, found that a probiotic supplement (dubbed VSL#3) taken for 4 weeks reduced weight and fat gain in participants who ate an extra 1,000 calories more than they needed each day. This could indicate that certain probiotic strains may be helpful in preventing weight gain.
Corresponding their website, VSL#3, a commercial multispecies probiotic that contains 8 different bacterial strains and has a potency of 450 to 900 billion colony forming units (CFU). It contains a variety of Streptococcus, Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus bacteria.
Combine probiotics with other weight loss strategies
Probiotics still need a little support to function optimally when it comes to weight loss. A Review 2020 states that combining probiotics with prebiotics, diet, and physical activity can intensify weight loss.
Although probiotics and prebiotics sound similar, they actually serve different functions. While probiotics are live bacteria found in food, prebiotics are actually food for the bacteria. They come from carbohydrates, mostly high-fiber options that are indigestible. On its way through the gastrointestinal tract, it is eaten by the beneficial bacteria in our gut.
Some of the common prebiotic plant foods are:
- chicory root
- Legumes, including lentils and chickpeas
Here’s how to get probiotics into your diet
While it can be easy to take a probiotic supplement daily, you will be missing out on some tasty foods that can boost your gut health. Add these to your diet for more natural sources of probiotics, which come with other nutrients and fiber to promote gut health.
- Sauerkraut: consists of fermented cabbage, which tastes great in salads, sandwiches or on its own.
- kimchi: another fermented cabbage that contains Asian-based spices and other vegetables.
- Kombucha: a tea fermented with a culture of various bacteria and yeasts. This drink has grown in popularity over the years and is easy to find in any grocery store.
- Tempeh: fermented soybeans make this product rich in probiotics, but also a great protein option for a plant-based diet.
- miso: Another fermented soybean option is miso, but this time in paste form. You often see this in Asian-inspired dishes, including miso soup.
- Fortified milk alternatives: Many soy and nut-based dairy products and yogurts contain live bacteria. Just check the label to see if it contains Lactobacillus or other strains.
Bottom Line: Probiotics for gut health also promote weight loss, studies show
Current research shows promising results for probiotics and weight loss. While more research needs to be done, eating probiotic-rich foods may have many other health benefits as well.