Can Probiotics Help with Weight Loss?
The intimate relationship between weight and the microbiota—the population of microorganisms in your gut—currently is a topic of great interest, especially for anyone who is trying to lose weight. Thus the obvious question is, can probiotics help with weight loss?
First of all, probiotics, aka beneficial or friendly bacteria, have been studied for their role in a number of health challenges, including ulcers, digestive disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, and autism, among others. All of these conditions have one thing in common: the brain-gut axis.
The brain-gut axis is a comprehensive network of chemical neurotransmitters, hormones, and neurons that constantly provide feedback between the brain and your gut. This means that what happens in the brain can impact the gut and vice versa, since they are communicating all the time.
So can maintaining a healthy gut by using probiotics help with weight loss? A new study appearing in Nutrition in Clinical Practice explored this very question.
Probiotics and weight loss
The authors reviewed the studies on this topic, looking specifically at those that involved Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium, the two main groups of probiotics, each of which has numerous species that have demonstrated health benefits. To date, the majority of studies showing that probiotics can help fight obesity have been done in animal models.
The good news is that the results have been positive. That is, use of probiotics in animals has resulted in weight reduction and a loss of fat, as well as an improvement in triglyceride and cholesterol levels, blood glucose, and inflammation.
Probiotics and weight loss in people
Among the studies done in people, a recent meta-analysis looked at controlled trials involving adults, children, and infants. Use of mainly Lactobacillus probiotic supplements resulted in weight loss among adults and minor weight gains among infants and children.
In a previous multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled intervention trial, 87 individuals with high body mass index were randomly assigned to take the probiotic Lactobacillus gasseri SBT 2055 in yogurt already fermented with two other probiotics, or yogurt without L. gasseri. The participants who ate the yogurt with L. gasseri had significantly reduced abdominal fat and body weight.
In fact, the most promising probiotic for weight loss thus far has been L. gasseri, which has been effective in both animal and human studies. One Japanese study of 210 people with significant belly fat, for example, showed that L. gasseri taken for 12 weeks reduced belly fat by 8.5 percent as well as body weight, waist size, hip circumference, and fat around the organs.
In a smaller study, 28 overweight volunteers ate yogurt with Lactobacillus fermentum or Lactobacillus amylovorus in a crossover study. Consuming the yogurt reduced body fat by 3 to 4 percent over a six-week period.
In another study, 125 overweight men and women took either Lactobacillus rhamnosus or a placebo for three months while following a calorie restricted diet. Women who took the probiotic lost 50 percent more weight than the women in the placebo group, but the men did not show a difference. The women continued to lose weight and fat mass during the second three months of the study, which was the weight maintenance segment.
How about probiotics that help prevent weight and fat gain? Several studies have been done using a probiotic supplement called VSL#3, which contains eight different beneficial bacteria: Bifidobacterium breve, B. longum, B. infantis, Laactobacillus acidophilus, L. plantarum, L. paracasei, L. bulgaricus, and Streptococcus thermophiles.
In one VSL#3 study, 20 non-obese males followed a high-fat, high-calorie diet for four weeks and also took either VSL#3 or a placebo daily. At the end of the trial, the men who took the probiotic experienced less increase in body mass and fat mass than did those who took the placebo.
Should you try probiotics?
So should you try probiotics to help with weight loss? They may be helpful as part of an overall weight loss program, but more research is needed to determine which probiotics may be most helpful.
Talk with a knowledgeable healthcare provider to choose the best probiotic supplement for you. Generally it is best to choose a supplement that provides five or more different species of beneficial bacteria, since the actions of probiotics are strain specific and taking more variety provides broader coverage.
Overall, probiotics can be beneficial for other health issues as well. Taking probiotics could improve your digestion and intestinal integrity, which could make your weight loss efforts easier and improve other areas of your health.
Dror T et al. Microbiota manipulation for weight change. Microbial Pathogenesis 2016 Jan 12
Kadooka Y et al. Effect of Lactobacillus gasseri SBT2-55 in fermented milk on abdominal adiposity in adults in a randomized controlled trial. British Journal of Nutrition 2013 Nov 14; 110(9): 1696-703
Nova E et al. The role of probiotics on the microbiota: effect on obesity. Nutrition in Clinical Practice 2016 Feb 11. Epub ahead of print
Omar JM et al. Lactobacillus fermentum and Lactobacillus amylovorus as probiotics alter body adiposity and gut microflora in healthy persons. Journal of Functional Foods 2013 Jan; 5(1): 116-23
Osterberg KL et al. Probiotic supplementation attenuates increases in body mass and fat mass during high-fat diet in healthy young adults. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2015 Dec; 23(12): 2364-70
Sanchez M et al. Effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus CGMCC1.3724 supplementation on weight loss and maintenance in obese men and women. British Journal of Nutrition 2014 Apr 28; 111(8): 1507-19