Could Bacteria Be a Key to Weight Loss?
Probiotics, a.k.a.”good” live bacteria, have long been touted for helping to reduce the growth of harmful bacteria and promote a healthy digestive system. More recently however, researchers are investigating whether these microorganisms may help prevent or treat obesity.
It may seem hard to believe, but the human body contains more bacteria living inside than individual cells: 100 trillion microorganisms live in our gastrointestinal tract while only 10 trillion human cells are in our body. Early studies show that probiotics, the “friendly bacteria,” may have benefits for digestive health and conditions like IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), but whether they have a significant role in weight loss is still up for debate.
A few studies have examined whether taking a probiotic supplement influences our ability to lose weight.
- Results from a 2009 study conducted at the Stanford University School of Medicine suggested that the use probiotics in obese patients who had undergone gastric bypass surgery may have contributed to more rapid weight loss and protection against post-surgical vitamin B deficiencies. The study showed that at three months, the probiotics group had a 47.6 percent weight loss, compared with a 38.5 percent for the control group. The study also found that levels of vitamin B-12 were higher in the patients taking probiotics—a significant finding because patients often are deficient in B-12 after gastric-bypass surgery.
- In a 2010 Japanese study, 87 overweight participants either took a Lactobacillus probiotic or a placebo. After 12 weeks, the probiotic group reduced abdominal fat by 4.6% and subcutaneous fat by 3.3%.
- In another study, women were less likely to become obese after giving birth if they had taken probiotics (Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium) during pregnancy. One year after childbirth, women who got the probiotics had the lowest levels of central obesity (also known as belly fat). Central obesity was just 25% in women taking probiotics compared with 43% in women taking a placebo.
So how might probiotics help with weight loss? While we don’t know the exact mechanisms, researchers believe that the guts of normal-weight people contain a different mix of the types and amounts of healthy bacteria than are found in the intestines of overweight folks. So it’s possible that imbalances of gut bacteria maybe play at least a small role in obesity.
The Bottom Line
Despite the early research, probiotics are certainly no magic bullet for weight loss. Don’t quit the gym or skip a healthy eating plan (like ours!) just yet. If you want to give probiotics a try – for digestive health – here are some simple tips:
- Consume foods that contain diet probiotics, like yogurt (opt for non fat or fat free varieties)
- If you have digestive issues, speak with your doctor or a registered dietitian about “pharmaceutical-grade” probiotics, which are the equivalent of prescription-strength good bacteria.