Weight loss largely depends on diet-related choices we make. Foods we consume can either help us slim down or lead to weight gain. You’ve probably come across claims that consumption of probiotics could support weight loss. But, is there any truth in that? The main objective of this post is to help you find the answers. Scroll down to see whether it’s possible to slim down with the help of probiotics.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that exert health benefits to the host upon ingestion in sufficient concentrations. Even though probiotics are usually bacteria, certain types of yeasts can function as probiotics too. The most common probiotics bacteria are members of the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium families (1).
Probiotics shouldn’t be confused for prebiotics. While probiotics are live strains of bacteria that add to the population of good bacteria in the gut, prebiotics is a specialized plant fiber that functions as food for good bacteria (2).
The definition of probiotics changed over the decades as scientists gathered more and more info about these microorganisms. The term probiotic is a combination of the Latin word pro meaning for and Greek word βιοσ which means life. So the literal meaning of probiotic is for life and the term was introduced by the German scientist Werner Kollath back in 1953. He used the word probiotic to designate active substances essential for the healthy development of life. In 1965, Lilly and Stillwell used this term to represent substances secreted by one organism that stimulate the growth of another. A few decades later, in 1992, Fuller from the UK defined probiotics as a live microbial feed supplement which has a beneficial effect on the host animal by improving the intestinal microbial balance (3).
The health benefits of probiotics are numerous thus explaining why we’re oftentimes advised to introduce them to our diet. You see, probiotics work to support gut health and proper digestion primarily. Your overall health and wellbeing have a lot to do with proper gut microbiota balance and proper digestion.
Probiotics and Weight Loss
If you take a look at diet-related tips for successful weight loss, chances are high you’ll see probiotics in there. Claims are one thing, but the reality is another. So, are probiotics capable of supporting weight loss? Current evidence is largely positive.
March 2020 issue of the journal Clinical Nutrition published a study that evaluated the influence of probiotic supplementation on weight loss in overweight and obese subjects. Supplementation with probiotics changes gut microbiota through decreased gut permeability, anti-inflammatory effects, and management of metabolic disorders. Thanks to these effects, probiotics created a fertile environment for weight loss (4).
On the other hand, in 2015 the Nutrition Research published a systematic review and meta-analysis of nine studies focused on probiotics for weight loss. Studies examined in this meta-analysis indicated that probiotics had limited effectiveness in terms of reducing body weight and BMI. In other words, they weren’t considered effective for weight loss (5). The review had several limitations, however. Most studies had a small sample size and their methodological quality for many was too low to draw definitive conclusions.
Other pieces of evidence show probiotics could work in combination with prebiotics. One study revealed that dietary supplementation with synbiotics (products that combine probiotics and prebiotics) exerted weight reduction and anti-inflammatory activity. Their synergistic effect on short-chain fatty acid production and microbiota “re-configuration” also supported weight management (6).
How Probiotics Support Weight Loss?
Studies show probiotics could be useful for weight loss, but a lot more research on this subject is necessary. Their influence on weight loss has a lot to do with gut microbiota balance.
You see, the human digestive system is home to hundreds or even thousands of microorganisms. Good bacteria account for the majority of microorganisms and they play a major role in our health. Gut microbiota works to break down fiber the body can’t digest and turn it into beneficial short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate (7).
What many people don’t know is that gut microbiota has an impact on body weight. This is particularly the case for Bacteroides and firmicutes families.
A growing body of evidence confirms that gut microbial properties differ between obese and non-obese people thus suggesting that gut microbiome composition is associated with obesity (8). Additionally, obese persons tend to have a significantly higher level of firmicutes and lower level of Bacteroides compared to normal-weight and lean people (9).
Overweight and obese men and women tend to have a less diverse gut microbiota than their healthy-weight counterparts (10). In fact, obese persons with less diverse gut bacteria tend to gain more weight than obese people with more diverse gut microbiota.
In a nutshell, probiotics support proper gut microbiota balance. They contribute to the diversity of the microbiome and support good bacteria both of which are important for body weight.
Appetite control is an important aspect of weight loss. Many people gain weight because they eat too much. They overeat due to excessive feelings of hunger. Sometimes it may feel like you haven’t eaten anything although you just had lunch. It’s difficult to slim down or maintain weight in a healthy range when you can’t control your appetite.
Probiotics could help with that. These microorganisms may influence appetite and energy usage through the production of short-chain fatty acids such as acetate, propionate, and butyrate (11). These short-chain fatty acids may suppress your appetite. As a result, you feel full for longer, avoid overeating, and naturally decrease calorie intake. All these things support a healthy and effective weight loss, especially in people who deal with cravings.
Inhibited absorption of dietary fat
Yet another weight loss mechanism of probiotics is that it can inhibit the absorption of dietary fat. Since they “block” the absorption of fat from food, the amount of fat excreted through feces increases. This activity is particularly common for the Lactobacillus family (12).
What does this mean for a person who’s trying to lose weight?
Limited absorption of fat from diet means the body takes fewer calories from food. It’s needless to mention how helpful this is in cases when you’re trying to limit daily calorie intake.
Moreover, probiotics have the potential to increase levels of protein angiopoietin-like 4 (ANGPTL4) thus decreasing fat storage (13).
Inflammation is a natural part of the healing process and immune defenses. However, chronic inflammation is not a good thing and may pave the way to a number of health problems including autoimmune diseases. What’s more, inflammation is also associated with weight gain and obesity.
The relationship between overweight/obesity and inflammation is complicated and it could be a two-way street. Obesity predisposes to a pro-inflammatory state through increased inflammatory mediators and reduced levels of anti-inflammatory compounds (14).
Weight loss poses as a crucial factor to alleviate inflammation (15). But, if the relationship between overweight and inflammation is a two-way street then vice versa could apply. In other words, alleviating inflammation could contribute to weight loss although more research on this subject is necessary.
As seen at the beginning of this post, probiotics contribute to weight loss through anti-inflammatory effects. Probiotics work to improve the health of the gut lining and reduce systemic inflammation that protects us against many diseases and obesity (16).
Losing body fat
Body fat is stubborn, especially in the abdominal area. Most people find it difficult to lose body fat properly and they start doubting their weight loss efforts and overall approach. Although stubborn, body fat is not impossible to lose. Probiotics could help you out.
Evidence shows it can promote weight loss and also a lower body fat percentage (17). The Lactobacillus family is the most powerful in terms of losing body fat with an accent on the abdominal area. In one study, consumption of yogurt with two different strains of Lactobacillus bacteria decreased body fat by 3% to 4% in six weeks (18). These strains were Lactobacillus fermentum and Lactobacillus amylovorus, so you may want to look them up next time you go shopping for yogurt.
A study from the British Journal of Nutrition compared the impact of supplementation with Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain on weight loss and maintenance in obese men and women for 24 weeks. Results in men were similar in a group with probiotics and counterparts with a placebo pill. However, women experienced different effects. The mean weight loss in women from the probiotic group was significantly higher than in women from the placebo group after the first 12 weeks. Women from the probiotics group also continued to lose weight and fat mass during the weight maintenance stage. Female subjects from the placebo group experienced the opposite effect. Not only did probiotic supplements support weight loss, but it also normalized appetite hormones, reduced fat mass, and contributed to healthy weight management (19).
Another study also showed that compared to placebo probiotics contributed to the loss of fat mass and decreased waist circumference. Lactobacillus sakei strain induced these results without side effects (20).
Prevention of Weight Gain
Weight loss is only half of the battle, we also need to maintain it. Easier said than done for most people! In many cases, the scenario is the same. After a successful weight loss, a person ends up regaining weight. This happens for several reasons including returning to old unhealthy diet habits, less exercise, among other things. However, some people struggle to maintain weight loss even when they’re still adhering to diet and exercise plans. Probiotics could help with weight maintenance, actually.
The journal Obesity published a study that aimed to determine the effects of probiotics on body fat mass, insulin sensitivity, and skeletal muscle substrate oxidation after four weeks of a high-fat diet. The study included 20 non-obese males ages between 18 and 30. Some men received probiotic supplements while others placebo. Results showed that body mass and fat mass increased less following the high-fat diet in the probiotic group compared with placebo (21).
Basically, some strains of probiotics may be able to prevent weight gain. So if you’re trying to maintain weight loss or you’re within a healthy weight range and want to keep it that way, probiotics could be helpful.
Other Benefits of Probiotics
Throughout this post, we’ve explored the relationship between probiotics and weight loss. But, these live microorganisms have a lot to offer. They have marvelous potential to improve our health in more ways than one. Some of their health effects include:
- May cure antibiotic-associated diarrhea
- Management of irritable bowel syndrome
- Reducing gas, bloating, constipation
- Overall digestive health support
- Anti-inflammatory effects
- Management of anxiety and depression
- Lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Blood pressure management
- Immune system boost
- Management of eczema, rosacea, acne, and other skin disorders
How to Use Probiotics for Weight Loss
Probiotics are easy to incorporate in your lifestyle and you can do it in two ways. The first option is to consume food sources of probiotics.
Fermented foods are the most natural and abundant sources of probiotics. You see, fermenting is one of the oldest methods of food preservation. Foods that are fermented go through a lacto-fermentation process wherein natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in food, thus creating lactic acid. This results in an environment that preserves the food and promotes B vitamins, enzymes, and a wide range of bacteria species. Therefore, you can obtain probiotics through consumption of:
- Natto, miso, or tempeh
- Raw apple cider vinegar
- Fermented, raw cheese
- Traditional buttermilk
When it comes to yogurt, make sure to open for plain variety. Avoid flavored yogurts because they may be laden in sugar.
If you can’t obtain enough probiotics through diet, or you’re not into fermented foods, supplementation could be the answer. Sold over the counter, probiotic supplements don’t require a prescription. However, you should still consult your doctor. You see, probiotic supplements are usually not intended for everyday use and are recommended for persons who are taking antibiotics or treating a specific ailment. Your doctor will inform you whether it’s okay to take probiotic supplements or not.
Every supplement comes with dosage instructions. Ideally, you should adhere to those instructions rather than modifying the dosage on your own. That way, you will get the most out of probiotics and lower the risk of potential side effects that could occur with excessive intake.
Probiotics are live microorganisms found primarily in fermented foods. Consumption of probiotics supports gut microbiota and digestive health. For that reason, the role of probiotics in weight loss isn’t so shocking. Studies confirm that consumption of probiotics promotes weight loss and multiple mechanisms could be involved. Some of these mechanisms include a balance of good bacteria in the gut, anti-inflammatory effects, appetite regulation, among others.
Probiotics could also help prevent weight gain. Whether you’re trying to slim down, manage weight, or support overall health and wellbeing probiotics could be helpful. You have the option to consume probiotics through diet or take them in the form of dietary supplements. Make sure to consult the doctor if you opt for the latter.