Your gut and digestive health contribute to managing your body weight. That’s a reason researchers have been examining the effects of probiotics on weight gain and weight loss.
The Probiotics in Your Digestive System
Trillions of bacteria live inside your gut. Ideally, we have more good bacteria than bad bacteria in our guts. Probiotics are living bacteria that provide health benefits.
Several studies suggest probiotics may aid in weight management, especially around the belly. Plus, probiotics support your immune system and heart health, and provide other health benefits.
Rather than counting calories, carbs and grams of fat, it may be helpful to think about your gut bacteria and probiotic strains. The two main families of good bacteria are bacteroidetes and firmicutes. Body weight seems to be associated with how well these two types of bacteria are balanced.
Positive Changes with Probiotics
There is powerful evidence that inflammation in the body leads to weight gain and excess weight. Researchers also support the positive influence probiotics have on inflammation, helping stimulate immune cell activity. Families of bacteria prevent the growth of microbes and fight pathogens in your digestive tract.
The probiotics in your gut may help release appetite-reducing hormones, such as glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). Plus, probiotics may increase levels of the protein angiopoietin-like 4 (ANGPTL4) in the gut, which may lead to decreased fat storage.
The good news is you can affect the bacteria inside of your gut with probiotics supplements and foods high in probiotics.
Clinical Studies on Probiotic Bacteria
A recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that Lactobacillus rhamnosus probiotic supplement helped women who were obese to maintain healthier body weight. Plus, the study suggested that the supplement helped them lose fat mass at a faster rate than those who did not take the probiotic.
Researchers have observed that people with obesity tend to have fewer types of bacteria in the gut than people in normal BMI ranges. Those with a less diverse gut bacteria have a harder time managing their weight than those with a more diverse gut.
There appears to be a link between probiotic health in the gut and energy metabolism. One study followed over 200 people with higher amounts of belly fat who were taking Lactobacillus gasseri. At the end of the 12-week study, these participants had reduced body weight, specifically around the belly, where belly fat was reduced by 8.5%. However, when participants stopped taking the probiotic supplement, they gained the weight back within 1 month.
Another study found that women especially benefited from taking a probiotic supplement, Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis daily for three months. They lost significantly more belly fat and lowered their BMI and waist circumference more than those taking a placebo.
Your gut is a complex place. We’re still learning about the interactions between the millions of bacteria in the gut and how it affects overall health. But thanks to this constant evolution of gut research, we have a few ideas about how and why probiotics affect your wellbeing.
The Connection Between Probiotics and Weight Loss
The major functions of the microbiota present in the gut are to:
- Absorb food and nutrients
- Support the immune system
- Protect the body against pathogens (illness)
Different strains of bacteria in the gut support these functions, which is why we want a variety and a balance of the different microbes.
People of a healthy weight may have different ratios of gut bacteria than individuals who are obese and overweight. Those with a higher weight may have more firmicutes and less bacteroidetes than those at a healthy weight. The importance of this ratio remains controversial and we need more research to further understand it.
In addition, research continues to show compositional differences of several bacteria in those who are obese compared to non-obese individuals. We already know that obesity is related to more than just human behaviors and we continue to see the role that gut bacteria has in obesity.
Probiotics May Help with Energy Levels and Metabolism
It’s not just poor sleep that affects our energy. Some studies have linked certain strains of probiotics to energy levels. Where there’s low count of these probiotics in the gut, it seems a person may experience fatigue and less energy. The low levels of certain gut microbes affect how our body breaks down glucose, which is often our primary energy source. A high-quality probiotic could be helpful in promoting bacterial diversity that helps with energy and glucose metabolism.
They contribute to feeling full.
Typically, foods that have probiotics in them also have other nutrients, such as protein, fiber, and fat. The overall composition of the food helps you feel full. These foods can help you feel satisfied and alert the brain that you’re full. Therefore, you may eat less and enjoy your meals more, leading to healthy weight management.
How to take Probiotics for Weight Loss
Dietary supplements, like probiotics, don’t work on their own. They are one part of the equation and it’s still important to do all the healthy things that are key to maintaining a healthy body fat percentage.
Probiotics come as supplements or eaten through foods. There are foods packed with good bacteria that can lead to a healthier gut. Some foods high in living probiotics are yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha.
Along with a daily probiotic:
- eat a balanced diet
- add plenty of vegetables, fruits, high fiber whole grains to your meals
- manage your stress
- get adequate sleep
- reduce excess sugar and processed foods
Combining healthy habits with the benefits of probiotics, you’ll see positive effects on weight.
What to Look for in Probiotics for Weight Management
When buying a probiotic supplement, quality and source are important. Since the FDA does not regulate supplements, always look for brands that conduct third-party testing. A third-party vendor evaluates the dietary supplement and reports on its quality, the manufacturing process, and ensures labeling is accurate and compliant with FDA regulations. Look for these stamps of approval on the packaging and company websites to ensure you’re purchasing a safe and effective supplement.
There are two things to look for when you’re choosing probiotic foods and supplements. Probiotics must be alive to be effective. So an inexpensive, low-quality probiotic supplement for weight loss is not worth taking. Plus, when you’re buying yogurt or other foods, make sure the label reads “contains live and active cultures.”
The bacterial strain is not as critical but a very common type is Lactobacillus bacteria. Since it promotes healthy digestion, helps regulate blood sugar, and helps prevent yeast infections. The healthy bacteria support your weight goals.
Lactobacillus strain is often paired with Bifidus regularis and Lactobacillus casei, which also support intestinal health. L. acidophilus, another beneficial bacteria, is most often found in sauerkraut, miso, and tempeh.
The bottom line – is probiotic-induced weight loss a myth?
Probiotics as supplements or food offer a wide range of health benefits. However, their effects on weight loss depend on the type of probiotic and other healthy habits and behaviors.
Evidence suggests that digestive health can improve with probiotic supplementation. The specific probiotic strain that may also serve as a weight loss supplement is Lactobacillus gasseri.
People will see the greatest weight loss benefits when they combine a probiotic with other healthy behaviors, like increasing physical activity and reducing stress.
Do probiotics help for weight loss?
Probiotics can help with overall gut health, but they’re unlikely to lead to weight loss on their own. Probiotic supplements are not a magic pill for weight management.
What probiotic foods are best for weight management?
Foods that are naturally high in natural probiotics are kombucha, yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut. Look for foods that are fermented with a label that says “contains live and active cultures”.
How do I choose a probiotic supplement for weight loss?
Look for a probiotic supplement that has been evaluated for safety and efficacy by a third-party company. The brands that have completed this extra step will note it on their label or website. Since supplements are not evaluated or approved by USFDA, this is an important part of the manufacturing process.