Most people think of gut health when they think of probiotics. Yet probiotics have been associated with a wide range of other health benefits, including the potential to help people lose weight. But how does this work? What are less understood mechanisms of probiotics, and how they may be the missing link to your weight loss journey?
Probiotics are a type of live bacteria that reside in the digestive system. Because they serve many important purposes and don’t cause us to become sick like harmful bacteria can, they are often referred to as “friendly bacteria.” The body needs a balance between helpful and harmful bacteria in order to function at its best, so probiotics help achieve this balance.
Many people think of yogurt or supplements you buy at the health food store when they think about probiotics. Yet probiotics are so much more than that. You can read more about probiotics, and the functions they serve here.
Probiotics can be found in fermented foods like yogurt with live and active cultures, kombucha, sauerkraut and kimchi. They can also be taken insupplement form. Both whole food and supplement form help support the digestive system along with many other aspects of health.
It may seem strange that bacteria would play a role in weight management. Yetscientists have recently begun studying and understanding the relationship between gut health and nearly every other part of the body. The roles that the gut plays in other aspects of health have been quickly evolving. Imbalanced gut bacteria (which is also known as dysbiosis) (1) is associated with a variety of diseases and health ailments, including obesity (2).
Research shows that being overweight or obese causes unfavorable changes to the gut bacteria, or microbiome, sometimes representing as much as a 20-40% decline in its diversity when compared to normal-weight individuals (3).
There are many different types of bacteria that reside in the gut, and certain types of bacteria influence how energy that is consumed from food is used and stored. Other types of bacteria influence hunger hormones, appetite regulation and how the body produces and stores fat. For example,Lactobacillus andBifidobacterium probiotic strains are shown to positively impact the effect of leptin (3), which is a hormone that tells our body it has enough energy and can support weight loss.
This means that having too much of certain harmful bacteria, or simply not enough of the beneficial bacteria, can lead to things like excess fat production, increased hunger, and a greater likelihood of gaining weight.
Animal studies have shown that when gut bacteria from obese mice were transferred into normal-weight mice, the normal weight mice became overweight (3). This demonstrates that obesity can be transferable, and further highlights the role that gut bacteria may play in weight management.
All of this research suggests that changing the balance of good and harmful bacteria in the digestive tract may result in weight loss. Since probiotics introduce beneficial bacteria into the body, they may help regulate this process in a number of ways.
Some of the ways that probiotics may support weight loss include:
Keep in mind that several studies have found the probiotic effect on body weight and metabolism to be strain-specific, meaning not all types of probiotics will have a benefit on weight loss(5). The species in theLactobacillus andBifidobacterium genre have been found to be most effective, whereas the use of other strains may provide no benefit. Taking probiotics that have beenspecifically formulated for weight loss is the best way to ensure the right strains are being consumed.
Evidence suggests that having too much harmful bacteria, or not enough beneficial bacteria in the body, is associated with obesity and difficulty losing weight. The use of probiotics is therefore being studied as a mechanism to help support a more favorable balance in gut bacteria, both for the prevention and treatment of obesity.
Some pieces of information, including the exact dosage and time frame of use to achieve weight loss benefits from probiotics is not yet well understood, and more research is needed. In addition to taking in probiotics both from food andsupplements, following a healthy diet and engaging in supportive lifestyle habits such as physical activity continue to play the largest role in supporting weight loss efforts.
Joanna Foley - Contributing Writer, Physician's Choice