Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
6 min read
Probiotics are very popular. In fact, they’re one of the most consumed supplements on the market today. Because probiotics can assist with digestion and the health of the gastrointestinal tract, it makes sense to wonder what role they play in maintaining a healthy weight. Here we’ll explore what probiotics are and how they may play a role in achieving healthy weight goals.
What is the human gut microbiome? It’s essentially a population of microscopic organisms, including beneficial bacteria, viruses, yeast and fungi, that live in the gastrointestinal tract. This is the tube that begins at the mouth and goes through the body, eventually becoming the intestines and colon and ending at the rectum. Most everything about nutrient digestion happens here, from eating, to breaking down and absorbing nutrients, to eventually discharging waste.
All those microorganisms that make up the microbiome help with the various parts of digestion and absorption. However, the microbiome influences more than just digestion. Emerging evidence in the last few decades has shown the gut microbiome plays a role in other systems, supporting the immune system, helping to regulate blood sugar levels and even influencing mood and emotional states.
How do probiotics factor into the gut microbiome equation? The organisms that live in the gut are sensitive to many variables, from environmental factors to stress to the foods we eat. A high sugar, high fat diet, for instance, can cause the proliferation of yeast and “bad” bacteria, the type that outcompete beneficial microorganisms, which may contribute to digestive issues and a reduction in immune cells.
Probiotics are found in foods and supplements which add and replenish multiple strains of good bacteria to the gut microbiome. These bacteria can be found in fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, kombucha, yogurt and kefir. There’s also a new trend to fortify foods with probiotics, such as bars, nut butters and smoothies.
Then there are probiotic supplements, which are capsules that contain popular families of probiotics like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. It’s important to know that there are thousands of different strains of probiotics. Care/of’s probiotic for example contains three highly studied strains to promote immune function and digestive health: Bifidobacterium animalis BB-12, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, and Lactobacillus acidophilus LA-5.
Inside the body, this beneficial bacteria and yeast impacts multiple areas of the body. From gut health to supporting the immune system, there are many health benefits tied to probiotics. For instance, probiotics may help support the digestive system by aiding enzyme function which can then positively impact nutrient absorption. They may also provide the intestinal lining with a greater protective layer. With 70-80% of the body’s immune cells originating from the gut microbiome, probiotics may have the ability to influence the immune system.
Each person’s body is different and for some, weight loss occurs quickly with small diet and lifestyle changes. For others, it may be more difficult to lose weight, even with diet changes and exercise. Research still needs to be done to show how the gut bacteria influences weight loss. One study, for instance, indicated a limited efficacy for probiotic bacteria to effect weight loss.
Two families of gut bacteria appear to be connected to body weight and digestive function. These are firmicutes and bacteroidetes. Firmicutes help with the production of short chain fatty acids. Bacteroidetes help promote immune function. Keeping these two families of bacteria in balance may be a key to gut health.
Bifidobacteria has been shown to have fermentation capabilities and can influence carbohydrate digestion. This study also shows that this strain may help to promote weight management..
According to research, some probiotics have been shown to help reduce weight, these include:
One systematic review, compared results from 15 randomized controlled trials and compared the effects on close to a thousand participants, found that supplementing with probiotics led to a reduction in body weight compared to subjects who took a placebo however the changes were minor. Another study found that a probiotic mix may help reduce abdominal fat. The mix which was studied combined Lactobacillus acidophilus and casei with Lactococcus lactis, Bifidobacterium bifidum and lactis. Additional high quality research needs to be done for conclusive results.
It’s important to understand that no probiotic strain or even combination of strains can directly cause the body to lose weight without an overall lifestyle plan. That’s not how probiotics work. If you’re attempting to lose weight, it’s important to seek guidance from your healthcare team. With their help you can create an overall plan which involves:
Can probiotics help maintain a healthy body weight? First, it’s important to understand that science is still determining what constitutes a “healthy” body weight and a new approach to wellness, which looks to be more inclusive of all body sizes, is changing the way we think about weight and health. Since probiotics may add more of the good bacteria which already exist in the gut microbiome, they can support our wellness. Probiotic strains like Lactobacillus fermentum and Lactobacillus amylovorus may help body composition. One study showed that these strains may induce shifts in body composition by supporting more fat oxidation rather than fat storage.
Because probiotics are a beneficial part of the gut biome, they don’t have many risks associated with them. However, it is helpful for new users of probiotics to be mindful that there may be an adjustment period. It is common to experience mild digestive discomfort in the first few weeks of taking a probiotic. Bloating or changes in bowel movements are also common. If these symptoms continue, it’s best to check with your doctor before continuing with probiotics.
The probiotic strain Lactobacillus gasseri may block some fat absorption. In one study, participants who took this probiotic strain were found to have higher fat levels in their stool, leading researchers to believe fat absorption had been limited. While this may have its benefits, fat is an essential macronutrient which is needed by the body. Several vitamins also need fat for absorption. This is why it’s important to speak to your physician before taking new supplements.
Everyone’s microbiome is unique, however there are some widely accepted ways to support good gut health. Here are some lifestyle changes which can have a positive impact on your gut microbiome: