Lately, probiotics have caught fire in the weight loss world as part of food, beverages, and cosmetics.
You may have heard that probiotics are live gut bacteria that play an integral part in your digestive system.
Plus, they seem to be everywhere nowadays.
Some believe that probiotics, as they are naturally occurring bacteria in fermented food products and a bevy of health supplements, could be a useful tool to promote weight loss.
There’s limited research on the topic in particular, but thus far, the results are inconclusive. Be that as it may, probiotics are likely to be a positive addition to your dietary regimen.
Let’s take a look at the research.
Probiotics: how do they work?
Probiotics, in a nutshell, are live bacteria found in the gut that play a role in digestive health—particularly in helping the body digest food better. These bacteria come in hundreds of forms, and trillions of these microorganisms will be found in the body’s digestive system.
These bacteria produce essential nutrients such as vitamin K and several B vitamins. They also help process fiber, which the body cannot digest. Furthermore, researchers discovered that both live and dead bacteria residing in the gut have roles to play, although live strains appear to be more efficient.
However, one of the most important activities that intestinal flora carry out is to serve as a wall against viruses, bacteria, or pathogens, as well as toxic substances ingested by the body.
Moreover, probiotics appear to impact a wide array of health factors, such as the immune system, hormonal function, hypertension, high cholesterol, allergies, diabetes, irritable bowel disease, and overall health.
What are some sources of probiotics?
Probiotics are found in foods and beverages that have undergone the process of fermentation, where bacteria and yeast break down ingredients to change their structure, composition, taste, and texture, among other characteristics.
Fermented food and beverage products have been consumed throughout history. Some of the most popular fermented foods we consume are yogurt, beer, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, and kombucha, among many others.
Most food products can ferment. This includes fruits, dairy products, meats, grains, vegetables, and honey, for starters. However, it must be mentioned that it is rather hard to determine the exact concentration of probiotics found in raw or natural food products.
Additionally, individuals may opt to buy probiotic supplements. However, as the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate them, be wary of the claims that some products make. Probiotic supplements are not supposed to make any claims about what their product can do without express consent from the FDA.
Another potential way to promote probiotic production is to nourish the existing live gut bacteria you already possess. As most of the beneficial gut bacteria feed on plant fiber, consuming vegetables and fruits would promote further probiotic growth.
Are probiotics a useful tool for weight loss?
Now, the million-dollar question remains: are probiotics useful for weight loss?
The answer might be a little more complicated than it first seems.
See, keeping a healthy weight requires a convergence of multiple factors, such as your diet, your physical activity, genetics, and environment, for starters. Weight gain has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, elevated body mass index, and obesity.
As recently as two decades ago, researchers started to examine the link between intestinal bacteria and metabolism, as well as insulin resistance and how fat is stored through how they process nutrients from food.
Scientists have simultaneously studied the link between obesity and the excessive use of antibiotics as a treatment. Overuse of antibiotics diminishes live intestinal bacteria as well as the harmful ones it seeks to expel. Furthermore, it was found that a healthy balance between good and bad bacteria influenced overall health by reducing inflammation, increasing weight gain, and diminishing the symptoms of long-term illnesses.
Scientists posit that a healthy balance of probiotics in the gastrointestinal and digestive track might promote better metabolism. Other probiotics work by regulating appetite, while some inhibit the processes that lead to the body storing fat. It is thought that such functions may assist with weight management.
Moreover, Lactobacillus probiotic strains were found to help reduce fat storage and reducing the effects of weight gain.
Based on studies conducted on a diverse set of obese and non-obese participants using Lactobacillus strains saw an increase in intestinal flora composition, weight, and inflammatory markers. Not all probiotics work to reduce body fat, however, even when similar strains were employed.
Should I take probiotics for weight loss?
In the end, the jury is still out whether probiotics are effective tools for weight loss. The main reasons as to why remain:
- Most probiotic supplements available in the market haven’t been studied by the FDA, meaning that certain products may or may not contain any probiotics at all;
- Scientists are still researching how probiotics work, as the results thus far have been preliminary as to how they influence weight management. For instance, factors contributing to how probiotics work need to be determined, such as age, genetics, body weight, and gender.
- There is a need to identify the functions of other probiotic gut bacteria and the implications of taking long-term probiotic supplementation over time.
Talk to your primary health care provider before taking probiotic supplements to determine whether it is right for you. Your doctor will best be able to guide you as to which probiotic strains are beneficial for you, what kind of dosage you’re supposed to be taking, the frequency of consumption, storage, and duration of use, regardless of what purpose you wish to take probiotic supplements for.