Recently there have been several probiotic products that are targeted towards weight loss available. Some patients have been asking me at the pharmacy if probiotics can really help lose weight. I thought I would put my pharmacist hat on and do some research to see if these products are worth purchasing (Ok, pharmacists don’t really wear hats).
Weight loss and probiotics – the evidence
There is some evidence that shows probiotics can assist with weight loss and weight management, but the research is not conclusive yet, like many of the possible benefits of probiotics. I’ll dig into some of the medical studies and evidence in a moment, but my professional opinion is that 1) they are not a magical pill that’s going to have you start shedding pounds but, 2) for otherwise healthy people they may have some modest benefit and shouldn’t hurt to add to your diet regime – of course, after you talk about it with your doctor!
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast that are beneficial to gut and digestive health and may possibly benefit many other ailments in the body. They can be found in some foods and drinks like yogurt, sourdough bread, and kombucha, as well as supplements. Your gut is full of a living microbiome that helps you digest your food, extract nutrients, regulate hormones and more – it’s a pretty amazing part of your body that medical science is just starting to understand.
Several studies have shown that there is a potential link between probiotics and weight loss, shown in this review. It is thought that some strains of probiotics, particularly Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium can have an effect on weight loss and weight management. There are a few possible mechanisms where the probiotics could work in the GI tract to assist with weight loss: they could affect the metabolism, extract energy from food, and fat storage, possibly regulate appetite, and reduce inflammation. All of which can be attributed to weight loss or weight management over time. But there is no, single theory accepted by doctors and clinicians as to why they might help.
So this leads me to my most important point: the effects of supplementation on weight management can vary from person to person and the overall impact of probiotics on your body’s size may be very small. When considering ways to get leaner, it is also important to remember that lifestyle changes are the biggest factor: diet changes and exercise are crucial in weight management. It is important to consult with your healthcare provider to determine a healthy amount of pounds to lose for your goals, age, and lifestyle; as well as determine if using a supplement for trimming off pounds is right for you.
How do Probiotics Help with Weight Loss and Weight Management?
The ways that probiotics help with weight loss are not fully known but proposed ways probiotics may help with weight loss are:
- Through modulating the gut microbiota, probiotics are live microorganisms that can keep the GI tract in balance and promote growth of healthy bacteria and reduce the population of bad bacteria. It is thought that a more balanced GI tract is associated with better metabolic health, and reduced inflammation, which could potentially contribute to weight management. Obese patients often have different levels of bacteria in their guts, although this may be an effect of their diet rather than what is causing their condition.
- The balance of the microbiome in the gut can potentially influence how the body extracts and stores energy from food. From a research paper published in the science journal Nature, “People with overweight or obesity have been shown to have a specific IM profile, characterized by imbalance and lower microbial diversity compared to people with normal weight. In this sense, a decrease has been seen in some bacterial phyla … with lower proportions of Bacteroidetes and higher proportions of Firmicutes than those from people without obesity. This seems to facilitate energy extraction from the ingested food and increases energy storage in the host’s adipose tissue.” Some studies suggest that some probiotic strains may alter the way that nutrients are absorbed by the gut and calories from the diet.
- Probiotics may influence the regulation of appetite and satiety. This may help regulate the intake of food – if someone feels full, they will eat less.
- Probiotics have been thought to reduce inflammation. Chronic low-grade inflammation is associated with obesity and other metabolic disorders. Some probiotics have been shown to reduce inflammation, this may help with weight loss and weight management. For example, this study of men taking a Lactobacillus plantarum supplement showed reduced inflammation. .
These are a few possible ways that probiotics may contribute to maintaining a healthy size. Keep in mind that more research is still needed to fully support these weight loss mechanisms for probiotics. And it seems unlikely that simply taking one of these supplements will suddenly cause a person to shed pounds – to really see results, diet and exercise changes are going to be needed.
What are the Potential Drawbacks of Using Probiotics for Weight Loss?
The drawbacks of using probiotics for weight loss are the same as the side effects of using probiotics for any other ailment including but not limited to:
- The most common side effects of probiotics, especially when you first start using them, are GI side effects such as diarrhea, gas, bloating, and stomach upset. These side effects should go away after your body adjusts to the supplement and having the new balance in the gut. However, if the side effects continue or get worse stop the supplement and contact your healthcare provider.
- Although rare, some people may have allergic reactions. If this is the case avoid using the product known to cause the allergy.
- In rare occasions infection can be an issue for people with immune suppression.
- Probiotics are supplements that are not always regulated very closely, this can be a drawback for some people. Going with a high quality manufacturer is very important, since there isn’t that much regulation.
- As I have mentioned previously there are not a lot of strong studies that support the use of probiotics for weight loss. It is however an interesting topic to look into and there are a lot of products that suggest probiotics can help with weight loss. At this point my advice for using probiotics for weight loss is, to use with caution and use with a trial-and-error approach, something that works for one person may not work for someone else.
- They take a while to work (see my article on how long they take to work here). So a person will have to take them for a while to start to see any impact.
- They are not going to replace diet and exercise changes – this is not a magic pill that causes you to lose pounds with no lifestyle changes.
Should I Consider Probiotics for Weight Loss?
This decision should be made based on your individual health needs and preferences, but remember it is best to keep in mind that consulting with a healthcare professional or registered dietician before starting a supplement for weight loss is best.
Probiotics are generally safe for most healthy people when taken at the correct dose and stored according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Although there are some studies that suggest probiotics may possibly have an effect on weight loss and weight management, none of the studies have shown a definite correlation. Probiotics have shown to be beneficial in some other ailments particularly having to do with the GI tract and digestion as mentioned in some other posts on this site.
So, what should you consider when determining if using a probiotic supplement for weight loss is right for you.
- Considering your lifestyle, eating a healthy well-balanced diet, exercise, and sufficient sleep are the most important factors to consider when thinking about losing weight and will be more effective than a probiotic supplement.
- Choose a product that has a good reputation and a manufacturer that tests the quality of their product through a third-party and adhere to quality standards.
- Getting advice from a healthcare professional or registered dietician. Talking with a healthcare provider or registered dietician when considering weight loss can help you assess your individual health status, provide personalized recommendations, and help you decide if probiotics are safe and the right choice for you.
- Everybody’s response to probiotics is different and this is definitely something to consider when deciding to take probiotics for weight loss. Pay attention to how your body reacts to the product and any changes you are experiencing. If you experience any long-lasting side effects, stop using the product and talk to a healthcare professional.
- Patience is key with weight loss, if you decide that using a probiotic for weight loss is right for you, remember that it will be a gradual process, and the results you are expecting will take time. Make sure that you have realistic expectations and that using a probiotic supplement alone will not provide any drastic changes.
Overall probiotics can be used to support general health, including gut health, but should not be considered a quick solution for weight loss. A well-balanced diet, healthy food choices and other healthy habits like adequate sleep are the best lifestyle choices for maintaining a healthy weight. Adding a probiotic to this lifestyle regimen may possibly help with weight management. Read my review of Bio Complete 3 to learn about one that may have some weight loss benefits.
If it’s not clear by now, I’m pretty interested in understanding how probiotics can help my patients. I’ve written other articles on their impact on acid reflux, if you can take them when you are on your period, if you can take them while you are fasting, how they interact with apple cider vinegar and more. These supplements have a lot of potential uses, so read up to get my (a pharmacist’s!) opinions.