Updated: Jan 10
Most of the time we think that bacteria are bad for you. Yet, your gut is filled with beneficial bacteria that do many good things for the body, including helping you lose weight. There has been some excellent research around probiotics recently and there is some evidence that taking probiotics is something you should do if you are trying to lose weight.
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What are probiotics?
Probiotics are living microorganisms that are given by mouth, traveling into the large colon. We have about 38 trillion bacterial and fungal organisms in the intestines and most of them are symbiotic with us.
This means that they get something from us and we get something from them. They take the food we can’t metabolize and use it as part of their metabolism, giving off substances that are ultimately beneficial to us.
Gut Bacteria and Weight Loss
The colon is a type of inside ecosystem in which the bacteria act like a part of the body we need to stay healthy. It is believed that the bacteria inside the colon play a role in the development of several types of illnesses and metabolic conditions, including obesity and high cholesterol.
The milieu of the large colon is not a static thing. Sometimes we have a prevalence of good bacteria in the system, while at other times; we have a prevalence of bad bacteria in the system. An imbalance of bacteria in the colon is called “dysbiosis.” When we have dysbiosis, there is an increased chance of gaining weight and yet researchers aren’t clear as to why this happens.
It may be due to subtle changes in inflammation caused by bad bacteria. When we have inflammation, we are at a greater risk of certain types of cancers, heart disease, and weight gain. Studies on mice showed that when the gut bacteria of fat mice were transplanted into the guts of thin mice, the thin mice rapidly increased their weight. The same thing, of course, hasn’t been done in humans but it makes one wonder about the effect of our gut bacteria on our weight.
Research using stool samples showed that the proportions of certain types of bacteria, particularly Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes, play a big role in the energy balance of the body. When our energy balance changes, so does our weight. It isn’t a matter of how many calories we take in. There is something about certain bacteria that affect our metabolism and ultimately impact our weight.
Probiotics may be able to help us lose weight by changing the ecosystem in the colon. When we have plenty of good bacteria in probiotics in the colon, it reduces the inflammation in the body, which changes the way we metabolize food.
Research Studies on Probiotics and Weight Loss
The typical probiotics we take in are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium genera. The difficulties we face with these bacteria is that there are many different strains of species within these genera of bacteria and they have varying effects on people, especially with regard to weight and fat content in the body.
The research on probiotics, unfortunately, isn’t clear cut. One study out of Holland looked at the effects of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium on the body and on weight loss. Certain strains, particularly Lactobacillus gasseri, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and the combination of Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus rhamnosus seem to help people lose weight and the fat mass in the body.
On the other hand, if we have too much Lactobacillus fermentum and Lactobacillus ingluviei in our systems, it appears to be related to weight gain, as evidenced by studies on animals. In a study done on 20 men who were not overweight, the men were given a high-calorie diet for four weeks so that they would all gain weight. Some of the participants got probiotics, while others took a placebo. Those participants who took the probiotics seemed to have some type of protection against gaining weight while the participants who took the placebo pill gained weight. The conclusion was that some bacterial strains help you gain weight while other strains help you lose weight.
The Benefits of Lactobacillus gasseri
Even though there haven’t been many studies on humans taking Lactobacillus gasseri, it appears that in the few studies that have been done that this form of bacteria is the one to take if you want to lose weight. Not only does it help prevent weight gain but also it protects the individual against certain types of infections.
Researchers in Japan looked at 30 healthy people who took Lactobacillus gasseri in fermented milk. Some people took milk containing the bacteria and some people took regular milk. Stool samples showed that having Lactobacillus gasseri in the system increased the amount of fat found in the stool of those who drank the fermented milk. This was fat that could have been absorbed by the body and turned into body fat.
There have been no studies on taking Lactobacillus gasseri as a supplement versus having it in the food you eat. (NOTE: Lactobacillus gasseri is a SPECIES level but probiotics are clinically assessed at a STRAIN level.) Even so, the research is promising and bears looking into in order to see whether or not a supplement with this bacteria in it would help decrease body fat.
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