Probiotics for Weight Loss

A reality check.

A lot of internet articles recommend taking probiotics for weight loss. But does this recommendation really stand up to scrutiny?

We had a look at the most recent, high quality research into using probiotics for weight loss. While the results aren’t definitive yet, there’s simply not a lot of data to recommend probiotics as a primary therapy for weight management.

Let’s explore how this works…

Do Bad Gut Bacteria Cause Belly Fat and Weight Gain?

Research shows that there are differences in the microbiota of obese individuals and lean individuals, [1] but the data doesn’t establish any kind of cause and effect. The human microbiome is extremely complex with 1000s of bacterial species and large differences in gut flora across populations of people, so this type of research can be tricky.

In fact, while one study found lower levels of Bacteroidetes species in the guts of obese and higher levels of Firmicutes species in lean and anorexic individuals, [2] another study found the opposite with higher levels of Bacteroidetes in obese and overweight subjects. [3]

So, research into gut bacteria populations is fascinating, but it doesn’t provide us with any clinical take-aways.

Research on Probiotics and Weight Loss

First, let’s look at why probiotic supplements are sometimes recommended for losing weight. Typically, internet marketers like to cherry-pick data that support their marketing goals.

Here are some studies that are often cited:

  • A small study in 2013 found that subjects who ate yogurt with Lactobacillus fermentum or Lactobacillus amylovorus lost 3-4% body fat over a 6-week period, while a control group lost 1% in the same period. [4]
  • A 2013 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that women who took Lactobacillus rhamnosus supplements lost 50% more weight compared to the placebo group. [5] This effect was not seen in the men who participated in the study.
  • One further 2013 study showed a -8.5% decrease in belly fat for subjects who consumed fermented milk containing Lactobacillus gasseri. [6]

Sounds good, right?

Except, when it comes to clinical research, it’s important to see beyond individual studies and look at the totality of evidence. When it comes to probiotics and weight loss, we have a significant number of studies and the results have been summarized in several meta-analyses and systematic reviews. This gives us access to much better quality data and more insights:

  • A 2019 meta-analysis of 19 clinical trials suggests that probiotic supplements have a small effect on reducing waist circumference but no effect on body weight or BMI. The study also concluded that results are not definitive because the quality of data to date is low to moderate. [7]
  • A 2017 meta-analysis of 15 clinical trials showed that probiotics have small effects on weight loss and no effect on fat mass. [8]
  • This 2017 systematic review evaluated the effects of Lactobacillus on weight loss and/or fat mass in overweight adults. Of 14 studies included in the review, nine showed decreased body weight and/or body fat, three did not find effect and two showed weight gain. [9]
  • A 2015 meta-analysis found no significant effect of probiotics on body weight and BMI. Researchers concluded that the quantity and quality of data available were insufficient to draw definitive conclusions. [10]

The overall data suggests that probiotic supplements only have modest effects for weight loss. So, that’s great but nothing you’d want to make a cornerstone of your weight loss program.

What Works for Weight Loss

Once again, let’s look to the research to see what evidence we do have about weight loss. According to this 2017 research review [11]:

  • Intermittent fasting and the paleo diet have been shown to be effective for weight loss.
  • Extreme calorie restriction through juicing or detoxification diets does work for short periods of time, however may lead to weight gain in the long term.
  • High intensity training has significant benefits for weight loss and cardiovascular health when compared to other types of exercise.

Food quality matters for weight loss and weight maintenance. For example, healthy fats like olive oil or MCT oil contain essential fatty acids, confer health benefits and help with satiety (feeling full longer). Of course, it’s possible to overdo it and a very high-fat diet, even with healthy fats, can be counterproductive.

If you’re overweight, there are a lot of good reasons to lose weight and decrease fat storage. Better weight management can improve your insulin resistance and reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Great Reasons to Take Probiotics

While not especially effective for weight loss  [12] [13], the healthy bacteria in probiotics do help to restore gut health, which leads to better overall health. Health benefits of probiotic supplements include:

  • Balancing the good bacteria and bad bacteria in your gut microbiome  [14]
  • Boosting the immune system (which is primarily located in your digestive tract) [15] [16] [17]
  • Reducing the inflammation in the digestive tract and elsewhere in the body [18]
  • Improving digestive health conditions like IBS, Crohn’s disease and colitis [19] [20] [21] [22]
  • Reducing gut symptoms like bloating, diarrhea and constipation
  • Helping with many non-digestive symptoms like anxiety, vaginosis, gum disease and even heart disease.

So, keep taking your probiotic supplements and enjoy your healthy, probiotic foods like kefir, kimchi, miso, sauerkraut and kombucha. Your digestive system will thank you! For most people, feeding your healthy bacteria with prebiotic fiber from fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds is also a good idea. You might even help you lose 2 or 3 pounds. But if you’re out to lose weight, make sure you are addressing the fundamentals of eating a healthy diet, exercising and getting enough sleep.

Bottom Line

While there are lots of great reasons to take probiotics, significantly reducing your body fat doesn’t seem to be one of them.

More about probiotics:

References (click to expand)
  1. Emmanouil Angelakis, Fabrice Armougom, Matthieu Million, and Didier Raoult. The relationship between gut microbiota and weight gain in humans. Future Microbiology 2012 7:1, 91-109
  2. Armougom F, Henry M, Vialettes B, Raccah D, Raoult D. Monitoring bacterial community of human gut microbiota reveals an increase in Lactobacillus in obese patients and Methanogens in anorexic patients. PLoS One. 2009;4(9):e7125. Published 2009 Sep 23. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0007125
  3. Schwiertz A, Taras D, Schäfer K, et al. Microbiota and SCFA in lean and overweight healthy subjects. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2010;18(1):190–195. doi:10.1038/oby.2009.167
  4. Jaclyn M. Omar, Yen-Ming Chan, Mitchell L. Jones, Satya Prakash, Peter J.H. Jones. Lactobacillus fermentum and Lactobacillus amylovorus as probiotics alter body adiposity and gut microflora in healthy persons. Journal of Functional Foods, Volume 5, Issue 1, 2013, Pages 116-123, ISSN 1756-4646. doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2012.09.001
  5.  2014 Apr 28;111(8):1507-19. doi: 10.1017/S0007114513003875. Epub 2013 Dec 3.
  6.  2013 Nov 14;110(9):1696-703. doi: 10.1017/S0007114513001037. Epub 2013 Apr 25.
  7. Erica A Suzumura, Ângela C Bersch-Ferreira, Camila R Torreglosa, Jacqueline T da Silva, Audrey Y Coqueiro, Marilyn G F Kuntz, Pedro P Chrispim, Bernardete Weber, Alexandre B Cavalcanti, Effects of oral supplementation with probiotics or synbiotics in overweight and obese adults: a systematic review and meta-analyses of randomized trials, Nutrition Reviews, Volume 77, Issue 6, June 2019, Pages 430–450, doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuz001
  8. Borgeraas, H.Johnson, L. K.Skattebu, J.Hertel, J. K., and Hjelmesæth, J. ( 2018Effects of probiotics on body weight, body mass index, fat mass and fat percentage in subjects with overweight or obesity: a systematic review and meta‐analysis of randomized controlled trialsObesity Reviews19219– 232. doi: 10.1111/obr.12626.
  9. Crovesy, L., Ostrowski, M., Ferreira, D. et al. Effect of Lactobacillus on body weight and body fat in overweight subjects: a systematic review of randomized controlled clinical trials. Int J Obes 41, 1607–1614 (2017). doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2017.161
  10. Sunmin Park, Ji-Hyun Bae. Probiotics for weight loss: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition Research, Volume 35, Issue 7, 2015, Pages 566-575, ISSN 0271-5317. doi.org/10.1016/j.nutres.2015.05.008
  11.  2017 Nov 9;19(12):61. doi: 10.1007/s11894-017-0603-8.
  12. Erica A Suzumura, Ângela C Bersch-Ferreira, Camila R Torreglosa, Jacqueline T da Silva, Audrey Y Coqueiro, Marilyn G F Kuntz, Pedro P Chrispim, Bernardete Weber, Alexandre B Cavalcanti, Effects of oral supplementation with probiotics or synbiotics in overweight and obese adults: a systematic review and meta-analyses of randomized trials, Nutrition Reviews, Volume 77, Issue 6, June 2019, Pages 430–450, https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nuz001
  13. Sunmin Park, Ji-Hyun Bae. Probiotics for weight loss: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition Research, Volume 35, Issue 7, 2015, Pages 566-575, ISSN 0271-5317. doi.org/10.1016/j.nutres.2015.05.008
  14. Leblhuber F, Steiner K, Schuetz B, Fuchs D, Gostner JM. Probiotic Supplementation in Patients with Alzheimer’s Dementia – An Explorative Intervention Study. Curr Alzheimer Res. 2018;15(12):1106‐1113. doi:10.2174/1389200219666180813144834
  15. Toribio-Mateas M. Harnessing the Power of Microbiome Assessment Tools as Part of Neuroprotective Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine Interventions. Microorganisms. 2018;6(2):35. Published 2018 Apr 25. doi:10.3390/microorganisms6020035
  16. Stenman LK, Lehtinen MJ, Meland N, et al. Probiotic With or Without Fiber Controls Body Fat Mass, Associated With Serum Zonulin, in Overweight and Obese Adults-Randomized Controlled Trial. EBioMedicine. 2016;13:190‐200. doi:10.1016/j.ebiom.2016.10.036
  17. Frei R, Akdis M, O’Mahony L. Prebiotics, probiotics, synbiotics, and the immune system: experimental data and clinical evidence. Curr Opin Gastroenterol. 2015;31(2):153‐158. doi:10.1097/MOG.0000000000000151
  18. Leblhuber F, Steiner K, Schuetz B, Fuchs D, Gostner JM. Probiotic Supplementation in Patients with Alzheimer’s Dementia – An Explorative Intervention Study. Curr Alzheimer Res. 2018;15(12):1106‐1113. doi:10.2174/1389200219666180813144834
  19. McFarland LV, Dublin S. Meta-analysis of probiotics for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. World J Gastroenterol. 2008;14(17):2650‐2661. doi:10.3748/wjg.14.2650
  20. Tiequn B, Guanqun C, Shuo Z. Therapeutic effects of Lactobacillus in treating irritable bowel syndrome: a meta-analysis. Intern Med. 2015;54(3):243‐249. doi:10.2169/internalmedicine.54.2710
  21. Yuan F, Ni H, Asche CV, Kim M, Walayat S, Ren J. Efficacy of Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 in patients with irritable bowel syndrome: a meta-analysis. Curr Med Res Opin. 2017;33(7):1191‐1197. doi:10.1080/03007995.2017.1292230
  22. Hedin C, Whelan K, Lindsay JO. Evidence for the use of probiotics and prebiotics in inflammatory bowel disease: a review of clinical trials. Proc Nutr Soc. 2007;66(3):307‐315. doi:10.1017/S0029665107005563

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Discussion

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One thought on “Probiotics for Weight Loss

  1. “A 2019 meta-analysis of 19 clinical trials suggests that probiotic supplements have a small effect on reducing waist circumference but no effect on body weight or BMI”

    So what are you suggesting they lost then? Water weight?

    “A 2017 meta-analysis of 15 clinical trials showed that probiotics have small effects on weight loss and no effect on fat mass”

    So what weight was lost then if not fat mass? Again, water weight or was it muscle? What was it?

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