Andrey_Popov/ShutterstockMost of us have heard of probiotics; they help restore the balance of good versus bad bacteria in the digestive system. When gut balance is out of whack, you may feel bloated, be constipated, have diarrhea, or experience many other digestive ills. Resetting your gut balance with probiotics can improve all of these—as well as almost every other aspect of our health, not just digestion. "When we consume probiotics, we are introducing strains of bacteria pre-selected for their health benefits," explains Will Bulsiewicz, MD, a gastroenterologist in Mount Pleasant, SC. Check out some of the other health benefits of probiotics. But which are the best probiotics for weight loss?
Good bacteria vs. bad bacteria
Sirirat/ShutterstockTo understand the affects of probiotics on weight loss you need to start with an understanding of the key players. There are two first families of bacteria in the gut: The good Bacteroidetes and the not-so-good Firmicutes. "Lean individuals have a higher proportion of bacteria from the Bacteriodetes family, while obese individuals have more from the Firmicutes family," Dr. Bulsiewicz explains. "This means that obese individuals carry gut microbes that are designed to efficiently extract the bad parts of our food, namely from fat and sugar, and the implication is that by modulating our gut flora to maximize Bacteroidetes and minimize Firmicutes, we can optimize healthy energy harvesting from our food and kick our obesity problem to the curb." Put another way: "If we choose the right blend of bacteria, the scale can tip in our favor," he says. Find out more facts you've always wanted to know about probiotics.
This member of the Bacteroidetes family could be the single best probiotic for weight loss. When researchers out of Université Laval in Quebec, Canada placed 125 overweight men and women on a 12-week weight-loss diet, followed by a 12-week period aimed at maintaining body weight, the women who took two probiotics from the L. rhamnosus family daily lost twice as much weight, compared with their counterparts who did not take probiotics. (The probiotics did not affect weight loss in men.) The strain used in this study is manufactured by Nestlé, for use in certain yogurts in Europe. Probiotics found in dairy products in the United States such as Dr. Mercola Complete Probiotics for Women work in a similar fashion. Look for L. rhamnosus on the label of supplements or dairy products. Probiotics might even add years to your life: The collection of bacteria in your gut is linked to how healthy you'll be as you age. Here's how a healthy microbiome could add years to your life.
Phat1978/ShutterstockAnother winner in the Lactobacillus family—L. gasseri—may be especially effective when it comes to weight loss, says Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, CNS, DC, founder of Ancient Nutrition and DrAxe.com. "L. gasseri, in particular, has been associated with reductions in body weight and belly fat, with one study showing that participants taking L. gasseri lost 8.5 percent of their belly fat after just 12 weeks," he says. The best probiotic will have diversity, says Dr. Bulsiewicz. "The ideal probiotic would feature the Bacteroidetes family, specifically several types of Lactobacillus bacteria including L. gasseri," Dr. Bulsiewicz says. "A perfect example of this is the Advanced Gut Health Probiotic by Genuine Health. It includes ten types of Lactobacillus including L. gasseri. It also has five additional Bacteroidetes bacterial strains." Learn the best way to store your probiotics.
Content continues below ad
Lactobacillus fermentum, Lactobacillus amylovorus
meaofoto/ShutterstockL. fermentum and L. amylovorus are two more of the best probiotics for weight loss. In one study, those participants who ate yogurt with L. fermentum or L. amylovorus reduced body fat by 3 to 4 percent during a six-week period. (P.S.: Probiotic-rich yogurt may also help treat depression.)
Good for gut health: kombucha, kimchi, and more
Evgeniya L/ShutterstockIt's not all about probiotic supplements when it comes to weight loss either. Probiotic foods may also aid in fat burning. "Kefir, kombucha, natto, tempeh, probiotic yogurt, and miso are just a few examples of foods that are naturally packed with probiotics," Axe says. Check out these probiotic-filled foods.
Bad for gut health: fake sweeteners
HandmadePictures/ShutterstockThe best probiotics and foods restore bacterial balance, but others may disrupt it. And one culprit may be artificial sweeteners, says Scott Kahan, MD, MPH, the director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness in Washington, DC. When mice ate saccharin, the numbers and types of bacteria in their guts changed and this included a reduction in beneficial bacteria, a study found. Mice in the study who were fed sugar water did not experience these negative changes. Here are seven things that could happen if you stop eating artificial sweeteners.
Good for gut health: prebiotic foodsredcarphotography/Shutterstock
Prebiotics are plant fibers that feed and energize the good-for-you bacteroidetes bacteria. Even the best probiotic could get a boost from its precursor. "Once prebiotics reach the colon, they're fermented by the gut microflora and become probiotics," Axe says. The prebiotic glucomannan is the new "it" weight loss supplement. Find out more about glucomannan.
Content continues below ad
Probiotics for weight loss: how do they work?
Starstuff/ShutterstockExactly how probiotics encourage weight loss is not 100 percent clear, but several theories exist. "Some studies have suggested that probiotics may block fat absorption and increase the excretion of fat through the stool, thus lowering the number of calories absorbed by your body," Axe says. "Other research shows that probiotics can increase secretion of a hormone called GLP-1 which helps promote satiety and bump up metabolism and fat burning. "Interested in losing weight? Check out these 12 tricks only nutritionists know.
Probiotics for weight loss: evidence mounts
Kirill Kurashov/ShutterstockWhile it's too early to say which probiotic is best for weight loss—or how effective they might be—the evidence is building. "There are a lot of bits and pieces of preliminary evidence that our gut biome and by extension, manipulating it by way of probiotics, may have a positive effect on weight management," says Dr. Kahan. In one study, mice underwent weight-loss surgery or a sham procedure, and as expected, the mice who had the weight-loss surgery lost more weight. But then the researchers transplanted bacteria from the gut of the weight-loss surgery group into the guts of mice that didn't—and then they lost weight too! Altering the gut microbiome may be one of the ways that weight loss surgery works. "In a few years, we will know a lot more about the gut microbiome and how to manipulate it with probiotics for weight loss," he predicts. Learn more about the most popular weight loss surgeries now.
Common sense advice on probiotics for weight loss
Kiian Oksana/ShutterstockDo you need a probiotic? If you have been on a lot of antibiotics, taking probiotics to restore the balance of bacteria in your gut may be a good call, Dr. Kahan says. Antibiotics destroy bacteria. Next time you are prescribed antibiotics, ask your doctor if you should take probiotics to protect your gut. "It's also smart to eat in ways that promote a healthy gut," he says. Diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans tend to promote healthy gut microbiome, he says. Here's how to tell if you may need a probiotic.