Do probiotics help you lose weight? There's no scientific proof it can

Business Insider US
A probiotic supplement is not going to help you lose weight.
  • There is no definitive research that has found probiotics can directly help you lose weight.
  • Commercial probiotics may not be able to survive and thrive in your gut.
  • Foods containing probiotics are part of a healthy, well-balanced diet.
  • This article was reviewed by David S. Seres, MD, Director of Medical Nutrition and Associate Professor of Medicine, Columbia University Irving Medical Centre.
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There's no clear evidence that taking probiotics can help you lose weight.

Yes, researchers have discovered that leaner people have different types of microbes in their gut compared to people who are obese. And people who are obese who lose weight experience a change in their microbiome where it more closely resembles that of lean people.

However, there's no probiotic pill out there that will make you lose weight. Part of the reason is that it's unclear whether losing weight causes your microbiome to change or if changing your microbiome causes you to lose weight.

For example, an article published in Nutrition Today in 2017 found that bacteria associated with leaner individuals called Bacteroidetes increased in obese individuals when they participated in a weight loss diet without any other intervention.

When the study participants were put on a weight gain diet, the bacteria associated with obesity, Firmicutes, increased by 20% while Bacteriodetes decreased by 20%. This suggests that changes in bacteria are the result of weight loss, or gain, instead of the cause.

Moreover, the bacteria common in most commercially available probiotics aren't necessarily the same type that are associated with leaner individuals, and researchers aren't sure if the bacteria in commercial probiotics can even survive, let alone thrive, in the gut.

Therefore, simply taking a probiotic supplement is not going to make a difference in your weight if you don't make the necessary changes to your diet. And so far, researchers have only found probiotic supplements to help with certain medical conditions and in limited ways - of which obesity is not one.

All that said, foods containing probiotics are often part of a healthy, balanced diet. So, if you're swapping processed foods for probiotic foods, this could help you lose weight because you're getting more of the right types of food in your diet including plant-based, high-fiber foods.

Here are some swaps that you might consider. (A cautionary note, some foods containing bacteria like kimchi and miso, are high in sodium.)

  • Breakfast: Swap instant flavoured oatmeal either for a fruit-and-kefir smoothie.
  • Lunch: Swap your side of chips for a side of kimchi - a Korean dish of salted, fermented vegetables. And replace your sugary soda with a kombucha.
  • Dinner: Swap mashed potatoes for a broccoli and sauerkraut salad or bowl of miso soup.

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