Do probiotics help us with weight loss?
An interesting question with an interesting answer.
In his book, “The Probiotics Revolution, Dr. Gary Huffnagle suggests that perhaps our weight loss or gain involves more than the calories we consume and the calories we burn. He offers the idea that perhaps our gut is playing a role as well in how we digest our food.
Using the “feed efficiency” example used in cattle, Dr. Huffnagle explains that the microflora in our intestines has an important responsibility in breaking down the food we eat. By breaking the food down, our body is able to find nutrients from that food source.
In the beginning of this discovery, several studies were done in mice. Each time research showed that the amount of microflora in the gut played an important role in how food was metabolized and efficiently used.
So what did this have to do with weight?
According to these studies, it had a lot to do with weight.
One such study was done at Washington University. The study consisted of two groups of identical mice. One group was raised to be microbe-free. Nothing different was performed for the second group. Having received the same food for approximately eight to ten weeks, each group of mice displayed different things.
The group that was raised normally displayed a 42% increase in body fat and were heavier than that group of mice that was raised without microbes.
The study went further on as the researchers introduced the microbe-free mice to microbes found in a healthy mouse. With microbes introduced, this group of mice formed a normal microflora and rapidly gained weight. By just adding microbes to the picture, this group of mice gained a 60% increase in body fat. Astonishing as well was the fact that these specific group of mice were eating less than they had when they were living without microbes. With the metabolic assistant of microflora, the body of each mouse was able to take in more nutrients from the consumed food making them feel fuller quicker and not eating as much.
From this study, two things were discovered about the importance of microbes and weight. The first was that these microbes were responsible for breaking down parts of food that were not normally being performed by the intestines. The second was that these introduced microbes were releasing chemicals that were promoting the storage of fat in their bodies.
Now, before we all assume that a sterilized GI tract is the answer for weight loss, it is important to understand that the mice who did not have microflora in their gut were unhealthy and proned to sickness because of their low immune system.
Instead, the research allowed the investigators to realize that weight control could be managed somewhat by the microflora consumption of mice. It also proved the point that there was more involved than just the normal belief of calorie counting for weight loss.
Since those initial studies, other research has been done. Excitingly enough some studies have proven that certain strains of probiotics are more effective at managing weight than others.
Individuals with a higher body mass index were divided into two groups. Each group was given fermented milk to drink. However, one group was given fermented milk with Lactobacillus gasseri (LG2055) while the other group was given fermented milk without that probiotic addition.
After twelve weeks of consumption, dramatic weight loss results happened for those individuals who were consuming LG2055 in the fermented milk. No such results occurred for the other group.
Another interesting study shows that individuals considered obese have different intestinal bacteria makeup than those who are considered slim.
A family bacteria group called firmicutes existed at an increase of 20% more in obese individuals than those with healthy weight. On the contrary, another bacteria called bacteroidetes resided more heavily in individuals who were slim. Obese individuals had a 90% decrease in bacteroidetes over those who were a healthy weight.
In fact there is a strong possibility that firmicutes were the culprit for the initial study done at Washington University. Firmicutes are highly effective at removing the calories out of sugars and then storing them as fat.
What really is exciting is that as individuals lose weight, their bacteria make-up changes. Bacteroidetes increase and firmicutes decrease with weight loss.
The bacteria bifidobacteria has also been found to play a role in weight gain as well. According to one infant study performed, the bifidobacteria counts were twice as high in healthy weight children as those infants who became overweight. This study was done over a period of six months where measurements were taken at six months and then again at 12 months. .
According to one article, most individuals regardless of weight do not have a good balance between the good and bad bacteria in our intestines. A situation such as this can lead to several health problems. An overgrowth of bad bacteria could have effects such as gas and bloating, nausea, constipation or diarrhea. It also could mean that even with healthy eating and exercising, an individual could have difficulty losing weight.
The following two articles suggest some effective strategies for improvement.
By taking an active approach in working towards a ideal balance of 85% good to 15% bad bacteria, many health benefits such as weight loss may be more likely to happen especially if there has been difficulty in the past.