Can Probiotics Help You Lose Weight?
Probiotic supplements and fermented foods like kombucha and kimchi have been all the rage over the past few years as more research finds associations between our microbiomes and (pretty much) every aspect of our health. Weight loss is also a touted benefit of adding probiotics into your diet.
While there's research that connects probiotics with weight loss, we wanted to get an expert opinion on the subject. We spoke with Will Bulsiewicz, M.D., M.S.C.I., a South Carolina-based gastroenterologist and renowned gut health expert, to find out the facts.
Related: The Promise of Probiotics
Should You Try Probiotics for Weight Loss?
For a quick recap, probiotics are living microorganisms that can be found within certain foods and positively impact your health. Health benefits include balancing your gut bacteria, boosting your immunity, regulating digestion and improving your skin. But what about losing weight?
According to a 2017 systematic review published in Obesity Reviews, probiotic supplementation can reduce body weight and fat percentage, but the changes are relatively small. The authors concluded that long-term studies are needed to understand the correlation.
Furthermore, Dr. Bulsiewicz explained that while gut health is relevant to our metabolism, energy balance and weight, that doesn't mean upping your intake of probiotics—either through a supplement or food—will necessarily give you the results you want.
"There are studies out there suggesting some strains could help with weight loss—Lactobacillus and Lactobacillus gasseri—but it's just really not that simple," Dr. Bulsiewicz said. "If probiotics were that effective, we would all be using them." Dr. Bulsiewicz said this because of two major things—the first being that every strain affects us differently.
"There is no one-size-fits-all probiotic," Dr. Bulsiewicz said. "We each have our own unique microbiome, as unique as your fingerprint, so there's no guarantee for how a person will respond to any given strain."
Secondly, Dr. Bulsiewicz said that we couldn't expect one small lifestyle change to drastically affect our weight if we don't change our other lifestyle habits. While Dr. Bulsiewicz said probiotics could help with bloating, heal previous damage to your microbiome and relieve constipation, they will not give you the long-term results that eating healthy and exercising regularly will.
In fact, dietary changes have a higher impact on body composition—mainly body weight, fat mass and waist circumference, per a 2020 study published in Nutrients.
What About Prebiotics?
While "probiotic" is the buzzword of the wellness industry, Dr. Bulsiewicz said we need to consider another crucial part of achieving better gut health—prebiotics. Prebiotic is also a fancy word for soluble fiber and is what the good gut bacteria feed on to give our bodies impressive health benefits like reduced inflammation, clearer skin, improved heart health and many others.
Many "Americans aren't getting enough fiber," Dr. Bulsiewicz said. According to the American Society for Nutrition, only 7% of adults in the US meet the fiber intake recommendations. "We are totally ignoring this and our microbes are starving."
Dr. Bulsiewicz recommended using prebiotic fiber supplements, such as Benefiber. Unlike probiotics, prebiotics are guaranteed to impact your health for the better (and generally, at a much better price). While, as Dr. Bulsiewicz said, pretty much all people could benefit from a prebiotic fiber supplement, there's no need to take one. Fiber is available in fruits, veggies, legumes and whole grains—in different amounts—and you can easily get enough from these. Top fiber-rich foods include berries, dark leafy greens, artichokes and black beans. Eating fiber-rich foods increases your satiety, and therefore, reduces your food intake.
In addition to keeping you feel fuller, soluble fiber helps prevent blood sugar spikes, lower cholesterol levels and manage symptoms for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Related: 5 Easy Ways to Eat More Fiber
The Bottom Line
Dr. Bulsiewicz was clear that no magic supplement or pill can replace a healthy, plant-rich diet and regular exercise. Dr. Bulsiewicz said that simply walking for thirty minutes daily can help jumpstart your fitness and weight loss journey—and if you want to take a probiotic, do it!
Upping your intake of fiber-rich prebiotic foods, such as whole grains, fruits, nuts, seeds and veggies, is a surefire way to get closer to your weight-loss goals and improve your overall health. On top of that, it may be worth talking to your healthcare provider about adding a prebiotic supplement to your mealtime routine to see if that can help you reach your goals. Just be sure to consult your medical professional before making any lifestyle changes.