Lets kick off with a definition. According to the FAO, Probiotics are
“Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit to the host.”
The microorganisms used as probiotics are typically beneficial bacteria such as those belonging to the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains.
For many years I have been a proponent of maintaining a healthy balance of natural micro-flora in the gut. This can aid digestion, control inflammatory bowel disorders, reduce the incidence of localized yeast infections, improve nutrient and vitamin uptake, help recovery from antibiotics as well as reduce diarrhea and stomach upsets. Taking a probiotic may even help support the immune system and reduce the incidence of colds and flu’s.
But what about weight loss? Can probiotics improve overall health and help keep us trim?
Well a study by the center for health policy at Standford University School of Medicine found that the use of probiotics can help gastric-bypass patients lose weight more quickly. Research conducted by the John A Burns School Of Medicine suggested that probiotics may help regulate the process by which energy is used by the body. And a study carried out by researches at the Lund University in Sweeden on rats found that adding robotic bateria to the diet reduced weight gain.
So yes, it seems a link can be made. But before we get over-excited, we should stress that probiotics are not a magic diet pill. The effects they have on weight loss are indirect and a function of having an efficient digestive process. They are unlikely to counteract a high calorie diet in themselves.
It follows therefore that our goal when taking probiotics should not be weight loss per se, but improved digestive function and increased overall wellbeing. That’s certainly something to strive for in my book.
I’ll end with a word of warning: Be careful when choosing a probiotic food or supplement as the labeling in the food supplement industry is relatively unregulated. In particular check for the following two attributes (for more guidance have a look at whatisthebestprobiotic.com:
Quantity: The notion of “adequate amounts” in the definition we included at the head of this post is important and it is where many probiotic supplements and probiotic foods fall short. The measurement you’ll come across when looking at probiotics is Colony Forming Units or CFU’s and you will generally need billions per dose in order to confer a health benefit. Studies have shown that many so called “probiotic” products do not contain viable bacteria in these quantities.
Strain: Health benefits are determined at the strain level. In other words the same species of probiotic bacteria may have different health effects. So ignore broad generalizations made by vendors at the species level. You should look for independent health claims that are verifiable at the strain level before you proceed.