Are Probiotics the Cure for Abdominal Obesity?

i-b8ad5fae4948dd8bdf06ecb2be67c9a5-activia yogurt.jpgNope, not even close, although I doubt it will stop big food from marketing Activia yogurt and others as a solution for expanded waistlines.

According to the World Health Organization, probiotics are:

"Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host".

Over the past few years there has been a huge surge in the addition of specific probiotic cultures into various fermented milk products, such as yogurt. For the most part the marketing push behind these products has focused on the potential for regulating digestive function (i.e. Jaime Lee Curtis commercial). However, due to a recent study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, I forsee a swift change in gears towards billing various fermented milk products as the panacea for obesity.

Unfortunately, while I don't think the evidence in this one study is overly convincing, lack of evidence has rarely stopped companies from making exaggerated claims.

In the study, conducted in various centres throughout Japan, a total of 86 subjects who were mostly overweight (BMI range from 24.2 - 30.7kg/m2) were asked to ingest 200âg/day of either fermented milk with Lactobacillus gasseri SBT2055 probiotic culture or a control fermented milk for a duration of 12 weeks. Both groups were asked to maintain their regular lifestyle (diet and physical activity). This particular probiotic, which originates naturally in human intestine, was chosen as recent evidence suggested that Lactobacillus gasseri SBT2055 ingestion lowered adipocyte enlargement caused by a high-fat diet in rats (the importance of which, we have recently discussed).

So what happened after the 12 weeks in this study that might make Danone execs dizzy with excitement?

The group ingesting the active fermented milk (including said probiotic culture) lost a whole 1.1 kg of body weight in 3 months (in contrast to no change in control group). While the authors also report miniscule changes in body fat percentage (<1%), since they measured body fat using bioelectrical impedance, this number is essentially meaningless. Lastly, visceral and subcutaneous abdominal fat were also measured in this study and while reductions in both variables were statistically significant, the clinical significance of losing 5.6 cm2 in visceral fat or 7.4 cm2 in subcutaneous fat is VERY questionable.

Nevetheless, it should be noted that there is potential for something to be happening here - obviously not a very strong effect, but something. Although the data is not presented in the study (not sure why), the authors assure us that the dietary patterns or physical activity patterns of either the active or control fermented milk groups did not change throughout the study. Of course when dealing with a 1kg difference over a 12 week span just a few calories in the right direction on a daily basis could lead to such a change.

Take home message:

I'd certainly hold my breath for more evidence in this area, and for the time being would caution against binging on yogurt jam-packed with probiotic cultures to lose weight - remember yogurt has a bunch of calories!


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Kadooka, Y., Sato, M., Imaizumi, K., Ogawa, A., Ikuyama, K., Akai, Y., Okano, M., Kagoshima, M., & Tsuchida, T. (2010). Regulation of abdominal adiposity by probiotics (Lactobacillus gasseri SBT2055) in adults with obese tendencies in a randomized controlled trial European Journal of Clinical Nutrition DOI: 10.1038/ejcn.2010.19

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Not to mention the sugar content in Activia especially is through the roof! A sure way to ADD spare tire weight.

Mmmm.... love natural Greek-style yoghurt. But that stuff is WAY full of fat... which is why it's so creamy. Don't understand these fat-free artificially flavoured pro-biotic pink slop-type single serving things. If you want to eat bacteria and plastic, lick your trashcan.

IMO obesity is all about gut flora. Research demonstrates that the type of gut bactera one has determines whether you gain or lose weight. Pro-biotics help balance the ratio between Bacteroidetes and firmicutes. An abundance of Bacteroidetes bacteria (ie- lactobacillus) helps a person lose weight.

I have read so much info on probiotics because the supplements we take from Vidazorb were the one and only thing to help our child with his severe Eczema and food intolerance. We tried so many doctors, meds and creams and nothing at all could work for him. He was itchy all the time and miserable at night and we put him on his chewables and within a short amount of time he was dramatically better! It has been life changing for our family and since then we all love them. As for yogurt and the big trend that is happening now, I personally feel like it is a shame. Many food companies are using the info and research to boost sales which just add confusion for consumers. A person would seriously have to eat a ton of yogurt to get the probiotic benefits that just one supplement has and who knows if the "bugs" are even live really? Great article!

Probiotics WILL help you lose weight. I lost 10 pounds without changing my diet. A friend combined probiotics with a balanced diet and lost over 100 pounds.

I also got rid of a nasty auto-immune disorder - because the right balance of "good" bacteria in your gut controls 80% of your immune function in addition to helping you to get more nutrition from your food.

In THIS context though... Peter is absolutely right. Probiotics in yogurt, milk and food, are rubbish and, for the most part - useless. In fact, the tiny bit of weight loss in the study was just as likely to have been from the increased PROTEIN in the diet, as from the probiotics.

Why are probiotics in yogurt and milk useless?

Because your stomach acid will kill 99% of the bacterial cultures before they get to your lower gut, which is where they need to be. Remember, these are LIVE bacteria.

What about the probiotics prescribed by Doctors?

Better in pill form. However the reason they pack in 50 billion of those puppies is because they know only tiny fraction will survive the stomach acid. There is another problem with probiotics in capsule form.... they need to be kept cool. Sadly... Consumer Labs, and another consumer organization pulled a wide range of probiotics off drugstore shelves and found about 40% had NO LIVE CULTURES AT POINT OF SALE. They probably got too hot during the shipping process. So basically... money down a rat hole.

If you want the benefit of probiotics... you need to look for one that has a double enteric coating... and that will survive at room temperature. I take one that is guaranteed to deliver a billion bacteria to your lower GI tract. The double coating (called tri-sphere) does not dissolve in acid, but instead, in the alkaline environment of the upper GI tract. The second coating is designed to dissolve when it reaches the lower GI.

Now ... HOW do probiotics help you lose weight?

Because when you get more nutrition from your food, your body does not go into "starvation mode" and store fat. This is assuming, of course, that you are eating a healthy, and balanced, diet (and NOT skipping breakfast).

I'm sure Peter and Travis have studied the research of Dr. Donald K. Layman and will tell you that if you want to speed weight loss along - eat at least 1.5 grams of high quality protein per pound of body weight - at least three times a day. It must be protein that contains leucine in order to trigger the protein synthesis to turn the protein into muscle. Healthy muscle is the key to a "fat burning" metabolism.

Carbs should NOT be eliminated from the diet... but BALANCED. Starchy carbs should be more complex (sweet potatoes are better than white - whole grain natural rice better than processed rice), and should not be more grams than the amount of protein. 30 grams of protein - no more than 30 grams of starchy carbs. GREEN vegetables should make up the other 1/3 of your plate.... and you can go over 30 grams a bit with these "smart carbs." On average though... 30/30/30 is the right meal for the average sized person (30 protein / 30 starch / 30 green carbs).

If you doubt me about the "starvation mode" thing do a simple test. Eat the above 3 meals a day for a month... see how much weight you lose. Then... quit eating the breakfast meal - and just eat lunch and dinner. You will find that you stop losing weight... and perhaps even start putting it on. Go back to eating more - you'll start losing weight again. In fact... Sumo wrestlers are prevented from eating breakfast as a way of maintaining their weight. When they retire... they can lose 100 pounds the first year by simply resuming the breakfast meal.

Want even MORE natural weight loss boost? I also take some adaptogenic herbs.

What are "adaptogens?" They are herbs with saponins... which have been shown in study after study to help the body deal with stress and put the body into homeostasis (meaning it's natural state.)

Cortisol is the "stress hormone" - released when your body is under stress... and responsible, also, for the body storing fat. So guess what... less stress, less cortisol, better fat burning.

Another benefit of adaptogenic herbs is that they help lower cholesterol and regulate hormones (ask a woman after menopause if the hormone shift has effected her weight and you'll know that this is yet another weight benefit).

There are a few other things that help - I use a system that also employs chemicals derived from green tea and cayenne pepper... as they slightly elevate the body temperature and speed up the metabolism even more.

Hope this helps. And if you want more info... including the research that backs these statements up... feel free to email me.