Can Probiotics Help with Weight Loss, and Burn Belly Fat?

woman with spoon full of probiotic yogurt

Probiotics are living microbes that provide health benefits when they are present inside the body (1).

Probiotics are available as dietary supplements. They can also be found in certain foods.

Probiotics are sometimes referred to as “good” bacteria. Why are they good?

They can help treat and prevent gastrointestinal conditions, lower cholesterol, improve cardiovascular health, ward off illness and improve skin ailments (2, 3, 4, 5, 6).

They may also help you lose fat and inches.

Probiotics For Weightloss Infographic

Probiotics For Weightloss Infographic

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Probiotics Are Friendly Bacteria

The microorganisms in your gut help you digest foods, absorb nutrients, gain energy and stay healthy.

The complex balance of intestinal bacteria can fluctuate. The microorganism composition changes throughout your life (7).

Many of these microorganisms are beneficial bacteria.

The bacteria live off of compounds that come from our diet, and they provide us with health benefits.

They even help the body produce vitamins B and K (8).

Probiotics help to ferment some of the short-chain fatty acids that are found in carbohydrates.

A large percentage of these make it through the upper intestine undigested.

The bacteria in the lower intestine help ferment these types of carbohydrates, creating usable nutrients and waste byproducts (9).

Without probiotics in our guts, we wouldn’t be able to digest certain fibers and absorb nutrients and calories from them (10).

KEY POINT: There are trillions of microorganisms in the gut. Most of them are bacteria that convert otherwise indigestible food into nutrients and energy.

Body Weight Is Affected by Gut Bacteria

Two types of probiotics in the intestines, Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes, play a role in regulating body weight (11).

woman eating probiotic yogurt in kitchen

Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes make up 90 percent of the anaerobic bacteria in the intestines (12).

Obesity is essentially caused by taking in too many calories without burning them for energy.

Some people may be predisposed to obesity because of their gut flora, however (13).

Studies that have been conducted on humans as well as animals have determined that lean individuals have a different intestinal ecology than overweight people (14, 15, 16).

Basically, the flora in overweight people is more efficient at extracting and storing energy from their diets.

One study found that obese mice had diminished levels of Bacteroidetes and raised levels of Firmicutes compared with normal-weight mice (17).

This altered bacterial ecosystem develops after the mouse becomes obese. It is not necessarily a factor in the cause of obesity.

It is somewhat unclear exactly how the change in the balance of bacteria affects the use and storage of calories.

If body weight is affected by gut bacteria, can you influence body weight by changing the gut bacteria?

Some researchers have found that when intestinal bacteria from obese mice are transferred to lean mice, the lean mice gain weight (18).

In a study that was conducted on mice, researchers demonstrated that administration of a 8 strain probiotic formulation called VSL#3 changed the ratio of Firmicutes to Bacteriodetes in a way that was beneficial for weight loss (19).

This raises the possibility of whether humans can change their disposition for obesity by altering their probiotic composition.

We’ll look at some human studies later, read on...

KEY POINT: The ratio of certain intestinal bacteria differs depending on your weight. This could play a role in helping you lose (or gain) weight.

Probiotics Can Help You Absorb Less Fat

probiotic yogurt bottles

Lactobacillus gasseri is a probiotic that is naturally found in the digestive tract.

Researchers have studied the effects of adding more of this probiotic through the diet.

When it is consumed, it can colonize the intestines, changing the digestive environment and waste products (20).

This probiotic has also been linked to weight loss.

Studies have found that Lactobacillus gasseri increases the size of fat molecules.

This causes you to absorb less fat from the foods you eat (21).

What happens to the excess fat that you cannot absorb? It is excreted in the feces.

More interestingly, as you absorb less fat, the size and number of fat cells also reduces in the body (22).

KEY POINT: Certain probiotics can increase the size of fat molecules, making them less likely to be absorbed by your body.  It also reduces the size and number of the fat cells that is already stored in your body.

Friendly Bacteria Affect Hormones That Contribute to Obesity and Diabetes

When you take probiotics, the amount of butyrate in your intestines increases (23).

Butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid is connected with the release of GLP-1, a satiety hormone.

GLP-1 is an important hormone for regulating insulin production. In fact, it is often studied for its ability to treat patients with type-2 diabetes (24).

Increases in GLP-1 can result in lower blood glucose levels.

In one study, patients who were administered GLP-1 experienced a reduction in body fat as well as an increased feeling of fullness after meals (25).

Studies have found that people with higher levels of GLP-1 are able to metabolize calories more efficiently than people with lower levels of this hormone. Their bodies also burn more fat (26).

KEY POINT: Probiotics can improve the levels of GLP-1, the satiety hormone in the body that reduces appetite and promotes fat loss.

Probiotics Help You Store Less Fat

spoonful from probiotic yogurt pot

Angiopoietin-like 4 (ANGPTL4) is a protein that regulates the accumulation of triglycerides in fatty tissue.

In one study, a group of mice that was given Lactobacillus paracasei had higher levels of circulating ANGPTL4.

This led to reduced fat storage (27).

In a proposed study, Bifidobacterium longum was linked to increased levels of ANGPTL4 (28).

Both Lactobacillus paracasei and Bifidobacterium longum are contained in the 8-strain probiotic formulation VSL#3.

Studies show that low bifidobacterium numbers can predispose children for obesity (29).

Patients with diabetes also exhibit lower numbers of this type of bacteria (30).

KEY POINT: ANGPTL4 reduces fat mass, prevents fat from being stored and promotes fat burning. Because this protein is reactive to the intestinal environment, increasing ANGPTL4 through probiotic consumption can help decrease fat storage.

Probiotics Reduce Inflammation

Type 2 diabetes and obesity are linked with chronic inflammation (31).

Probiotics contribute to reduced inflammation in several ways (32).

  • The butyrate produced by probiotics has anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Probiotics have been found to heal the lining of the gut. When the epithelial lining is compromised, it allows molecules to “leak” through. This is called endotoxemia. Many researchers believe that this is a major cause of chronic inflammation (33).
  • Good bacteria encourage the creation of antimicrobial peptides (AMPs). AMPs are crucial in controlling acute inflammatory responses in the gut.

If you have more fatty tissue, you may also experience more inflammation, causing a cyclical push toward obesity.

By reducing inflammation, even an obese individual can become more metabolically healthy (34).

KEY POINT: Probiotics have several properties that help regulate inflammation, a common cause of obesity.

Probiotics Can Reduce Body and Belly Fat

Researchers have proven that specific types of Lactobacillus probiotics can help you reduce fat in the abdominal area.

Lactobacillus amylovorus and Lactobacillus fermentum

One study looked at the results of consuming yogurt that contained either Lactobacillus amylovorus or Lactobacillus fermentum.

The participants’ body fat was reduced by 3% and 4% in only six weeks respectively (35).

measuring belly fat

Lactobacillus gasseri

We have already discussed the benefits of Lactobacillus gasseri in preventing the storage of fat.

A study of 210 people drinking fermented milk containing Lactobacillus gasseri over 12 weeks found they reduced weight, abdominal visceral fat (fat around the organs), BMI, waist and hip circumferences.

The result?

Belly fat was reduced by 8.5% over 12 weeks of supplementation (36).

However, once they stopped taking the probiotic, within 4 weeks, the body fat started returning. This suggests constant consumption might be needed to maintain the effect.

In another study, 87 Japanese adults took Lactobacillus gasseri for 12 weeks. The results after 12 weeks showed (37):

  • Abdominal visceral fat reduced by 5.8%
  • Subcutaneous fat (fat under the skin) reduced by 3.3%
  • Body weight reduced by 1.4%
  • BMI reduced by 1.5%
  • Waist reduced by 1.8%
  • Hip reduced by 1.5%

Lactobacillus rhamnosus

A study of 125 overweight dieters investigated the effects of Lactobacillus rhamnosus supplements on weight loss and weight maintenance (38).

It was found that the addition of Lactobacillus rhamnosus in the diet increased circulating leptin, the ‘obesity’ hormone.

This hormone is released by the fat cells and suppresses appetite by telling the brain you have enough energy stored as fat.

As a result, overweight women who took the probiotic for 3 months while also restricting calories lost 50% more weight than the control group who didn’t take Lactobacillus rhamnosus.

What’s more, they kept losing weight even after they were allowed to eat normally again.

One caveat - the effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus on weight loss was much more significant for women than for men.

KEY POINT: Certain types of Lactobacillus probiotics, especially Lactobacillus gasseri, can help you lose body fat and reduce abdominal fat.

Certain Probiotics Can Help You Avoid Gaining Weight In The First Place

In addition to helping you lose fat, certain types of probiotics can even prevent you from gaining weight and accumulating fat (39).

Preventing weight gain is more effective at combating obesity than losing weight once you’ve put it on.

If you are eating more than you should, you can reduce the amount of weight and fat that you gain by taking probiotics.

A 4-week study on humans, found that supplementing with VSL#3 while increasing ones calorie intake by 1000 kcal per day gained less weight and fat than those that didn’t.

It appears that VSL#3 provided protection against weight and fat gain in healthy young men consuming a high-energy diet (40).

bar chart: vsl#3 probiotic on weight gain vs placebo

VSL#3 Probiotic Weight Gain vs Placebo

38 %
Less Weight Gain

VSL#3 Probiotic Fat Gain vs Placebo

51 %
Less Fat Gain

This shows that some strains of friendly bacteria can help you maintain your weight even if your diet is not ideal.

However, that doesn’t mean that it’s healthy to eat fast food every day just because you’re taking probiotics.

KEY POINT: Some types of probiotics can negate the weight and fat gaining effects of a higher calorie diet.

WARNING: Not All Probiotics Are Created Equal

blond anxious over probiotic pills

Not every probiotic helps you lose weight and body fat. Some probiotics may actually cause you to gain weight.

Lactobacillus acidophilus

A meta-analysis of 13 studies that included 879 people found Lactobacillus acidophilus increased weight significantly.

The overall average weight gain is the equivalent of 1.5kg for a 70kg man (41).

In another study, researchers analyzed clinical trials that tested the effectiveness of probiotics on weight loss.

These researchers concluded that the evidence connecting probiotics and weight loss is not consistent. However, this analysis only looked at four clinical trials (42).

KEY POINT: The effectiveness of probiotics for weight loss varies from strain to strain and person to person. Certain probiotics such as Lactobacillus acidophilus may even cause you to gain weight.

Bottom Line

Probiotics are beneficial for your health in many ways.

Although cholesterol is not necessarily linked with weight gain or body fat, it’s helpful to know that certain probiotics have been found to lower serum cholesterol levels (43).

However, studies have shown varied results of probiotics on weight loss. Some results are based on the type of probiotic or the individual.

The quantity of research shows that Lactobacillus gasseri (like contained in this supplement) as a single strain might be the most effective at reducing body fat and belly fat.

As a combination of probiotic strains, VSL#3 an 8-strain formulation (​get it here​ or by prescription) can help prevent or reduce weight gain on a high-calorie diet.

However, I recommend that you eat a healthy diet that shouldn’t contribute to weight gain in the first place. 

Probably one use of VSL#3 is when there are circumstances where you decide to let loose like during festive occasions or celebrations.

The bottom line is that a probiotic isn’t a magical diet pill.

However, taking probiotics can help your body function the way it’s supposed to.

Probiotics can help lower inflammation and boost immunity.

In addition, probiotics can help ensure that the body is getting exactly what it needs from the foods you eat.

Adding them to your diet in the form of supplements or fermented foods may improve your health and even promote weight loss.

Are you going to add probiotics to your regime?  Do you already use probiotics?  Which type do you use and what for?  Let me know in the comments below.​

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