Your gut plays a central role in many critical processes in the body, including immune system function, detoxification, and response to stress. The gut contains billions of good bacteria that play an essential role in supporting many of these critical processes throughout the body and in maintaining overall health and wellbeing. The good bacteria living in your gut are often referred to as your gut flora or your gut microbiome.
Environmental factors such as stress, an overly processed diet, and certain medications can disrupt this balance in our gut microbiome. This can lead to digestive issues such as bloating, constipation or diarrhea, brain fog, fatigue, weight gain and a weakened immune system.
Given the importance of a balanced gut microbiome, the question often arises whether probiotic supplements can help with weight loss.
The short answer to this is yes: Multiple research studies indicate that the composition of the gut microbiome is linked to a person’s metabolism and body weight. Whereas research is still in its early stages and ongoing, research has shown that certain types of bacteria are more common in thin people whereas other types of bacteria are more common in overweight individuals.
Depending on which type of bacteria you have more of, your weight can be affected. In addition, if your gut flora is out of balance, there is an opportunity for bad bacteria and other pathogens such as candida to grow.
Many of these pathogens can send signals to the brain that encourage the body to crave sugar. The more sugar you eat, the better these bad bacteria/pathogens can thrive and grow!
Gut Health and Body Fat
Many scientific studies in mice and humans have shown the powerful connection between the bacterial composition of the gut microbiome and body fat. For example, when mice raised in a germ-free environment were populated with the microbiome of obese mice, these mice became obese as well (doi:10.1038/nature05414).
Similarly, several studies have shown that people suffering from obesity have higher numbers of a specific bacterial species in their guts than slim people. This involves the two large bacterial groups called Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes. Ideally these should both be present in a ratio of 1:1. In obese people, this ratio shifts to a predominance of Firmicutes, sometimes up to a ratio of 2,000 to 1!
This imbalance also influences how ingested food is processed. Firmicutes extract every single calorie from the eaten food. This “hidden” additional intake of carbohydrates means that more calories are absorbed with each meal! Firmicutes are especially efficient at breaking down the indigestible fiber from our food into so-called “short-chain” carbohydrates.
This leads to the emergence of many simple sugar molecules in the gut, which are quickly absorbed and stored as fat deposits for “times of need”. Additionally, the Firmicutes possess an ability which makes it especially hard to lose weight: in “times of fasting” they turn our body into energy saving mode so that our body burns less calories than it normally would.
As soon as we start eating normally again, every single calorie is extracted from our food and we gain weight again: this is the so-called “yo-yo effect.”
Bacteroidetes, on the other hand, recognize this excess sugar and encapsulate these unnecessary carbohydrates directly in the gut. In this way, the “surplus” can be excreted via the stool instead of being stored by the body as fat.
Stool analyses confirm this: If the gut flora is rich in Bacteroidetes, our excretions contain more unspent calories than when there is a Firmicute oversupply.
Bad bacteria and other pathogens in your gut
When your gut microbiome gets out of balance, there is an opportunity for “bad bacteria” and other pathogens to multiply in your gut. Some of these pathogens, such as the common yeast Candida Albicans thrive on sugar, and have the ability to induce sugar cravings in their human host.
The increased sugar intake, in turn, allows Candida Albicans to grow faster, and can fuel a vicious cycle of sugar cravings and weight gain. Other symptoms of an overgrowth of Candida Albicans in your gut include: bloating, flatulence, severe fatigue, difficulty focusing and a thick layer of white coating on your tongue.
Candida can be treated via a change in diet, certain herbal dietary supplements, and prescription medications. If you suspect that you have a Candida infection, contact your Primary Care doctor or healthcare practitioner.
If you have been struggling to lose weight or keep the weight off, have increased sugar cravings, bloating, fatigue after eating and a decreased ability to concentrate, then it is recommended to consult your physician or healthcare practitioner for parasite and pathogen testing. This can be done via blood tests as well as stool tests, depending on the types of pathogens you are testing for.
How to restore balance in your gut flora
Bacteroidetes are anaerobic bacteria, which means that they die when they get in contact with oxygen. Therefore, they are not available in any probiotic dietary supplement.
Instead, the best way to increase Bacteroidetes in your gut is to provide them with some of their favorite food sources, such as apple pectin. Apple pectin is a type of prebiotic fiber that provides Bacteroidetes with important nutrients so that they can grow and replicate in your intestinal system.
In addition, it is important to maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria in your gut and to increase diversity of gut bacteria. This can be accomplished by taking a high quality, multi-strain and multi-species probiotic supplement.
Certain probiotics, such as OMNi-BiOTiC® BALANCE can also support the restoration of a healthy gut flora. In fact, OMNi-BiOTiC® BALANCE contains strains that have been shown in laboratory studies to fight Candida Albicans.
Foods with Probiotics
Probiotic bacteria can also be found in certain foods, such as yogurt, kombucha, kefir and fermented vegetables such as fermented sauerkraut or kimchi. Any time probiotic bacteria occur in a food or beverage, this is due to a natural fermentation process.
During this process, you essentially allow bacteria and fungi to grow. While it is beneficial to incorporate probiotic foods and beverages into your diet, this does not compare to taking a high quality, multi-strain probiotic supplement. Here’s why:
The bacteria that grow during this natural fermentation process are not necessarily bacteria that naturally occur in the human intestine and therefore have limited or no ability to survive and colonize in your intestines.
In yogurt, for example, you ingest fermented cow bacteria, which simply pass through your digestive tract and are excreted during the next bowel movement.
Limited Shelf Life
When the fermented food or beverage is sitting on the shelf or in the fridge prior to consumption, it is likely that many of the beneficial bacteria already die or become less active before you can ingest them.
In a probiotic food or drink the bacteria have been alive for quite a while and become weakened. This puts their survival rate at question while passing through the harsh environment of the stomach. A majority of the probiotic bacteria get destroyed before they even reach the intestine. And, the small amount that does survive may not be strong enough to truly improve your gut flora.
Which Bacteria and How Many
As a consumer, it is very difficult to know exactly which bacteria you are ingesting, and in which amounts. Individuals who are looking to accomplish specific health outcomes with a probiotic will therefore benefit more from taking a dietary supplement that contains specific strains tailored to achieving a certain health outcome.
Therefore, if you are looking to improve your gut flora and especially if you are experiencing digestive discomfort, it is highly recommended that you take a high quality, multi-species probiotic supplement.
What to Look for In Probiotics to Help Weight Loss
When looking for a probiotic dietary supplement to help maintain a healthy weight, we recommend looking for a product with the following features
Multi-species and multi-strain: The product should contain different bacterial species and multiple strains of bacteria.
Clinical studies: The probiotic and its claims should be backed by clinical studies using the final product. This will ensure that you are buying a product whose effects have been studied.
Free of animal proteins, allergens and fillers: It is recommended to choose a probiotic that is free of dairy and other animal proteins, gluten, soy and yeast to ensure you are taking a clean product.
Don’t Forget a Healthy Lifestyle!
All this being said, it is important to remember that no probiotic food, prebiotic fiber or probiotic supplement will be the “magic pill” for weight loss.
A healthy, balanced diet rich in leafy vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates and low in sugar and processed foods is critical in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
Regular exercise is a second critical component for sustainable weight loss. Exercise can include gentle movement such as walking, Yoga and Pilates, or more intense exercise such as cardio, HIIT and weight lifting. The most important thing is to maintain consistency and find something you can stick to!
Lastly, remember that crash diets and other drastic weight loss approaches often backfire- they are not sustainable, lead to a mindset of deprivation and self-control, and often result in the dreaded yo-yo effect of weight loss and rapid weight gain.