If you’re trying to lose weight, prebiotics could be the secret weapon you never knew you needed. The relationship between a healthy weight and pro-biotics is well established. The use of pre-biotics for weight loss, however, gets less attention.
Research shows prebiotics, whether consumed on their own or combined with probiotics, can be an important part of a comprehensive weight loss strategy.
What are prebiotics? They’re non-digestible types of fiber that do two main things:
1. Through fermentation, they produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) in the large intestine which act as important chemical messengers throughout the whole body.
2. They promote the growth of beneficial microorganisms (probiotics) in the gut and are especially important for bifidobacteria, lactobacilli and certain anaerobic bacteria such as Akkermansia muciniphila and Faecalibacterium prausnitzii.
Inulin and oligofructose are two examples of prebiotic fiber. They’re found naturally in plants and are also added to some foods for flavor and texture. Some prebiotic and probiotic supplements contain them, too.
It’s easy to focus on a “calories-in-calories-out” approach when trying to lose weight. While a calorie deficit is important for fat reduction, so is a gut that’s populated with a variety of beneficial microorganisms and SCFAs.
Let’s take a look at just how prebiotics can make your weight loss efforts a little more effortless.
How Bad Gut Bacteria May Affect Weight
A healthy gut microbiome consists of an innumerable amount of microorganisms like bacteria and yeasts. Some benefit the body while others don’t. When “bad bacteria” begin to proliferate, an imbalance in the gut occurs. This is called dysbiosis.
Factors contributing to dysbiosis include diet high in sugar and processed foods, use of antibiotics, and emotional and physical stress. These factors are hard to avoid, but the reality is dysbiosis can directly contribute to excess body weight, bloating, inflammation, and belly fat.
Your gut contains two main categories of microorganisms — Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes. While the verdict is out, some studies suggest that a microbiome containing a disproportionate amount of Firmicutes contributes to obesity in children and adults.
In other words, the composition of your gut microbiota plays a role in metabolic processes which affect your weight. It regulates hormones that affect appetite and blood sugar, and determines how energy is used in your body. Let’s get more specific:
What’s one of the biggest struggles for someone trying to lose weight? Appetite control, of course. Your body has a variety of ways to let you know you’ve eaten enough. Signals from hormones, peptides, and neurotransmitters all determine whether or not you feel full.
Dysbiosis causes a glitch that gets in the way of communication between your gut and brain. Bad bacteria suppress the action of two “satiety hormones”— Pancreatic YY (PYY) and glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1)— which perform specific weight-control functions.
PYY is released from your small intestine after you eat. It slows the speed at which food moves through your small intestine, allowing your body to absorb more of the nutrients. It also helps you feel satisfied. How much PYY is released depends on your gut bacteria, however.
One study showed that after antibiotic treatment, people’s PYY levels decreased. As a result, their appetite and food intake went up, and the composition of their microbiome shifted to contain more of the bacteria associated with obesity than before treatment.
GLP-1 is similar to PYY. It slows down the transit of food through your intestines and sends signals to your brain that you’ve had enough to eat. Bad gut bacteria gets in the way of GLP-1 production, too.
Dysbiosis makes it harder to maintain stable blood sugar levels. The hormones PYY and GLP-1 play a role here, too. Besides controlling appetite, they also help regulate insulin and blood glucose levels.
Suboptimal secretion of these hormones can lead to inflammation and metabolic issues like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Excess weight, blood sugar imbalances, and dysbiosis tend to create a cycle that’s hard to break. One exacerbates another, making it increasingly challenging to shed body fat.
The gut plays an enormous role in your immune system. Not only do good bacteria protect you from viruses, they also help your immune system distinguish between real threats (like germs) and perceived threats (like seasonal allergies).
Dysbiosis could leave you prone to illness and lacking the “get up and go” you need to prepare healthy food and stay active. What’s more, an overactive immune system could leave your joints achy, making you even less motivated to keep moving.
Central Nervous System
You know that “gut feeling?” Turns out your gut microbes and your brain are in constant communication through what’s called the “gut-brain axis”. We now know gut bacteria affect neurotransmitters involved in the functioning of your central nervous system (CNS).
What does this mean for weight management? Dysbiosis is linked to emotional states like depression and anxiety. These could have an impact on how you eat, how often you move, and how your body uses fuel.
In addition to that, your neurotransmitters actually affect the motility of your digestive system. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a good example of the interplay between the gut and CNS.
Prebiotic Health Benefits for Losing Weight
How do prebiotics help you lose weight, exactly?
Since prebiotics are fiber, they naturally fill you up faster. The more fiber you fill up with, the less caloric food you’ll have room for. Interestingly, since it’s considered a carbohydrate, each gram is assigned 4 calories on nutrition labels. Given that it can’t be absorbed, it may only provide around 2.5 calories (energy) per gram.
Besides making you feel full, prebiotic fiber can also reduce the amount of fat your body absorbs from the food you eat. The overall effect is a decrease in “metabolizable energy”, which is defined as energy consumed minus the loss in feces and urine.
While prebiotics play an important but passive role in the small intestine, they really start to get to work in the large intestine. Here, they begin to ferment, which produces short chain fatty acids (SCFA). These chemicals help with weight loss by:
- Suppressing appetite by sending signals to your brain that you’re full
- Helping the good bacteria in the gut multiply and thrive, which prevents or corrects dysbiosis. (Remember all the ways dysbiosis contributes to excess weight!)
Prebiotic fiber alone, whether consumed through food or supplementation, helps you reach or maintain a healthy weight. It also works synergistically with probiotics and the gut bacteria already present in your body.
Certain prebiotic fibers help provide food sources to important anaerobic bacteria in the gut. This group of bacteria cannot be manufactured into dietary supplements because they die when coming in contact with oxygen.
Well-known anaerobic bacteria include Akkermansia muciniphila and Faecalibacterium prausnitzii. These bacteria play an important role in producing the short-chain fatty acid Butyrate which promotes the health and proliferation of the intestinal epithelial cells, inhibits the growth of pathogens, strengthens the gut barrier function, and reduces inflammation in the gut.
Can Having a Healthy Gut Microbiome Prevent Weight Gain?
Definitely! A healthy gut microbiome helps you realize when you’re full and keeps your blood sugar levels stable. It also prevents digestive issues, helps protect you from harmful pathogens, and keeps inflammation in check.
A diet high in fiber and low in refined sugars and processed food is necessary for the beneficial bacteria in your gut to thrive. Not coincidentally, these are also common recommendations for maintaining a healthy weight.
Having a variety of beneficial probiotic strains that include more Bacteroidetes than Firmicutes is associated with better, life-long weight management. So, it’s worth taking stock of your gut health. Preventing weight gain in the first place is much easier than shedding weight.
How You Can Introduce More Prebiotics and Probiotics into Your Diet
If you’re trying to lose weight, foods high in prebiotic fiber might already be on your radar. Try incorporating these into your diet whenever possible:
- Leafy greens and root vegetables — asparagus, jerusalem artichoke, onions, garlic, leeks, Belgian endive, chicory root, and jicama
- Fruits — apples, berries, tomatoes, avocado and bananas
- Grains — oats, brown rice, barley
- Legumes — lentils and beans
- Cocoa — yes, even compounds found in cocoa beans have health benefits
Inulin and oligofructose are also increasingly common food additives. They add richness and sweetness to dressings, baked goods, dairy products and desserts. While processed foods generally should be consumed in moderation, added prebiotics in some carefully selected ones can be a good source of prebiotics.
While prebiotics help probiotics thrive in the body, including more probiotic-rich foods into your diet could also accelerate your weight loss efforts. Check out this guide to learn more about the differences between probiotics and prebiotics and how they support one another.
If these fermented foods aren’t part of your diet already, try:
- Dairy or non-dairy yogurt with no added sugar or artificial sweeteners
- Kombucha made from green tea
- Condiments like kimchi, pickles and sauerkraut
Foods chock full of pre- and probiotics can be the cornerstone to a healthful diet, but supplementation offers a more targeted approach. This is because some strains of probiotics can’t be obtained through food. As a result, supplementation might be the only way to repopulate what you need in amounts that provide therapeutic benefits.
OMNi-BiOTiC®’s line of prebiotic and probiotic supplements helps you replace the specific strains of probiotics your body needs. We’ve obsessed over the research and testing in order to provide highly effective products for your health needs.
In fact, OMNi-LOGiC® PLUS is a precision prebiotic that combines valuable dietary fibers with important vitamins and minerals in order to promote metabolism and energy. These fibers and nutrients serve as the food for essential anaerobic probiotic bacteria, and promote intestinal health, strong gut barrier function and weight loss.