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Can Your Gut Bacteria Affect Your Weight?

When the gut becomes unbalanced with unhealthy levels of certain bacteria, probiotics can help restore the balance.


Probiotics have been shown to secrete protective substances, which may turn on the immune system and prevent pathogens from taking hold and creating major disease. But could they also affect your weight?

How probiotics can enhance weight loss

Probiotics have been found to play a powerful role in weight regulation and Chinese scientists have now found this may be helpful for children who are obese as well as finding that ‘significantly’ more weight loss with probiotic supplementation.

By many accounts, probiotics can boost the diversity of gut bacteria, keeping the digestive system working efficiently.

The scientists found the live microorganisms that boost ‘good bacteria’ in the gut can enhance weight loss success in research, carried out by Professor Chen at the Fuzhou Children’s Hospital in China, which involved 54 obese children between six and 14 years old.

Thirty were randomly assigned to take probiotic pills and 24 were in the placebo group. The trial lasted 12 weeks.

They studied a group of overweight children taking supplements. All of them were also given an exercise regime and diet plan. Results showed youngsters using probiotics supplementslost a ‘significantly’ higher number of pounds compared to those who didn’t.

The children in the probiotics group also had better metabolic health, measured by level of inflammatory proteins and blood glucose levels.

The proportion of children who are severely obese in England has risen by more than a third since 2007, figures show. Worldwide, 41million children under five were overweight or obese compared to 1990, according to The World Health Organization.

The findings were presented at the European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology’s annual meeting in Vienna, Austria. They have not been published in a journal.

It may be too early to jump to conclusions considering the study is yet to be published in a journal, however, it’s the latest of a swathe of evidence suggesting the gut microbiome could play a powerful role in weight regulation.

The team now plan to conduct more widespread trials to analyse how probiotics alter the gut.

What about prebiotics?

Prebiotics work differently to probiotics as they help to feed the ‘good’ bacteria in the digestive tract.

Whereas probiotics only add beneficial bacteria to the gut to rebalance levels.

Prebiotics are a form of natural, indigestible starch found in small quantities in foods such as banana, onions, leeks, asparagus and Jerusalem artichokes.

As well as boosting bacteria levels, pre-biotics are thought to encourage the absorption of bone-strengthening calcium thanks to the way they are digested.

And this comes after a study earlier this week found that prebiotics could help stressed people sleep easier at night.

Scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder pointed to onions, leeks and artichokes as being the main sources of the dietary fibres.

Alongside their already proven benefits of boosting gut health, they were found to release metabolic byproducts which influence the brain into overcoming worry and fear.

What is microbiome?

Researchers now estimate that a typical human body is made up of about 30 trillion human cells and 39 trillion bacteria.

These are key in harvesting energy from our food, regulating our immune function, and keeping the lining of our gut healthy. Interest in, and knowledge about, the microbiota has recently exploded as we now recognise just how essential they are to our health.

A healthy, balanced microbiome helps us break down foods, protects us from infection, trains our immune system and manufactures vitamins, such as K and B12. It also sends signals to our brain that can affect mood, anxiety and appetite.

Imbalances in the gut are increasingly being linked to a range of conditions. Last year, scientists at California Institute of Technology found the first ever link between the gut and Parkinson’s symptoms.

The composition of our gut microbiota is partly determined by our genes but can also be influenced by lifestyle factors such as our diet, alcohol intake and exercise, as well as medications.