This is a common question now that many people have thanks to widely aired commercials for a diet plan that says its shakes have “probiotics to shrink your belly.”
What exactly does that mean? Well, along with a mindfully nutrient-dense diet and moderate exercise, adding probiotics can indeed facilitate fat and weight loss.
You probably think that probiotics’ main job is to ease digestion, with a side job of boosting immunity. However, probiotics work to digest and help your body utilize macronutrients (including complex “good” carbs, such as vegetables). The friendly flora living in your colon are highly responsive to what you eat. This is the first step in understanding how probiotics can help you manage your weight and fat mass.
According to researchers, the microbiota (the entire community of bacteria) living in the large intestine has a primary function of salvaging energy (in the form of calories) from carbohydrates that did not become digested in the upper gut. They write, “This is achieved through fermentation and absorption of the major products, short chain fatty acids (SCFA), which represent 40-50% of the available energy of the carbohydrate. The principal SCFA, acetate, propionate and butyrate, are metabolized by the colonic epithelium (butyrate), liver (propionate) and muscle (acetate). Intestinal bacteria also have a role in the synthesis of vitamins B and K and the metabolism of bile acids, other sterols and xenobiotics.”
One can become obese or overweight primarily through a long-term imbalance of more calories (energy) consumed than calories (energy) spent. It takes about 3,500 calories not used to create a pound; 3,500 calories in deficit means a pound gone.
According to a published review, there is evidence suggesting that obesity is influenced by specific bacteria phyla (two main groups called bacteroidetes and firmicutes) which live in the gut and have increased calorie-harvesting (retaining) capabilities. Some research has revealed that obese individuals had more firmicutes and fewer bacteroidetes than individuals in a “normal” weight range.
Researchers believe that firmicutes more completely metabolize calories than bacteroidetes, “thus promoting more efficient absorption of calories.”
Another study showed that the microbiome in obese individuals tends to have an increased ability to harvest, or store, calories from the diet. These researchers identified “the gut microbiota as an additional contributing factor to the pathophysiology of obesity.”
Why Diet & Exercise Work to Lose Belly Fat
Part of getting into shape is not about the “hips and thighs” but chiefly about belly fat, which can contribute to heart disease and type 2 diabetes, as well as metabolic syndrome (a precursory condition). Abdominal obesity is considered to be a waist circumference of 40 inches and more for men, and 35 inches and more for women. So what can you do to work towards a healthy weight?
There is nothing faddish or trendy about the only real way to lose weight–eat a healthy diet and get moving. Eating more protein, good carbs, and fiber and avoiding as much sugar (especially “added” sugars) and simple carbs (white breads/cookies/pastas, and white rice) as possible helps your body to shed weight and decreases your daily caloric intake.
Watch added sugars–labels are now required to disclose whether a product contains them. Learn the synonyms, such as “fructose” or “high fructose corn syrup” or “evaporated cane juice.” All of those signify what you do not want to consume.
Protein: Whether it’s eggs, protein powders and bars, lean meats, chicken or tuna, eating more protein every day will help reduce cravings–as some studies have shown in teenage girls eating a high protein diet, and in obese men eating more frequent high-protein meals. Another study suggested a relationship between high protein and belly fat–that the more protein consumed, the less fat accumulated.
Fiber: Fiber is good for your heart, as you are likely aware, but it also helps keep you on the slimmer side. Fiber is found in a rich diversity of foods – and you can also use over-the-counter powders such as Metamucil to obtain it. One meta-analysis of studies focusing on fiber intake and weight loss found that on average, an additional 14 grams of fiber consumed daily for four months resulted in 10% less calories consumed and a weight loss of 4.5 pounds. The authors observed, “Under conditions of fixed energy intake, the majority of studies indicate that an increase in either soluble or insoluble fiber intake increases post-meal satiety and decreases subsequent hunger.”
Carb reduction: As mentioned, the “bad” carbs like sugars and simple carbs should be avoided, but it would behoove you to eat plenty of broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts (cruciferous veggies), as they are “good” carbohydrates and very low in calories. They also offer antioxidants and other vitamins and minerals. But if you think “low fat” is better than “low carb,” you may be wrong. This is an older mindset that has been proven to be untrue. In fact, one six-month study showed that a very low-carbohydrate diet is more effective for weight loss than a low-fat diet.
Lifting weights or working with weights and resistance helps to build strength and tone muscles. It may even also enhance agility. But doing sit-ups or crunches alone will not shrink belly fat. For example, one six-week study wherein participants concentrated on spot training their abs showed no fat loss or reduced waist circumference at the end of the program.
Meanwhile, exercise that helps build endurance–i.e. cardiovascular exercises–is the kind of regular movement that allows for shrinkage of belly fat. If you are concerned about knee wear-and-tear, walking instead of jogging does the trick, too. A meta-analysis of the effects of exercise on belly fat in obese individuals demonstrated that aerobic workouts from moderate to high intensity had “the highest potential to reduce visceral adipose tissue [i.e., belly fat] in overweight males and females.” Results were proven to be significant after 12 weeks.
The great news is that when you get comfortable in your exercise routine, you feel other benefits – better focus and concentration, mood elevation, better sleep. You won’t want to stop, and exercise will continue to pay health dividends.
Probiotic Strains that Promote Weight Loss
There are several probiotic strains that have been tested specifically for targeting belly fat. Both the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria genera are known to be firmicutes, and Lactobacillus gasseri has several studies showing its ability to help manage weight.
A meta-analysis concluded that particular strains Lactobacillus gasseri SBT 2055, Lactobacillus rhamnosus ATCC 53103, and the combination of L. rhamnosus ATCC 53102 and Bifidobacterium lactis Bb12 may reduce adiposity, body weight, and weight gain.” Another meta-analysis of human and animal trials assessing probiotic strains and weight found that Lactobacillus gasseri was associated with weight loss in animals and humans.
In another study, when subjects drank fermented milk containing L. gasseri SBT2055, they showed reduced weight, visceral fat (fat around the organs), hip and waist circumference and overall belly fat reduction of 8.5% compared to the placebo group.
A trial of obese women found that those taking L. rhamnosus CGMCC1.3724 showed significantly more weight loss after 12 weeks than women taking placebo.
It seems that indeed, probiotics CAN shrink your belly – along with high protein, fiber and low carb eating. You don’t have to get fancy with your foods, just keep it basic and find the aerobic exercise you enjoy best. Along with probiotics, you can better slim down, reduce health risks, and feel great!