Weight is a sensitive subject, and most of us have struggled with trying to lose a few (or more) pounds at some point in our lives. Diets, exercise, supplements, seaweed wraps, hypnotherapy — you name it, and someone you know has probably tried it.
The problem is that results, if any, are often transient and hard to maintain.
Well, it turns out that we may be looking for solutions to our weight problems in all the wrong places. In our quest to eat less and exercise more, we're overlooking what may be the key to consistent and maintainable weight loss: our gut microbes.
You see, our gut houses trillions of bacteria that make up our microbiome, an ecosystem of good and bad bacteria that call our body their home. It may sound bizarre (and pretty disgusting) to know that we have so many "bugs" living in our body, but it's true — bacteria outnumber our human cells by roughly 10 to 1.
The good news is that we have a symbiotic relationship with our bacteria. We provide a home and food for the microbes, and they augment our health with an ever-increasing number of life-supporting functions.
From regulating our immune and nervous systems to assisting with digestion, producing vitamins and enzymes, protecting us from harmful pathogens, and even boosting our memory, it's no surprise that the friendly flora in our gut — the probiotics — play a starring role in our metabolisms as well.
The research is clear: Probiotics have a huge impact on our body weight and body mass index (BMI). In a recent meta-analysis, researchers analyzed nearly 2,000 adults from 25 trials and found that probiotic consumption reduced both weight and BMI, with improved results for subjects taking multi-strain probiotics and for those who took the beneficial bacteria for eight weeks or more.
In another study, women who took a daily dose of probiotics for 24 weeks showed significant reductions in body weight and fat mass compared to the placebo group.
So, how do probiotics help us manage our weight? Scientists are still hashing out the connection between bacteria and weight, but we do know that overweight people tend to have different gut microbial compositions than their lean counterparts. Specifically, people who struggle with weight issues seem to have more of a type of bacteria called Firmicutes, while lean individuals have more Bacteroidetes.
Why does this matter? Well, bacteria in the Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes families make up around 90 percent of all bacteria in our gut, so changes in their ratios can have a big effect on our health. And Firmicutes — due to their massive production of short-chain fatty acids — add to the number of calories we absorb each day, which may be one reason they are associated with being overweight and obese.
But, there's much more to the story. Just by positively affecting and supporting our many daily bodily functions, probiotics keep us healthy, happy, and (if in balance) at an optimal weight.