A new study suggests that a probiotic supplement may protect against weight gain. The study apparently confirms the link between balanced intestinal flora and weight loss. Probiotics, known as "good bacteria," are thought to reduce the absorption of fat.
In the study, published
in the journal Obesity
, researchers at Virginia Tech studied 20 healthy men who followed a high-fat and high calorie diet for four weeks. Some men also consumed a milkshake containing VSL#3, a probiotic with multiple strains of bacteria including Lactobacillus acidophilus
and Bifidobacterium longum
. The others drank a placebo milkshake. The researchers found the men who drank the probiotic mix had lower body mass gain and fat accumulation than those who consumed the placebo milkshake.
PROBIOTICS AND HEALTHY MICROBIOTA
Research shows that the adult human gastrointestinal (GI) tract contains an estimated 100 trillion microorganisms that collectively make up the gut flora, also known as the microbiota or microbial communities, according
to BCC Research analyst Rachel Agheyisi.
“Microbiota differ among individuals, depending on such factors as age, gender, diet, antibiotic use and stress,” says Agheyisi. “It is estimated that in a healthy individual, about 85% of these GI bacteria are friendly, while the remaining 15%, potentially, are unfriendly. Imbalance in the microbial composition of the GI tract is associated with disturbance in the health of the host.
There is growing scientific evidence that a healthy intestinal microflora is critical to the overall immune system function. The microflora is vital for preventing pathogenic bacteria from invading the gut, and is helpful in alleviating gastrointestinal disorders. The growing popularity of probiotics is due, in part, to an increasing knowledge that it is possible to manipulate composition of the GI microflora and restore balance through appropriate supplementation with well-selected probiotics, Agheyisi notes.
As live organisms, probiotics are dynamic. As supplements, they’ve been the subject of many experiments studying their potential to rebalance our intestinal flora for weight loss.
The researchers of the VSL#3 study think the probiotics could have changed gut bacteria in a way that caused less body fat accumulation. They admit they’re not sure how the supplement works. They also suspect the probiotics could have reduced lipid absorption or had an impact on energy expenditure.
RESIDENT AND TRANSIENT PROBIOTICS MAY AID WEIGHT LOSS
Microorganisms are found in different locations in the GI tract, says
Agheyisi. Resident probiotic bacteria colonize select sites. For example, L. acidophilus primarily resides in the small intestine. On the other hand, bifidobacteria primarily colonize the large intestine, although, in humans, some also inhabit the lower ileum.
Unlike resident bacteria, transient probiotic bacteria do not establish colonies. Rather, they survive only a few days in the GI tract, but as they pass through the tract they help the resident bacteria to flourish, as well as perform other beneficial functions.
The most common transient probiotics are L. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus (the so-called yogurt bacteria or culture). Research shows that to achieve and maintain a healthy balance in the gut flora, friendly bacteria, particularly of the lactobacilli and bifidobacteria species, such as the types present in the VSL#3 study, must be present in sufficient numbers consistently.
Probiotics manufacture is a multi-million dollar industry and one of the fastest-growing segments of the dietary supplement and functional food markets, reports
Agheyisi. In 2012, global sales of probiotic supplements totaled about $1billion, with probiotic supplements in capsule form accounting for the largest share of sales (66.3%). Total global sales of probiotic supplements are projected to reach $2.1 billion in 2018, representing a CAGR of 11.5% between 2013 and 2018.