Dr. Adam Killpartrick, DC CNS
Supplementing the diet with probiotics to improve gut health is a trend that gained significant traction in the last decade and has expanded beyond the health food store supplements aisle. You’ll find drinkable probiotics in the juice and yogurt sections of the grocery store, and an even more robust offering of capsule and powder formulas near the vitamins.
Increasingly, people are adding probiotics, which are live bacteria strains, to their daily dietary routines in hopes of regulating digestion and minimizing bloat. The goal is to introduce the “healthy” bacteria into the gut in order to achieve a healthier balance, improve digestion, strengthen the immune system and most recently, support weight
While these efforts are laudable, adding probiotic supplementation haphazardly is like shooting arrows in the dark and hoping to hit the target. There are many different strains of probiotics, and most consumers are unaware of the distinctions that impact how each type of probiotic strain will affect bodily function.
Whatever the goal might be, it’s important to understand how probiotics operate in the body.
Probiotics and the Body
The digestion process is highly complex, with trillions of microorganisms, or gut flora, involved in its various functions. The body has over 500 strains of probiotic sent, and there are approximately 18 strains available as supplements. Not all probiotics are the same. There are general probiotics, and there are probiotics that attach a specific systemic focus, such as vaginal health. Other probiotics may target neurotransmitters and may help regulate mood disorders. There are also probiotics that support joint health, while others improve liver function. Currently, researchers are mapping the various probiotic strains to the systems they affect, which will allow for more precise probiotic supplementation based on individual health goals.
Clinical Studies of the Role of Probiotics in Weight Regulation
One review in 2016 found that “Probiotics have physiologic functions that contribute to the health of gut microbiota, can affect food intake and appetite, body weight and composition and metabolic functions through gastrointestinal pathways and modulation of the gut bacterial community,” (Nutr Metab (Lond). 2016; 13: 14.). There was not a focus on one single strain in this paper but rather an exploration of the mechanisms of action for various strains including Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus grasseri and Bifidobacteria.
How Probiotics Influence Body Weight
When there’s an imbalance in the gut, it causes an inflammatory response, which can then throw the metabolic and neurological processes off balance. This imbalance can lead to metabolic syndrome, obesity, and insulin resistance. The impact on the endocrine system, with the resulting insulin resistance and other blood sugar issues, can result in health conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes.
When considering the supplementation of probiotics for weight management, it helps to understand how probiotics function. There are two main mechanisms at play:
Activation of Toll-like receptor 5 (TLR5) within the digestive system. The bacteria contain a protein that binds with TLR5 and activates a cytokine release called Interleukin-22 (IL-22) that improves gut barrier function and influences the antimicrobials on the surface of the gut. This leads to a decrease in intestinal inflammation.
The processing and breakdown of dietary fibers and the fermentation of these fibers help the body better utilize micronutrients. This mechanism leads to the production of short chain fatty acids that provide energy and assist the body in accessing the micronutrients for better food efficiency, restoring metabolic balance.
Both mechanisms help decrease the inflammatory response, which has a positive effect on metabolism and helps regulate weight.
The impact of a healthy gut environment is increasingly connected to mental health as well. Mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, may be linked to an imbalance in gut flora. Dr. Kelly Brogan, an integrative psychiatrist in New York City, prescribes precision probiotics, digestive support, and barrier support to treat patients with mental health conditions, and promotes moving away from the use of antidepressants. Instead of using drugs that modulate the neurotransmitters, Lactobacillus Plantarum (PS-128) has been shown to increase both serotonin and dopamine levels.
Regulate Gut Inflammation for Metabolic Regulation
People often cite their metabolism slowing down with age as the cause of recent weight gain. While aging can impact metabolic function, making some adjustments in lifestyle and diet are likely to improve gut health and help control weight. This can include eating more fermented foods, including yogurt, cheese, kefir, sauerkraut and other pickled vegetables, kimchi, miso, tempeh, and red cider vinegar. These dietary changes may be outside the comfort zone for many patients which opens the door to recommend supplementing with probiotics to aid in the reduction of gut inflammation, improving metabolic efficiency and ultimately having a positive impact on weight management.
Probiotics are critical to gut health. Though they’re naturally found in the body, they may need to be restored or supported by lifestyle, diet, and supplements. But not all probiotics are the same. A functional medicine practitioner can help select the regimen that’s right for you.
Kobyliak, N., Conte, C., Cammarota, G., Haley, A. P., Styriak, I., Gaspar, L., Fusek, J., Rodrigo, L., … Kruzliak, P. (2016). Probiotics in prevention and treatment of obesity: a critical view. Nutrition & Metabolism, 13, 14.