Probiotics, the gut-healthy bacteria that we ingest through supplements and foods like yogurt and fermented foods, come with a host of digestive benefits. Is losing belly fat one of them? Well, the jury is still out, according to Linda Nguyen, MD, a gastroenterologist at Stanford Health Care. Research into the manipulation of gut bacteria to promote overall health has certainly intensified, she said, but it's not quite that easy.
"Unfortunately, that's a very simplistic way of looking at things, because there are so many different things that can affect the microbiome," Dr. Nguyen said. (Refresher: the microbiome is what doctors collectively call the trillions of microorganisms in your body, including bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses.) Beyond simply what probiotic supplements you might take, diet, stress, sleep, medication, and inflammation all have the potential to play a role in both your weight and your gut health, she said.
It's also good to remember that, probiotics or not, you can't spot-reduce fat, including the fat around your belly. Weight loss in general will help to decrease your body fat, which means you will eventually see results around your midsection, though when that happens is up to your genetics and hormones. With that said, it's still worth exploring whether probiotics can help you lose weight, and especially body fat.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are bacteria, living microorganisms that you ingest and that reside in your gut. It sounds a bit freaky, but they're extremely beneficial, Dr. Nguyen explained: having diverse strains of bacteria in your intestines "is a sign of digestive and overall health," she told POPSUGAR. Specifically, certain kinds of probiotics can aid in reducing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms like constipation, bloating and diarrhea. There's even some evidence that a healthy gut could have positive or preventative effects on Alzheimer's, diabetes, and heart disease.
Do Probiotics Help You Lose Belly Fat?
There are numerous proven health benefits to taking probiotics, but the evidence doesn't extend as strongly to fat loss and weight loss. "The role of the microbiome in obesity is very intriguing based on studies done on rodents, but it hasn't been confirmed in humans," Dr. Nguyen told POPSUGAR.
One study, for example, showed that particular strains of gut bacteria transplanted from lean mice had the potential to protect mice on a high-fat diet from gaining weight. It goes the other way as well, with studies showing that mice given fecal transplants from obese mice gained fat. This kind of research seems to point to a link between weight and gut bacteria. But based on the current, limited research in humans, it's not as one-to-one as assuming that probiotics will help you lose or prevent fat and belly fat. "The main myth is that probiotics will promote weight loss, and that's definitely a myth that hasn't been proven," Dr. Nguyen said.
That doesn't mean that taking care of your gut bacteria won't help you with weight loss. Eating diverse foods, aka "eating the rainbow," will keep your microbiome healthy, Dr. Nguyen told POPSUGAR. "Eating foods that are different colors is more likely to lead to a healthier microbiome," she said. "Whether that leads to improvement in abdominal fat hasn't been demonstrated, but in my opinion, it's probably more likely than taking a probiotic supplement." A diverse, "colorful" diet does typically lead to a focus on whole foods like fruits and vegetables, since they're naturally the most colorful. And eating more vegetables and whole foods is a weight loss guideline we've heard quite a bit. Potentially, then, it could be a double win: aiding your gut bacteria, which has plenty of health benefits in its own right, and helping you lose weight.
So while a gut-healthy diet could certainly help you lose fat, the connection between gut bacteria and weight isn't yet as clear-cut as ingesting a particular probiotic and losing weight. Instead of trying to figure out the "magic strain," Dr. Nguyen recommended a healthy, diverse diet to help promote that good bacteria. Those healthy eating habits could very well affect your weight and help to achieve your goal of losing belly fat. And don't worry: we've got plenty more tips on eating healthy to lose belly fat and a week-long belly fat-burning workout plan to help you out.