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You may already be familiar with taking probiotics to counter stomach complaints or reduce diarrhea that results from taking antibiotics. Probiotics, the “friendly bacteria,” are touted as an aid in improving immunity and managing digestion, but whether they have a significant role in weight loss is still up for debate.
Before you can decide whether to add probiotics to your diet, it helps to know what they are. “Probiotics are foods that contain live bacteria or other organisms that may promote your health,” says Amy C. Brown, PhD, RD, associate professor in the department of complementary and alternative medicine at the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. “They are naturally found in fermented dairy products and other fermented foods or beverages.” Probiotics are also available in supplement form.
Probiotics and Weight Loss: The Debate
“Recently the research world has been buzzing about how probiotics may help with weight loss,” says Brown. The theory is that probiotics may affect the way that energy (calories) is digested and therefore could help regulate the process by which energy can be used by the body, including becoming fat.
Brown recommends caution in the face of any such research: Probiotics are not magic diet pills, and they definitely do not give you license to stop counting calories or following your diet.
“I can tell you that the very minute those minor changes probiotics cause in relationship to metabolic pathways related to obesity occurs, they will be immediately wiped out with an extra spoonful or sip of anything containing calories,” she says. In fact, a sugary yogurt could have more calories than probiotic benefit.
The Health Benefits of Probiotics
The recommendation to include probiotics in a healthy diet dates back to the 1930s. Probiotics can be used to help:
As long as you keep counting calories, adding probiotics to your diet may be good for your health and your weight. Just remember that its chief benefit may be more geared toward your well-being rather than your weight loss.