Probiotics got another positive endorsement this week—this time for their potential to be a very powerful tool in the war on weight gain.
In a small study published in the journal Obesity, and reported on by Time, a group of 20 healthy men consumed a high-fat, high-calorie diet for a month. A sampling of the men then drank a probiotic mix (which specifically included the bacteria strains of lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium longum and goes by the name of VSL#3) blended into a milkshake in conjunction with the diet. The researchers found that the group that had the probiotic-packed milkshake actually had lower body mass and fat accumulation when compared to the group that didn’t (that group drank a placebo milkshake).
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So what does this mean? While probiotics have previously been linked to good gut health and better overall digestion, among other things, this study may suggest that this new probiotic supplement can have some sort of combative effect on overeating by altering the gut bacteria that typically makes it more difficult for the body to absorb nutrients.
While VSL#3 isn’t available to consumers yet, here are some things to look for when selecting a probiotic specifically for digestive purposes:
Specific strains do specific things. “You see a great deal of variety between probiotics,” celebrity nutritionist Paula Simpson says. “Probiotic products tend to contain a large number of friendly bacteria (often many billions per dose), and several different strains. Lactobacillus acidophilus is the most popular strain of probiotic and research has shown it to enhance your immune system. Bifidobacteria bifidum is another strain that you will often see in probiotics. It helps with digestion, supports your immune system and aids in the synthesis of B vitamins.”
Yogurt has to contain live bacteria to be considered probiotic. It sounds very scientific, but look for two terms—lactobacillus bulgaricus and streptococcus thermophiles—to make sure it’s giving your body the most benefit. “Most manufacturers pasteurize their yogurt, which kills off the naturally occurring probiotics and then add back in probiotics like L. acidophilus, L. bulgaricus, L. casei and L. rhamnosus, which are not as effective,” says celebrity nutritionist Cynthia Pasquella. “If you choose to turn to yogurt for your probiotic needs, make sure you read the label so you know exactly what you’re getting.”
Microbe counts matter. “Most microbe counts on the bottle differ greatly from what you will actually find inside the product,” Pasquella says. “Companies simply provide the microbe count that is in the probiotics at the time they are manufactured, but it does not guarantee that count will be the same when you purchase the product. Most probiotics die off after they’re manufactured and many products actually contain zero live organisms.”
It isn’t true that all probiotic supplements need to be refrigerated—and some might not even help your specific issue. “Take a little time to read up on the supplement you choose and learn the best way to store it safely,” Pasquella says. “You want to make sure you check out the strain of probiotic that you’re buying as different strains support different conditions in the body and can have very different conditions on your health. If you’re looking for a probiotic to help with a particular health issue, do your research to find the best strain for you before heading out to the store.”