Believe it or not, the human body contains more bacteria living inside than individual cells: 100 trillion microorganisms live in our gastrointestinal tract as compared with a "mere" 10 trillion human cells in our body. And one of the best kinds of microorganisms we can have flourishing inside our bodies are the probiotics, the healthy bacteria that live in our intestines or gut. Now, new research from the Stanford University School of Medicine and Stanford Hospital and Clinics suggests probiotics might even enhance weight-loss programs.
The Stanford researchers first noticed the beneficial effects of probiotics on weight when working with extremely obese patients who've had gastric-bypass surgery. But studies are showing that the benefits of probiotics are not limited to those who've had this medical procedure.
So why are probiotics assisting with weight loss? Several studies have suggested that the guts of normal-weight people contain a different mix or balance of the types and amounts of bacteria that are found in the intestines of overweight folks. One study even found these same imbalances among the microorganisms in 7-year-old kids who were overweight.
Could it be that bad bacteria are causing at least some of our weight issues? Is it possible that one day we'll just ingest a dollop of "weight-friendly" bacteria to bring our body size under control?
It's too soon to know exactly where this discovery will lead, so here are my recommendations:
Be sure to include foods in your diet that contain probiotics, such as yogurt.
Avoid brands of yogurt that have the "fruit" at the bottom and instead go with low-fat, low-sugar varieties that contain plenty of protein and calcium. A cup of yogurt is a great snack to hold you over in between meals or after a workout. Greek yogurts are especially high in protein.
Make prebiotics part of your regular diet as well. Prebiotics--tiny fibers found in some fruits and vegetables--just happen to be what probiotics and other good bacteria eat. Good sources of prebiotics include wheat, bananas, onions, garlic, and leeks. (Europeans eat far more prebiotics than do people in the U.S--might this explain part of the weight discrepancy between the U.S. and European populations?)
If you have digestive issues, be sure to talk with your doctor or dietitian about "pharmaceutical-grade" probiotics, which are the equivalent of prescription-strength good bacteria.
Last, a caveat: Don't even think about starting to load up on probiotics so that you can slack off on exercise or ignore your healthy eating plan. There is no miracle probiotic cure in the pipeline!