How Healthy Gut Bacteria May Help With Weight Management

The microscopic organisms in your gut play a big role in shaping your body’s health. Learn more about the important connection.

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If you took a microscope and looked inside of your gut, you’d see that it’s teeming with bacteria—we’re talking trillions of the tiny microorganisms.1 And that’s a good thing! Bacteria can get a bad rap (it’s true, some types can cause illness), but your body hosts a large number of good bacteria, too, called your resident flora. Collectively, these microscopic organisms are known as your microbiome, and researchers are studying their effect on everything from your immune system to your mood.2, 3, 4 This research suggests that your microbiome may even play a role in your weight.5 Here’s how it is thought to work.

How Your Microbiome Evolves

Gut bacteria, scientifically known as microbes, begin to accumulate in your body from the moment you are born. As you go through life, you acquire more and more microbes from the food you eat and the environment you live in.2 There are almost 1,000 different species of bacteria in your gut, and while certain types are more common than others, each person has a unique mix.1

The Link Between Weight and Your Microbiome

That mix is the focus of new research, which suggests that the types of gut bacteria you have may play an important role in determining your weight. Research suggests that heavier people tend to have a different blend of bacteria than their slimmer counterparts.2 To support the balance between the body’s good and bad bacteria, researchers are trying to identify the specific combinations of bacteria that, when enhanced, offer the most benefits for your digestive health.5

Changes in Your Diet May Change Your Microbiome

Improving the health of your microbiome is key for your wellbeing—and possibly your weight, too.1 One way to do this is to eat foods that promote the right kind of gut bacteria. This includes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and fermented foods like yogurt, kombucha, and sauerkraut.6 It’s also a good idea to stay away from foods that can upset the balance of your gut bacteria, such as those that are high in processed sugar or saturated fat.6

Do Prebiotics and Probiotics Help With Weight Management?

If you’re unable to get enough of these healthy foods into your diet, or if you want to give your microbiome an extra boost, you should consider prebiotic and probiotic supplements. Prebiotics, found naturally in fruits and vegetables and also in supplement form like Benefiber®, contain complex carbohydrates that your body only partially digests. When they pass through your gut, they help nourish and support its good bacteria to establish a healthy balance. Probiotic supplements, which provide the same benefits of bacteria found in foods such as yogurt, deposit living microbes directly into the gut.1 Prebiotic fiber and probiotics can help with satiety, but more research is needed in regards to their effect on metabolism and weight management.

Improving your gut bacteria isn’t the only answer to weight management: Exercise and diet still play a major role. While more research is needed to fully understand how probiotics and prebiotics can work with your gut bacteria to support weight management, the role of exercise and diet in maintaining a healthy weight is clear. Try adding prebiotic fibers and probiotics to your lifestyle, as they help with satiety and digestive health. Future research will determine the best combination of all these factors as part of the evolution of weight management. 

Show ReferencesHide References

  1. “Prebiotics, Probiotics and Your Health.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 6 Mar. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/prebiotics-probiotics-and-your-health/art-20390058.
  2. Mueller, Noel T., et al. “The Infant Microbiome Development: Mom Matters.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Feb. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4464665/.
  3. Fields, Helen. “The Gut: Where Bacteria and Immune System Meet.” Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library, Nov. 2015, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/research/advancements-in-research/fundamentals/in-depth/the-gut-where-bacteria-and-immune-system-meet.
  4. Clapp, Megan, et al. “Gut Microbiota’s Effect on Mental Health: The Gut-Brain Axis.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 15 Sept. 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5641835/.
  5. Hjorth, M F, et al. “Pre-Treatment Microbial Prevotella-to-Bacteroides Ratio, Determines Body Fat Loss Success during a 6-Month Randomized Controlled Diet Intervention.” International Journal of Obesity, Nature Publishing Group, 8 Sept. 2017, www.nature.com/articles/ijo2017220.
  6. Heiman, Mark L., and Frank L. Greenway. “A Healthy Gastrointestinal Microbiome Is Dependent on Dietary Diversity.” Advances in Pediatrics., U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2016, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4837298/.
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