CBC claim about probiotics and weight loss is wrong

In a Q&A on the CBC web site, Dr. Sean Wharton, a “weight management expert,” was asked, “Are products that replace good gut bacteria helpful?” for weight loss. “Probably not,” he answered. Fact check? . . . 


Dr. Wharton said yogurt drinks contain insufficient quantities of probiotics. But he didn’t stop there. He broadened his answer by saying that you should “Be wary of products claiming to replace your good gut bacteria.” He included all “over-the-counter products.”

Did Dr. Wharton go too far? Is his total dismissal of probiotics as an aid to weight management correct? It’s not.

A 2015 study that included 77 obese children showed otherwise. A recent study included 77 obese children. All the children were put on a calorie reduced diet and a physical activity program, but only half of them were put on a probitic/prebiotic supplement. The study lasted for 1 month. The kids on the probiotics had significantly more weight loss and decreases in body mass index and measures of body fat. They also had significant reductions in oxidative stress. Their total cholesterol and heart harmful LDL cholesterol went down significantly more than in the group that didn’t get the probiotics (Benef Microbes 2015;6:775-82).

A second study discovered that probiotics have the same benefit in adults. This double-blind study included 134 people between the ages of 18 and 65 who properly completed the study. Unlike the first study, none of the people in this study were overweight. The people were divided into 4 groups: they either took probiotics or a prebiotic fiber supplement or both or a placebo for 6 months. Both the probiotic group and the probiotic/prebiotic supplement group lost weight. Compared to the prebiotic group and the placebo group, they lost 4-4.5% body fat or about 1.4kg. Most of the fat loss was abdominal fat loss: an important distinction because losing weight in the abdominal area may be the most important kind of weight loss for living a longer, healthier. The people who supplemented both the probiotic and the prebiotic had an increase in lean body mass, and both the probiotic group and the probiotic/prebiotic group consumed fewer calories (EBiomedicine 2016;doi:org/10.1016/j.ebiom.2016.10.036).

A different kind of study has also found that probiotics can have weight benefits. In this study, 20men were put on a high fat diet for 4 weeks and took either a placebo or a probiotic. The high fat diet resulted in less gain in body mass and fat mass in the probiotic group. This study suggests that probiotics might offer some weight gain protection against a high fat diet (Obesity 2015;23:2364-70).

Despite CBC’s dismissive claim about probiotics and weight management, the recent science has begun to support a role for probiotics in weight management.


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For more on healthy eating, see Linda's newest book, The All-New Vegetarian Passport: a comprehensive health book and cookbook all in one.


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 is intended for educational purposes only and is in no way intended for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. For health problems, consult a qualified health practitioner for a comprehensive program.

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