Similar to or the same as the microorganisms naturally present within our bodies, some bacteria of these probiotics can help aid digestion, vitamin production and destruction of disease-causing cells.
Prior research used mixtures of probiotic strains to assess the effect on obesity management, so the authors of the current study sought to find out what happened when they administered Bifidobacteria alone.
Probiotics for weight management
All children were on a Mediterranean-style diet with a calorie limit tailored to their needs, said the study’s lead author, Dr. Flavia Prodam, an associate professor in clinical nutrition in the department of health sciences at the University of Piemonte Orientale in Italy. Children then received either the probiotic for eight weeks or a placebo.
Both groups ultimately experienced a reduction in body mass index, waist circumference, blood pressure, insulin resistance and concentrations of E. coli bacteria in their guts. The participants who took probiotics, however, saw greater results in weight loss, insulin sensitivity and reduced E. coli concentrations.
That the effects of the probiotics continued for a few weeks after children stopped taking it is an unusual finding for studies on probiotics, said Dr. Christopher Moran, a pediatric gastroenterologist and director of the Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition Fellowship at MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston, who wasn’t involved in the study.
“Many studies show that when you stop taking the probiotic, it vanishes in the intestines and doesn’t have long-lasting (effects),” added Moran, who is also an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.
Supporting your child’s gut health
Foods such as “wheat, onion, banana, garlic and leek” can also feed the Bifidobacteria in our guts, Prodam said.
Whether children have more or less of certain probiotic strains can be genetically and environmentally predisposed, Moran said — but microbiota composition can also be “directly dependent on eating particular foods, including changes in the microbiota when we eat overly processed foods.”
The unknowns of probiotics
Additional, longer studies are necessary for greater understanding of how probiotic supplements could modify the gut microbiota, and therefore metabolism and weight.
“There is data that already exists suggesting that obesity might (be) associated with microbiome changes, although a lot of that data doesn’t describe whether the microbiome changes came first … or the weight changes happened and then microbiome changes,” Moran said in an email. “We also know that many large dietary changes (especially restriction diets) have a large effect on our microbiome.”
“Although probiotics are generally regarded as safe for most people, the majority of probiotic trials have not reported safety data as rigorously as these data are reported in pharmaceutical trials,” said Dr. Geoffrey Preidis, a pediatric gastroenterologist and assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital.
“So the risk of side effects might be higher than we think,” Preidis, who wasn’t involved in the study, added. “Parents should consult with their children’s doctors prior to starting any probiotic regimen.”