From Microbiome Research to Probiotics for Obesity

It’s early days yet, but effective probiotics for obesity might just emerge from the intense research interest in the microbiome — the microbes that live in our bodies and vastly outnumber our own cells. A placebo-controlled study recently published in the British Journal of Nutrition found a formulation of Lactobacillus rhamnosus (LPR) could help women with obesity achieve sustainable weight loss.

Of course, caution is warranted. This is only one small study, the first human study of LPR in obesity. The investigators found a significant (p=0.02) weight loss benefit in women receiving LPR, but not in men. In the first 12 weeks, the difference versus placebo for women amounted to about four extra pounds lost. During that time, all participants were on a diet of moderate caloric restriction for weight loss. For 12 weeks after that, both groups continued in a maintenance phase. Their diet was supervised, but not calorie restricted. At the end of the 24 weeks, women in the LPR group had lost 6 pounds more than women in the placebo group.

Though these results are encouraging, they are not definitive. The intent-to-treat analysis for men and women combined did not achieve statistical significance. The authors speculate that the difference might be  that the men in the placebo group had a greater response to caloric restriction than the women. More research is definitely needed to sort this out.

By no means should anyone run out and waste their money on a probiotic hoping for a weight loss miracle. Total weight loss in this study was modest — about 5% — but enough to be helpful. The LPR formulation used in this study is found in some kinds of yoghurt in Europe, but not in the U.S. Loading up on yoghurt might be more likely to help you gain weight than to lose it.

Yet this study’s publication marks one small step toward translating microbiome research into a useful treatment option.

Click here to read more in the National Post, click here to read more about the role of the gut microbiome in obesity, and click here to read the study in the British Journal of Nutrition.

Probiotic Bacteria, public domain image

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