Can Probiotics Help You Lose Weight? How One Study Almost Got Us to Say Yes

If you’re investigating the power of probiotics to help you lose weight, we want to congratulate you.

Probiotics have proven to be pretty safe way to boost your health compared to other supplements we’ve reviewed. So, well done for choosing wisely.

But there’s something you have to remember as you find healthy ways to reduce your weight. What the headlines say about a product – in this case, probiotics – don’t always tell the whole story.

For the next few minutes we want to take you behind the headlines and into the study that led to the probiotic weight-loss hype, then we’re going to talk about why that study is suspect. We’re going to review a few other studies and then talk about how all this relates to your efforts to lose weight. 

Scientists, a Study & a Probiotic Called LPR: The Link Between Probiotics and Weight Loss

To understand why probiotics have become a weight-loss sensation, we need to go back to a study released in 2014 by a team of scientists from Switzerland and Canada.

This team of 16 scientists took a group of 125 obese men and women in good health and gave half of them Lactobacillus rhamnosus CGMCC21.3724 (a probiotic known as “LPR”) and the other half a placebo.

For the first 12 weeks of the study, the subjects in the LPR group and the placebo group were required to eat 500 calories less than what was recommended for their body size. For the second 12 weeks, they could return to their normal calorie intake. Women who took LPR for 24 weeks lost about 5.7 pounds more than the women who were taking the placebo.

After the results of this study hit the internet through a Nestlé press release and the British Journal of Nutrition, news outlets and big websites picked up on it. They loved it, in fact.

  • NPR published an article about how “good bacteria in yogurt” could be good for your waistline
  • Women’s Health wrote that “probiotics could help you lose weight”
  • The New York Daily News posted an article with the headline, “Probiotics can help women with weight loss: study.”

This was pretty big news in the probiotics world, and it was really encouraging for women who’ve been trying for months or years to lose weight. But these results and headlines made us think, Where are the men in all this? And, more importantly, we wondered who funded this study.

The Men Who Took LPR Lost Weight Slower Than the Men Who Didn’t Take It.

You read that right. The results of the study showed that men who took LPR for the full 24 weeks lost more than half a pound less than the men who took the placebo. These results are significant because they really narrow down the claimed effectiveness of the LPR probiotic to just one gender.

Food Manufacturer Nestlé Was Heavily Involved in the Study

We took a look at the study’s summary on the National Institutes of Health website and discovered something very interesting. Nine of the 16 scientists running the study were from the Nestlé Research Center in Lausanne, Switzerland. That tells us that this study was funded, in some part, by a big food manufacturer. For us, that’s a significant red flag as to the credibility of the study.

The Probiotic Used in the Study was Designed By Nestlé

We kept digging into this study because we felt like there was more to the story. And it turns out there was. In April 2013 (just a few months before the LPR-study results were finalized), Nestlé’s scientists applied for a patent to treat obesity with their own special mix of LPR.

One name on the patent, Christian Darimont, corresponds to a name on the LPR study. Another name, L. Philippe, shares the same last name as a scientist in the LPR study who works for Nestlé.

And here’s where it gets really interesting. The patent includes LPR’s use in infant formula and food products which promote weight loss and/or treat obesity. The patent application even lists the types of food their LPR blend can be used in:

  • Yogurt
  • Milk products
  • Flavored milk
  • Ready-to-eat dessert
  • Malt drinks
  • Ready-to-eat meals

What does all this mean to us? Well, based on all this evidence, it seems like Nestlé was pushing for a patent on the weight-loss powers of LPR in advance of the release of the study. And, based by how many different types of food products that might include LPR, Nestlé could be sitting on a gold mine of food marketing.

But all of this, of course, hinges on their study about LPR’s weight-loss effect on obese men and women. With the study’s results now in front of you and Nestlé’s involvement in it and their plans for the future, what do you need to know?

For us, Nestlé’s results give us pause. Yes, women who took LPR over the course of 24 weeks lost twice the weight as women who didn’t take it. However, these women (as well as the men who lost more weight not taking LPR) were a very specific type of overweight person:

  • Not pregnant
  • Between 18 and 55 years old
  • Not breast feeding
  • Not in menopause
  • A weight change of less than 11 pounds in the past three months
  • No presence of sleep apnea, type-2 diabetes or heart disease
  • A Body Mass Index between 29 and 41
  • No use of vitamins or supplements in the past six months
  • No smoking, drug or alcohol problem

This is a very specific type of overweight person. And because of this specific set or requirements, we believe the results of the Nestlé study aren’t as a promising as they sound. We don’t know if LPR would be as effective if taken by someone who, for example, was using vitamins or was breastfeeding.

On top of that, the study couldn’t give a clear explanation as to why the probiotic helped women lose weight. Understanding the how behind a supplement’s effectiveness is just as important as the results, and we find a clear “how” missing from this study.

Now, we know there’s a lot of skepticism in our observations. We want to balance that out a bit by saying that Nestlé’s research center isn’t known for bad science. It’s not a shady laboratory funded by a no-name supplement company. The center publishes more than 200 studies a year in peer-reviewed journals…that’s a pretty reliable track record.

But we can’t escape the fact that an approved patent for LPR could result in big profit for Nestlé. We need to point out that Nestlé’s LPR isn’t available in American foods yet because the patent hasn’t been approved.

And we also want to throw this reminder out there – LPR is just one of hundreds of types of probiotics, so just because there was evidence of weight loss with LPR doesn’t mean other probiotics will produce the same results.

But Aren’t There Other Studies About Weight Loss and Probiotics? Yes.

Nestlé’s patent application includes examples of two studies where LPR was given to mice who were fed diets intended to make them gain weight. In both cases, the mice who took LPR gained weight at a slower pace than those who didn’t take the probiotic.

We feel as though the results of these studies are legitimate in mice, but using them as evidence to support weight loss in humans is a stretch.

So, we know that, up to this point, we’ve been hesitant to say that probiotics lead to weight loss, mainly because only one strain of probiotic (LPR) has shown significant results in the past two years.

But we do want to bring you some good news. In 2013, a team of researchers from around the world found confirmed an earlier study by saying lean people have more good bacteria in their gut (about 40 percent more) than obese people. We like what this study has to say, but the key here is that it doesn’t tell us how probiotics can increase our gut bacteria, or even which types to take.

This study, along with the other research we’ve found, makes us wonder what all of this means for your effort to lose weight in a healthy, wise way.

Probiotics Can Do Some Great Things, But Right Now, Weight Loss May Not Be One of Them

In general, we think probiotics are great. We’ve written a few articles about what probiotics are, who can take them and some cautions about them.

But at this point in the research of these good bacteria, we aren’t ready to say they are an effective way to lose weight. Our biggest reason is that only one type of probiotic (LPR) has been studied in the past couple of years, and the funding and motive behind that study is tied up in a big company’s plans to create all kinds of probiotic-based food products.

This type of conflict of interest happens all the time, so when you take a look at research it’s important to know who’s funding it and how that might influence the results. We wrote an article recently about this very topic; it will be good resource to help you know how to interpret the reliability of a study.

So here’s the good news: probiotics are an emerging area of study with peer-reviewed results pointing to some promising uses for intestinal health. Also, we think there’s a decent evidence that says having lots of good bacteria in your stomach is great for your overall health, and maybe even your weight.

Based on all of this information, we think the future of probiotics for weight loss could be a bright one but has yet to be soundly proven. In the meantime, we know you’re probably going to search for more answers about probiotics and weight loss.

As you look for facts, you can sharpen your probiotic knowledge with this great intro article we wrote called “Everything you wanted to know about probiotics but didn’t know to ask.” It will help you make sense of probiotics by answering questions about how they work, side effects and whether science backs up the claims of probiotics manufacturers.

Now, if you decide probiotics and supplements aren’t for you, we’ve written an article about how to lose weight without using these products. We’ve found that most weight loss supplements aren’t effective and that gaining knowledge about healthy habits, using that knowledge in our daily life and digging deep to find the desire to keep up that knowledge can truly change your life.


J.R. Duren

J.R. is an award winning journalist who uncovers the hard truths about personal finance, health and fitness through in-depth research and interviews with experts.


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