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Blog Nutrition Can Probiotics Cause Weight Gain? Yes, And Here Are 5 Reasons Why

Can Probiotics Cause Weight Gain? Yes, And Here Are 5 Reasons Why

can probiotics cause weight gain

While shopping for your groceries, you have probably come across probiotic yogurts. What do you know about probiotics? No, they are not yogurt flavorings, and neither are they preservatives. Probiotics are live organisms found in food and supplement forms. They have immense benefits to the body, including improving your gut and immune health. Did you know that probiotics can also help you lose weight and get rid of that stubborn belly fat? To illustrate, certain bacteria turn indigestible carbohydrates into fatty acids which are then absorbed by us and used as energy , consequently impacting the amount of calories your body absorbs (8). Additionally, some prebiotic fibers stimulate your body to release the satiety hormone, making you feel fuller faster (33).

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Can Some Probiotics Cause Weight Gain? Here’s Why

On the flip side, some probiotics can cause you to gain weight. Everything done correctly and in moderation is bound to yield good results, and so do probiotics. Note that probiotics are not created the same and therefore benefit your body differently.

The advantage you reap from them is influenced by factors such as your diet and lifestyle. Additionally, randomly taking too many probiotics and hoping to shed off some pounds will likely not work. As a matter of fact, you need to know the kind of probiotic strain to take.

For example, one strain of Lactobacillus Gasseri may help limit weight gain, and another strain may promote weight gain (23). You also need to know how often to take it and what kind of diet to complement it with. You see, it can get pretty overwhelming.

That said, here are answers to your question ‘can taking probiotics  cause weight gain?’ 

The Delivery System Of The Probiotics

Drinking probiotic yogurt or kombucha is one way of getting your dose of probiotics. You may also obtain your serving of probiotics from foods such as buttermilk, fermented pickles, tempeh, and miso soup.

However, sometimes, you may need to take them in supplement form. These are usually in the form of capsules. Now, the form of delivery is just as crucial as the probiotic it contains since these bacteria need a secure carrier to help them reach the gut intact.

 Therefore, the capsules need to be able to withstand the saliva in the mouth and not dissolve. If this capsule starts disintegrating in your mouth, it is improbable that it will survive the stomach acids (15). Sadly, the probiotics within may not reach their intended destination, stimulate digestion and increase your metabolism.

Are you wondering why you are gaining weight despite faithfully taking your probiotics supplements instead of losing them? Well, check the form of delivery. You may be squashing off these bacteria in your mouth before they even get a chance to go down your gut.

It’s even worse when you continue taking in more calories, with the blessed assurance that your probiotics will work their magic, yet you haven’t given them a chance to.

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Commercial Probiotics Drinks And Foods May Be Loaded With Sugar

You may want to reconsider that kombucha drink from the store as it may be the reason why your weight loss journey is longer than you expected. Here’s why. Commercial probiotic beverages and food, unfortunately, may be loaded with unhealthy sugars. And you know, taking too much sugar is a no-no in your weight loss journey (28).

Yogurt, for instance, apart from the flavorings and fruit additives, may contain added sugars. The fermentation process of kombucha requires sugar to feed the probiotic bacteria. While this may help improve the taste of these drinks, it does little to help with your weight loss journey. When shopping for a probiotic drink or food, consider those with low sugar content. Alternatively, avoid commercial probiotic drinks and foods. 

You Are Taking Probiotic Strains That Promote Obesity

Yes, that’s right. You may be actively consuming a probiotic strain that promotes weight gain while expecting it to help you lose weight. Some strains of probiotics encourage obesity. One such strain is the Lactobacillus Acidophilus which may alter the bacteria in the gut to promote cellular growth (4).

Have you ever wondered how livestock and even poultry are fattened up within the shortest time possible? These animals are given a form of this bacteria to help fatten them up. When buying probiotic drinks and foods, especially commercial ones, carefully read the labels and ingredients.

Some of the best probiotics for weight loss might contain Lactobacillus Gasseri (4). Lactobacillus gasserithems are termed thermogenic, meaning they can generate heat in the body to metabolize fat. So, if you need to get rid of fats under your arms, this may be the probiotic to choose (9).

However, much scientific research still needs to be done to fully understand all of the different probiotic strains and exactly how they each affect human health. When in doubt about what strains to take, consider simply adding some fermented foods to your diet which have been consumed by humans for thousands of years, and don’t get too bogged down in the details.

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Potency Of The Probiotic

There are a lot of different types of probiotics. Understand that probiotic drinks and supplements contain variations of probiotics. Some are more potent than others and can survive the harsh conditions in your mouth and gut (21). Usually, such probiotics have a higher chance of making a difference in your gut.

On the other hand, probiotics with weak potency usually don’t make it far.  For probiotic supplements, the capsule is not the only one supposed to be strong enough. The bacteria within needs to be potent enough as well. If the strain contained isn’t strong enough, it may not even survive storage. There is a high chance that you are ingesting dead probiotic strains.

Storage also influences the state of these bacteria. Probiotic drinks such as yogurts need refrigeration as some stains need cold temperatures to survive. However, this is usually short-lived. Transporting these products removes them from an ideal environment, further slimming the probiotic strain’s chances of survival.

Moreover, displaying such drinks on shelves does more harm than good. 

Often you get yourself buying a product labeled ‘contains healthy probiotics’ when it really contains dead strains of this bacteria. You end up consuming sugary drinks with no beneficial ingredients. The result of this could be weight gain.

Read More: Probiotics For Weight Loss: Can These Supplements Help You Lose Weight And Belly Fat?

Failure To Complement With A Healthy Diet

You cannot eat all the fatty foods, processed sugars, and fizzy drinks, then expect to melt all that away with a simple pop of a probiotic supplement. Weight loss goes hand in hand with a healthy diet. A diet rich in fats and added sugars will keep your weight up, no matter how many probiotic supplements you take. A healthy diet supplemented with probiotics could help you lose and maintain a healthy weight.

Additionally, to increase the effectiveness of probiotics, consider those with added natural ingredients. A great example of a natural addition is turmeric. When used correctly, turmeric may help enhance your metabolism and help you lose weight (31). If your belly fat is too stubborn, consider taking turmeric-based probiotics.

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Other Possible Side Effects Of Probiotics

Too much of anything is dangerous, and this includes probiotics. Even though they promise weight loss and other health benefits, probiotics need to be taken in moderation. You will not lose weight faster by drinking several bottles of yogurt at a go. What you will get is a bloated stomach.

Do you know what will happen to your body and your digestive system if you take too many probiotics?

Below is a list of the possible side effects of taking too much probiotics.

Digestive Issues

Your tummy will not appreciate too many probiotics. Sooner or later, you could start experiencing issues such as bloating (21). There is nothing as uncomfortable as having excess gas in your digestive tract. Alongside excess gas in your abdomen, your stomach will feel swollen and tight.

 Also, you will find yourself passing gas more often. It is normal to pass gas. As bacteria digest food in your mouth, gas is released. As a matter of fact, the average person passes gas 13 to 21 times per day (11).  Taking an excess of probiotic supplements increases gas production, which consequently causes bloating and gas.

Apart from bloating, taking too many yeast-based probiotics also increases the risk of constipation and extreme thirst (22). Some probiotic strains such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and saccharomyces boulardii provide relief for diarrhea (34).  However, in large quantities, these probiotic strains can irritate your gut and result in diarrhea.

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Headaches

Probiotic foods such as Kimchi and drinks such as yogurt contain biogenic amines (32). The most common amines found in foods with probiotics include histamines, tryptamine, and tyramine (3). 

Amines work on exciting the central nervous system by regulating the increase and decrease of blood flow to this area. People who are sensitive to amine and take a lot of probiotics are likely to experience symptoms such as headaches and migraines (6,5).

Taking probiotic foods and taking probiotic supplements may sometimes cause different reactions. If you notice a slight headache coming in after taking some probiotic foods, consider switching to supplements instead. 

Increased Histamine Levels

Consuming too many probiotics can increase histamine levels in your body. This is because some of the bacterial strains used in probiotic supplements can stimulate histamine production inside your digestive tract ( 14, 13).

When your body detects a threat, say a cut or a bacteria, it produces histamine. This is the hormone that helps your body protect itself against danger. When your histamine levels rise, your blood vessels will dilate, increasing blood flow to the affected area. Your blood vessels then become permeable to allow your immune cells to get to the affected area and also rid off pathogens, if any.

This is also accompanied by symptoms such as swelling and redness. You may start experiencing allergy symptoms such as itchy, watery eyes and a running nose.

Usually, histamine is broken down by an enzyme called diamine oxidase(DAO), which also prevents histamine levels from rising to a point where they cause symptoms (7).

However, there are some individuals, and you could be one of them, who are histamine intolerant and have trouble breaking it down. This is usually because you don’t produce enough DAO (12). The excess histamine is absorbed in the digestive tracts for such individuals and consequently causes symptoms such as those of an allergic reaction. If you are histamine intolerant, you may want to avoid histamine-producing probiotic strains such as Lactobacillus buchneri and streptococcus thermophilus (24).

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Risk Of Adverse Reactions

If you’re allergic and intolerant to many foods, then it’s wise to read the labels of any probiotic supplements you buy carefully. Some of these supplements may contain common allergens such as dairy, soy, and eggs. Such supplements should be avoided by anyone with allergies since they may trigger allergic reactions (1, 10).

In the same vein, if you are allergic to yeast, consider taking bacteria-based probiotics instead of yeast-based ones (18). 

You aren’t lucky either if you are lactose intolerant. For one, lactose is one of the ingredients in these supplements (30). You may increase bloating and flatulence if you take lactose-containing probiotics. Therefore, it’s best to choose lactose-free options instead. 

What’s more, some probiotic supplements contain prebiotics. These are simple plant fibers that the bacteria use as food, but you cannot digest them. The most common prebiotic is lactulose (17). When a supplement contains both a prebiotic and a probiotic, it is referred to as a synbiotic (16). 

Some individuals may experience flatulence and bloating when they consume synbiotics.

Read More: Benefits Of Super Greens: 11 Reasons To Include Them In Your Diet

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Increases Risk Of Infection

Granted, probiotics are relatively safe and beneficial to most individuals. However, there is a small percentage of people where consuming probiotics does more harm than good. For some people, albeit in rare cases, the bacteria and yeast found in probiotics make them susceptible to infections (25).

For instance, people with suppressed immunity or those who have undergone prolonged hospitalization periods may not be able to contain probiotics in their bodies safely. This group also includes those using a venous catheter and those fresh from surgery (20). If you have acute pancreatitis, avoid taking probiotics as they may increase the risk of death (19).

If you don’t fall into one of those categories, you need not worry as the risk of developing an infection is very low. To put your heart at ease, consider the following statistics. Approximately only one person in eight million who takes probiotics daily will develop an infection. It gets better, the risk is almost negligible for probiotics containing yeast. Here, only one person in 5.6 million people can get an infection (26).

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Skin Problems

Probiotics are known to boost and maintain the health of your skin. It may come as a shocker that ingesting too many probiotics may be counteractive. How can probiotics cause skin problems? Simple.  Consuming too much probiotics can cause skin rashes and itchiness in some people (29). Although sometimes you may not attribute the acne breakout you have to what you eat, consuming excess probiotics may lead to breakouts.

One other way to explain a skin reaction after consuming probiotics is that these bacterias are triggering an allergy showing its symptoms on your skin.

Luckily, skin reactions caused by probiotics are rare and usually pass after some time. As mentioned before, eating supplements with dairy, soy, or egg additives is likely to trigger an allergic reaction. 

Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth

Probiotics can be linked to small intestine bacterial overgrowth. This is the excessive growth of bacteria in the small intestines. An abnormal high quantity of bacteria in the small intestines, caused by consuming too many probiotics or some other reason, increases food fermentation. As the food ferments, it produces gasses such as methane and hydrogen (2).

Continuous release of these gases over a short period may lead to bloating, abdominal pain, and nausea. In the long run, bacterial overgrowth in the intestines can lead to interstitial mucosal inflammation. This is dangerous since it can damage the villi, intestinal tract and also thin the mucus membrane (27).

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Antibiotic Resistance

On rare occasions, probiotics can cause your body to resist antibiotics. This happens when the probiotic strain in your supplement contains an antibiotic-resistant gene. Unfortunately, such strains can pass these genes to other bacteria. 

The good news is that most probiotic manufactures test for antibiotic resistance. Even then, it’s best to buy your supplements from reputable companies to reduce your chances of ingesting this gene.

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Conclusion

Probiotics are generally considered safe to use by people of all ages. Even then, as is with every other supplement, moderation is vital. Taking the wrong probiotics can put a bumper on your weight loss journey. Taking them in excess is also dangerous.

 To avoid such scenarios, always consult with your doctor before taking any probiotic supplements. Always remember that losing weight is a collective affair and a gradual procedure. Taking probiotic supplements together with a healthy diet can help you lose weight. Remember that probiotics are not alternatives to your vitamins and minerals. So don’t forget to take those as well.

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DISCLAIMER:

This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility.

SOURCES:

  1. Anaphylactic reaction to probiotics. Cow’s milk and hen’s egg allergens in probiotic compounds (2012, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  2. Bacteria, colonic fermentation, and gastrointestinal health (2012, pubmed.mcbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  3. Bioactive molecules released in food by lactic acid bacteria: Encrypted peptides and bigenic amines (2016, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  4. Comparative meta-analysis of the effect of Lactobacillus species on weight gain in humans and animals (2012, sciencedirect.com)
  5. Detection, growth and amine-producing capacity of lactobacilli in cheese (1989, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  6. Diet and headache (2016, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  7. Effect of amine oxidases in allergic and histamine mediated conditions (2013, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  8. Effects of gut microbes on nutrient absorption and energy regulation (2012, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  9. Effects of Lactobacillus gasseri BNR17 on overweight and obese adults: A randomized, double-blind clinical trial (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  10. Food allergies and food intolerance (2006, pubmed.mcbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  11. Gas and bloating (2006, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  12. Histamine and histamine intolerance (2007, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  13. Histamine in two component system-mediated bacterial signaling (2012, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih)
  14. Lactic acid bacteria contribution to gut microbiota complexity: lights and shadows( 2012, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  15. Microencapsulation of new probiotic formulations for gastrointestinal delivery: in vitro study to assess viability and biological properties (2015, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  16. New approaches for bacteriotherapy: prebiotics, new-generation probiotics, and synbiotics (2015, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  17. Prebiotics: Why definitions matter (2016, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  18. Probiotic gastrointestinal allergic reaction caused by saccharomyces boullardi (2009, pubmed.ncbi.nln.nih.gov)
  19. Probiotic prophylaxis in predicted severe acute pancreatitis: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial (2008, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  20. Probiotic use in clinical practice: what are the risks? (2006, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  21. Probiotics (2020, ods.od.nih.gov)
  22. Probiotics for clostridium difficile diarrhea: putting it into perspective (2007, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  23. Probiotics for the control of obesity-Its effect on weight change (2016, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  24. Quantitative analysis of histidine decarboxylase gene (hdcA) transcription and histamine production by Streptococcus thermophilus PRI60 under conditions relevant to cheese making (2011, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  25. Recurrent septicemia in an immunocompromised patient due to probiotic strains of Bacillus subtilis (1998, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  26. Safety of probiotics that contain lactobacilli or bifidobacteria(2003, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  27. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth: Clinical Features and Therapeutic Management (2019, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  28. Sugar consumption, metabolic diseases and obesity: The state of the controversy (2015, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  29. Systematic review: probiotics in the management of lower gastrointestinal symptoms – an updated evidence‐based international consensus (2018, ncbi.nl.nih.gov)
  30. Technological challenges for future probiotic foods (2002, sciencedirect.com)
  31. The effects of curcumin on weight loss, among patients with metabolic syndrome and related disorders- systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  32. The problem of biogenic amines in fermented food and the use of potential biogenic amine degrading microorganisms as a solution (2014,sciencedirect.com)
  33. The role of probiotics and prebiotics in the prevention and treatment of obesity (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  34. Use of probiotics in gastrointestinal disorders: What to recommend (2010, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
Jeremy Mukhwana
Jeremy Mukhwana
K. Fleming
K. Fleming

I am a U.S. educated and trained Registered Dietitian (MS, RD, CNSC) with clinical and international development experience. I have experience conducting systematic reviews and evaluating the scientific literature both as a graduate student and later to inform my own evidence-based practice as an RD. I am currently based in Lusaka, Zambia after my Peace Corps service was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic and looking for some meaningful work to do as I figure out next steps. This would be my first freelance project, but I am a diligent worker and quite used to independent and self-motivated work.

Kristen Fleming, MS, RD, CNSC

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