Probiotic supplements during the first trimester of pregnancy
may help women lose weight after the infants birth,
say new findings presented today at the European Congress
Finnish researchers report that supplements containing Lactobacillus
and Bifidobacterium were associated with less central obesity,
defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more or a waist
circumference over 80 centimetres.
The results of our study, the first to demonstrate the
impact of probiotics-supplemented dietary counselling on adiposity,
were encouraging, said researcher Kirsi Laitinen from
the University of Turku in Finland. The women who got
the probiotics fared best. One year after childbirth, they
had the lowest levels of central obesity as well as the lowest
body fat percentage.
Central obesity, where overall obesity is combined with
a particularly fat belly, is considered especially unhealthy,
added Laitinen. We found it in 25 per cent of the women
who had received the probiotics along with dietary counselling,
compared with 43 per cent in the women who received diet advice
According the FAO/WHO, probiotics are defined as "live
microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts
confer a health benefit on the host".
The researchers used Lactobacillus LGG (provided by Valio)
and Bifidobacterium lactis (provided by Chr Hansen). Neither
company provided funds for the study, with financial support
coming from the Social Insurance Institution of Finland, the
Academy of Finland and the Sigrid Juselius Foundation, a Finnish
medical research charity.
Laitinen told attendees that 256 women were randomly divided
into three groups during the first trimester of pregnancy.
Two of the groups received dietary counselling consistent
with current recommendations. One of those groups also received
the daily probiotic capsules, while the other group received
dummy capsules. The third group received placebo capsules
and no dietary counselling. Supplementation continued until
the women stopped exclusive breastfeeding, up to 6 months.
At the end of the study, central obesity was recorded in 18
per cent fewer women in the probiotic group than in women
who received placebo plus dietary counselling, and 15 per
cent fewer women in the control group.
Average body fat percentage was 28 per cent in the probiotic
group, compared to 29 and 30 per cent in the diet advice only
group and the control group, respectively.
Laitinen told NutraIngredients.com that future research will
follow the women and their babies to see whether giving probiotics
during pregnancy has any influence on health outcomes in the
Based on previous experiments, we hypothesise that the
maternal diet may influence both glucose metabolism and weight
in the children, she said.
Gut health and body weight
A breakthrough paper published in Nature in December 2006
reported that microbial populations in the gut are different
between obese and lean people, and that when the obese people
lost weight their microflora reverted back to that observed
in a lean person, suggesting that obesity may have a microbial
At a scientific symposium organised by the Beneo Group last
year, Dr. Kieran Touhy from the University of Reading noted
that obese animals have significantly lower bifidobacteria
levels than their lean counterparts, which suggests potential
for prebiotic fibres since the growth of these bacteria is
selectively promoted by inulin and fructooligosaccharides.
Dr. Nathalie Delzenne from the Catholic University of Louvain
in Belgium and Dr. Robert Welch from the University of Ulster
presented results from animal and human studies, respectively,
which indicated the potential of prebiotic supplementation
to regulated food intake.
A study involving scientists from Nestle, the Catholic University
of Louvain, and the Institute of Molecular Medicine Rangueil
in Toulouse, reported last year that direct modulation of
the gut microflora using could directly affect metabolism,
as well as influencing the maintenance of whole body glucose
equilibrium, independent of food intake or obesity (FASEB
The advantage of studying pregnant women to investigate
the potential link between probiotics and obesity is that
it allows us to see the effects not only in the women, but
also in their children, said Laitinen. Particularly
during pregnancy, the impacts of obesity can be immense, with
the effects seen both in the mother and the child.
Bacteria are passed from mother to child through the
birth canal, as well as through breast milk and research indicates
that early nutrition may influence the risk of obesity later
in life. There is growing evidence that this approach might
open a new angle on the fight against obesity, either through
prevention or treatment.