Photo credit: mahalie
Good news for pregnant yogurt-lovers! Scientists in Finland looked into the effects of probiotic consumption during pregnancy. And they found that probiotics helped reduce post-pregnancy obesity levels.
Probiotics, as you may recall, are those "good" bugs that live in cultured foods like yogurt and kefir. (As opposed to the "bad" bugs you get when you drop your food on the kitchen floor and, if no-one's looking, decide to invoke the "five second rule" and eat it anyway.)
So, you might wonder, what if you're not pregnant--can you eat a bunch of yogurt or takes some capsules and lose some quick belly fat?
Well, I wondered that too. And I am still wondering that. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of research yet. But in the meantime, there are lots of reasons you might benefit from eating probiotics anyway.
But First, The Pregnancy Study
The researchers assigned 256 pregnant women randomly into one of three groups. The first group (we'll call it the "Lucky" group) got capsules with lactobacillus and bifidobacterium as well as dietary counseling. The second group (the "Dummies") got dietary counseling and placebo "dummy" pills with no good bugs in them. The third group (the "Loser" group) got bupkus--no dietary counseling and no real capsules, just the placebos.
The women took the capsules starting in their first trimester of pregnancy, and continued until "the women stopped exclusive breastfeeding, after up to six months." (Presumably they meant after the baby stopped exclusive breastfeeding--unless there are some very odd diets new moms are trying out these days).
The researchers were particular interested in "central obesity," which is worse for your health than the big-butt kind of obesity. Central obesity was defined as "a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more or a waist circumference over 80 centimetres." (Or for those of us who live in the United States where we're too damn lazy to just suck it up and switch to the metric system like the rest of the world--80 centimetres is about 31 and a half inches.)
(Picky, boring research side note: Here's where I thought the methodology got kinda funky. How accurate are stomach measurements during pregnancy at capturing actual fat gain? Probably not very. Because one woman might be carrying twin sumo wrestlers, while another woman may be pregnant with a tiny future ballerina. So the researchers didn't gather initial waist measurements, even though central obesity is what they were mostly interested in. Apparently they couldn't go back in time and get them pre-pregnancy. Instead it looks like they just used post-partum averages to compare the groups, which would mean a lot of noise in the data).
Anyway, turns out only 25 per cent of the women who had been given the probiotics as well as diet advice fell into the "central obesity" category, compared to 43 per cent of the women who got dietary counseling alone, and 40 per cent of the women who got neither diet advice nor probiotics. The average body fat differences were less dramatic, but I'm assuming they were statistically significant: 28 per cent, 29 per cent, and 30 per cent respectively.
Blah blah blah. You lost me at 256 pregnant women. Get to the point, willya?
Oh, hi there! Yeah, so it seems like there's at least something interesting going on with probiotics perhaps helping fight post-pregnancy obesity. Keep an eye out for further studies.
(And does anyone else find it interesting how little impact dietary counseling had compared to the probiotic pills? Sounds like either most women pretty much blew off the advice, or that the standard nutritional advice doesn't do squat towards preventing obesity.)
Why Did They Just Study Pregant Women?
One might wonder why the researchers chose to study the probiotic/obesity connection in pregnant women
Well, it turns out one of the reasons was that the researchers wanted to keep following the women and their babies to see whether the pre-natal probiotics will influence the babies' health.
“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.”
Dang it. Cute babies... they win every time!
So Should We All Start Eating Yogurt For Weight Management?
Alas, I couldn't find much other non-pregnancy research on probiotics fighting obesity, other than the "scientists are looking in to it" kind of thing. But it's possible that my
However, you can bet if it turns out there's any connection, scientists and product marketers will be all over this one.
But There Are Other Great Reasons to Get "Cultured" Too!
Mayo Clinic has a brief run-down on some of the medical benefits of probiotics. Like they can:
- Treat diarrhea, especially the kind you get after taking antibiotics
- Prevent and treat vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections
- Treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Reduce bladder cancer recurrence
- Shorten the duration of intestinal infections
- Prevent and treat inflammation following colon surgery (pouchitis)
- Prevent eczema in children
- Aid in general health
Which Bugs for Which Problems?
While the supplements in the pregnancy study were the commonly seen lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, there are lots of other different probiotics strains out there. Some work better than others for specific medical conditions.
For a helpful guide to probiotics you may want to check out Love That Bug (Old-timer Cranky Fitness readers may recognize that as that the site of our friend Dawn Rotarangi of The Flightless Writer). There are lots of specifics there, whether you're dealing with hay fever, IBS, "women' stuff," or a bunch of other medical issues.
And speaking of "women's stuff"...
Why Women MUST Eat Yogurt!
I probably ran this video already, since it's a year old and I thought it was hilarious when I first saw it. Anyway, here it is again:
So do you folks make an effort to get some good bugs in your diet? Would you eat more if it turned out it discouraged extra fat around your waist?