Probiotics are an incredible way of improving your digestive health. And because of how all aspects of health are interconnected, improvements to your gut health lead to better overall health. But frequently lost in the conversation are prebiotics, the fuel for probiotics.
Prebiotics may enhance the health benefits of probiotics but they also have a number of health benefits of their own. Some studies suggest that one of the health benefits of prebiotics is weight loss and weight management. In this article, we take a deeper look at how prebiotics may promote weight loss.
What Exactly Are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are special types of non-digestible fibers that act as a food source for and promote the growth of healthy bacteria and other probiotic microorganisms. Prebiotics improve digestive health by bringing a healthy balance to the gut microbiome, which has benefits for overall health.
You can and should get prebiotics through your regular diet by making healthy food choices. You can also get prebiotics through supplements.
Types of Prebiotics
Prebiotics come in multiple different forms:
Inulin-type fructans are soluble and indigestible. Fructans ferment probiotic bacteria, causing this good bacteria to grow and multiply throughout the digestive system. One study found that inulin-type fructans enhanced weight loss in overweight women. (1)
Galacto-Oligosaccharides are sugars from plants that are linked in chains. They act as prebiotics and have been shown to be effective in addressing constipation. (2)
Studies indicate that galacto-oligosaccharides promote long-term weight loss. (3) It reduces appetite, food intake, and inflammation.
Inulin is a form of soluble fiber that is found in a wide variety of plants.
Inulin is a fructan, which are natural carbohydrates found in bread, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Fructans are made of chains of fructose molecules that are indigestible. They travel to the lower gut, where they act as a food source for probiotic bacteria.
Multiple studies have indicated that inulin promotes weight loss. (4) (5)
Resistant starches work by producing butyrate throughout the digestive system until they get to the colon, where they feed probiotics. Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid that is good for digestive health, is an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and more.
These prebiotics improve gut microbiota composition and may promote weight loss by producing short-chain fatty acids and boosting metabolism. (6)
Some prebiotics are made of pectins, which mainly come from citrus fruit peels.
Most prebiotics are carbohydrates, but some are not. An example is cocoa-derived flavanols, which stimulate lactic acid bacteria. (7)
How Prebiotics Can Help You Lose Weight
Prebiotics may help you lose weight in a number of ways. There are ways that prebiotics may promote weight control themselves but also by acting as fuel for probiotics and helping them flourish, which have weight loss and weight management benefits of their own.
Prebiotics Lower Your Calorie Intake by Making You Feel Fuller
In a study in rats, researchers found that prebiotic inulin led to a decreased calorie intake. (8) Another study found that prebiotics increased satiety hormones (signaling hormones that communicate the feeling of fullness to the brain) in rats. (9)
Stimulates Hunger Hormones
More research is needed on this topic but some researchers think that prebiotics may stimulate satiety hormones and improve appetite control, which may help in keeping your weight under control. (10) (11)
Prebiotics Help Balance the Intestinal Microbiota, Which is Good for Metabolism
A study by the American Gastroenterological Association in overweight children found that prebiotics reduced body fat by altering the gut microbiota. (12) A review of available large independent studies found that prebiotics along with probiotics (also referred to as synbiotics) promote weight management. (13)
How Much Prebiotics for Optimal Weight Loss
It’s great to get as many prebiotics as you can from your diet through the food that you eat. Some of the more common foods containing prebiotics include apples, asparagus, bananas, flaxseeds, garlic, leeks, oats, onions, seaweed, wheat bran, Jerusalem artichokes, and more.
You can also ensure that you get enough prebiotics by taking a supplement, which will usually come in a powder form. There isn’t a broad scientific consensus on how much prebiotics you should be getting in your diet every day because the research is limited. But when it comes to daily fiber intake recommendations, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends between 25-40 grams per day for adult men and women. (14) It’s not an exact number because not all fiber is prebiotic but it’s a good goal to shoot for.
Speaking of which, The Journal of Nutrition has stated that current fiber intakes are “alarmingly low” and that this has “long-term implications for public health related to risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, certain gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, and the continuum of metabolic dysfunctions including prediabetes and type 2 diabetes”. (15) This discrepancy between how much fiber people are supposed to consume compared to what they actually do is known as the “fiber gap”. (16)
The Takeaway on Prebiotics and Weight Loss
Based on the available research, findings suggest that prebiotics may play a role in losing weight and weight management. Prebiotics are thought to do this by:
- Lowering your calorie intake by making you feel fuller faster
- Stimulating hunger hormones that regulate appetite control
- Balancing the microbiome, A.K.A. the collection of microorganisms throughout the digestive system
As with anything you can include in your diet that promotes weight loss, it won’t be a substitute for proper diet and exercise. There are no magic bullets that will immediately solve your weight issues.
However, there are indications that prebiotics do promote some weight loss. Just have realistic expectations and be sure to pair prebiotics with a healthy diet, plenty of exercise, and of course, probiotics.
In addition to weight loss, prebiotics may also strengthen the immune system, improve calcium absorption, decrease allergy symptoms, and alleviate side effects of IBS.
You can find our prebiotic supplement, BlueBiology Prebiotic, here. BlueBiology Prebiotic is a broad-spectrum prebiotic supplement that contains all the different types of prebiotics so that you get the widest range of health benefits possible — they may even help you lose some weight and keep it off.