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Gut health affects us early: Researchers say probiotics could be the answer to childhood obesity

Probiotics can promote weight loss and improve the metabolic health of obese children, suggests a study presented at the 58th Annual European Society for Pediatric Endocrinology Meeting in Austria.

According to researchers from Fuzhou Children’s Hospital in Fujian, China, probiotics supplementation, combined with exercise and proper diet, is a promising strategy for preventing or treating childhood obesity.

Probiotics enhance weight loss in obese children

Childhood obesity is a serious health problem that is particularly prevalent in developed countries but is steadily growing in underdeveloped nations. In the United States, about 18.5 percent of children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 are obese.

Obese children are likely to remain obese until adulthood. They are also prone to develop diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease at a younger age.

In a randomized, double-blind study, the Chinese researchers looked at the effects of probiotics supplementation on obese children. Probiotics are live microorganisms that are said to be beneficial to health because they help maintain microbial balance in the gut. The human gut is home to billions of microbes, and their composition affects not just digestive function, but also immune function.

The team produced a cocktail of probiotics consisting of Bifidobacterium longum, Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. Of the 54 participants, 30 received the probiotics cocktail while the rest had a placebo. All of the participants were on a reduced-calorie diet and were following an exercise regime. The researchers measured the participants’ body weights, blood lipids, blood sugar and insulin levels and inflammatory markers at baseline and after 12 weeks.

The researchers reported that those who took probiotic supplements lost significantly more weight than the control group. They also had lower levels of markers that indicate poor metabolic health.

In response to the findings, Harriet Schellekens of the University College Cork in Ireland said that probiotics supplementation appears to be a very promising treatment for obesity. Schellekens, who was not part of the study, also said that the study reinforces the link between metabolic disease and the gut microbiota.

However, she pointed out that the study did not investigate whether probiotic supplementation on its own was responsible for the improvements observed in the study. It’s possible that it merely enhanced the effect of a reduced-calorie diet and increased exercise.

The link between gut health and obesity

The link between obesity and the gut microbiome has been demonstrated in previous studies.

One study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, found that certain metabolites associated with obesity are linked to specific bacteria present in the gut.

Numerous studies have noted that people with cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes or obesity have varying amounts of different metabolites. Therefore, a team of Swedish researchers set out to identify which metabolites are linked to obesity and whether these metabolites affected the composition of the gut microbiota.

They looked at stool and blood plasma samples from 674 participants in the Malmo Offspring Study, a population study in Sweden that tracks major public diseases over several generations.

The researchers discovered 19 different metabolites that could be linked to a person’s body mass index. Among them, glutamate and branched-chain and aromatic amino acids (BCAA) demonstrated the strongest link. High levels of glutamate have been previously associated with obesity, while BCAA have been used to predict the onset of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The researchers also found that glutamate and BCAA are linked to four different intestinal bacteria. Because the differences in BMI among the participants corresponded with the differences in their glutamate and BCAA levels, the researchers believe that the obesity-related metabolites interact with gut bacteria and are not independent of each other. (Related: Healthy gut bacteria prevent obesity: Study.)

The Swedish team said that future studies could look into how the composition of the gut microbiota can be modified to reduce the risk of obesity.

“We first need to understand what a healthy normal gut flora looks like, and what factors impact the bacterial composition,” said Marju Orho-Melander, the study’s senior author and a professor of genetic epidemiology at Lund University in Sweden.

Learn more about the gut microbiota and how it influences your health at

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