Probiotics may help women regain their figures after pregnancy

Probiotic supplements during the first trimester of pregnancy may help women lose weight after the infant’s birth, say new findings presented at the European Congress on Obesity.

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 alone.

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.

“Based on previous experiments, we hypothesise that the maternal diet may influence both glucose metabolism and weight in the children,” Laitinen said.

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 component.

“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.” Laitenen

Source: European Congress on Obesity, Thursday, 7 May 2009, Kirsi Laitinen et al.

EQUILIBRIA COMMENT: This is one study from an exciting field of research in the area of obesity and gut flora. We have previously advocated use of probiotics from the third trimester of pregnancy but this research has now changed our approach and we recommend supplementation throughout pregnancy & breastfeeding. The potential benefits to both mother and infant are too great to be ignored.