Do You Have the Gut(s) to Lose 8% Belly Fat in 12 Weeks? Lactobacillus gasseri (LG2055) Can Fix Your Gut Problems

As a diligent student of the  SuppVersity, you'll obviously know that beer is not the main cause of the eponymous belly (Bobak. 2003). Although..., when when you come to think about it: For every glass of beer you drink, you're probably drinking a glass of probiotic yogurt less ;-)
You've done everything you could and still feel like a whale? You've been low-carbing, even have made sure you are in ketosis by consuming an only 10% protein diet and still the fat won't disappear? Well, I guess it sounds unfair, if I do now tell you that you YOU JUST DON'T HAVE THE GUTS it takes to get rid of that pouch that blocking the view on your toes, when you are standing.

Now calm down, I am not talking about not being able to curb your insatiable appetite or skipping 90% of your workouts, here. I am talking about your gut(s), literally! Your digestive tract and it's inhabitants. Those critters which are also at the heart of the soon-to-be-published paper by scientists from the Milk Science Research Institute in Fukoaka, Japan (Kadooka. 2013) - a paper, the results of which I am about to present in the next few paragraphs.

Probiotic in fermented milk shred visceral fat

I am not telling you something new, when I say (or write) that scientists have long identified the modulation of the gut microbiome, i.e. the bacterial ecosystem in your intestines, could be the long-sought-for lever to get rid or at least ameliorate the negative effects of the way we live and eat promotes the expansion of the highly inflammatory "stress fat" that fills the room between the organs in your trunk. Most of the hitherto published peer-reviewed research has yet been conducted in rodents. The existing evidence from well-controlled human studies, on the other hand is scarce.

Suggested read: "Probiotics for Athletes: The Supplemental 10 Billion CFS Leaky Gut Solution for the Fermented Food Refusinek?" (read more)
One of these studies has been conducted by Kadooka et al. in 2010 (Kadooka. 2010). In the pertinent paper the researchers from the Milk Science Research Institute in Japan reported that the provision of 200g/day of fermented milk containing 10^8 colony-forming units (cfu)/g of Lactobacillus gasseri strain SBT2055 (LG2055) led to significant reductions in visceral fat in male and female subjects with " higher body mass index" (BMI: 24.2-30.7 kg/m²) who had been randomized to the active arm of the study. Now, roughly three years later, are about to publish a follow-up paper with great practical relevance, as it summarizes the results of what Kadooka et al. say is the first human trial that examines the effect of different doses of probiotics on abdominal adiposity.

"We know that it works, but we don't know how much we need to elicit the desired effects"

The design of the study at hand is essentially identical with the one in the 2010 trial. It is based ona multi-centre, double-blind, parallel-group RCT with 210 healthy Japanese adults with large visceral fat areas (80.2–187.8 cm²), who were now randomly assigned to three instead of two groups who consumed 200g of fermented milk with either 1,000,000 CFU (1m), 10,000,000 CFU (10m) or just the normal yogurt probiotics (control) per gram for 12 weeks.

The intention was to determine whether the effect of LG2055, which is by the way a probiotic lactic acid bacterium that originates from the human intestine, would be observed with lower / more realistic dosage regimen as well and whether possible reductions in the effect size would be dose-dependent.
Figure 1: Reduction in visceral and subcutaneous adipose tissue, as well as waist circumference after 8 and 12 weeks on 1,000,000 CFU/g or 10,000,000 CFU/g yogurt drink; data expressed relative to group baseline (Kadooka. 2013)
If you take a look at the results, the first thing that strikes the eye in figure 1 is that the lactobacilli did their job and that in both the low and high dose group:
  • Even in the 10x and 100x lower dosages there was a significant reduction in the amount of visceral fat the  33/36 respectively 36/35 men and women in the in the 1 million and 10 million CFU/day groups, respectively.
  • The effect size of both dosages of LG2055 was identical, so that it would not actually matter if you consume just 100g or 1kg of an imaginary commercially available milk drink with 1,000,000 CFU of LG2055 per 100g.
In view of the >8% reduction in visceral fat mass, it should not come as a surprise that the reduction in waist size was likewise statistically significant - both on its own, as well as in comparison to the control group, What is yet not so obvious and probably somewhat disappoint for you is the fact that the reduction in the ugly, but benign subcutaneous fat was statistically and practically non-significant.

"Visceral fat loss, only? But what about my thigh fat?"

Not all probiotics are created equal: As the scientists emphasize in the discussion, the "it is also worth noting that the test FM containing both LG2055 and yogurt cultures reduced abdominal adiposity when compared with the control FM containing yogurt cultures alone, even though the bacterial counts of LG2055 (106 and 107 cfu/g) were lower than those in the yogurt cultures (109 cfu/g)." (Kadooka. 2013) The observed superiority of this particular strain of bacteria stands in line with previous rodent studies and is imho one of the reasons we are seeing so much research in this area. How's that? Well, easy: If you came up with a particularly potent strain and patented that, this would be the literary cash machine.
If you are no newbie to the SuppVersity you will yet be aware that it is by no means extra-ordinary that "healthy fat burners", which work their weight loss magic mostly by modulating local and/or whole body inflammation, have little or no effects on the amount of subcutaneous body fat.

If you discarded any statistical shenanigan and simply went by the height of the small bars in the middle of figure 1, you could yet probably argue that it appears as if there was a trend towards greater subcutaneous fat loss in the high(er) dose LG2055 group. If you went a step further and made the unwarranted assumption that you could simply compare the results from the study at hand to those of the aforementioned 2010 study b Kadooka et al. you could support this argument by stating that there was a clear trend here with 1.2%, 2.6% and 3.3% reductions in subcutaneous fat with LG2055 at concentrations of 1, 10 and 100 million CFU per gram of the fermented milk drink.

In the overall context it is yet important to point out that it is as of yet unknown whether the composition of colonic microbiota has a direct influence on abdominal and/or subcutaneous adipose tissue (Hildebrandt. 2009; Conterno. 2011). Moreover, ...
"[...] environmental factors, including genetics and age, makes it difficult to discuss the causal relationship between adiposity and intestinal microbiota." (Kadooka. 2013)
The latter are particularly difficult to access in a study like this, where the subjects maintain their habitual mode of living, including diet, and no strict dietary control is applied. Kadook et al. are thus right to point out that "the relation ship between adiposity and intestinal microbiota" has to be investigated more closely "under a strict diet, together with the latest methodology" (Kadooka. 2013) to finally make some progress in our understandings of the intricate interaction between the human gut microbiome and our metabolism.

Even the nicest subtenants can become a real problem, when they come over without being asked. Unfortunately, all sorts of gut bacteria (even the "good" ones) have a similarly nasty habit of translocating through a leaky gut wall into parts of your body, where you don't wont them (learn more)!
Bottom line: In view of the fact that the subjects shed the superfluous body fat in the absence of a reduced energy intake and/or exercise / increases in physical activity, the results are unquestionably impressive. To speak of "probiotic fat burner" would yet still not be warranted. After all, the subjects were all overweight and had an average body fat content of 32%, the baseline diet does - at least by the available data - not look really optimal (protein intakes of 0.8g/kg; macro-composition of 15/57/28% from protein, carbs and fats) and the non-disclosed insulin and HbA1c levels as well as the markers of inflammation will probably have left more than enough room for the "get healthy lose weight" effect.

Against that background I have my doubts that you can expect anywhere similar effects in lean, let alone athletic individuals. This does yet not negate the general usefulness of probiotics, after all, health is something you take for granted only, when you've never been sick - if you want to avoid that, the incorporation of fermented foods makes sense for everyone from the sedentary slob to the elite level athletes*...

* Note: I am writing the above although it gives me tummy aches (pun intended). Specifically with respect to the use of high dose probiotic supplements, I am asking myself, whether we really know enough about the potential downstream effects of long-term / high dose supplementation. In that, I am particularly concerned about shifting the balance from an "A"-dominant and unhealthy state in which the attributes "good" and "bad" are all of the sudden reversed and the previously dominant "bad" strain X gets totally replaced by the allegedly "good" strain Y that will then turn out to be just as nasty as X, once its natural arch enemy X is no longer present.

  • Bobak M, Skodova Z, Marmot M. Beer and obesity: a cross-sectional study. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2003 Oct;57(10):1250-3.
  • Conterno L, Fava F, Viola R, et al. Obesity and the gut microbiota: does up-regulating colonic fermentation pro- tect against obesity and metabolic disease? Genes Nutr. 2011; 6:241–260.
  • Hildebrandt MA, Hoffmann C, Sherrill-Mix SA, et al. High-fat diet determines the composition of the murine gut microbiome independently of obesity. Gastroenterology. 2009; 137:1716–1724.
  • Kadooka Y, Sato M, Imaizumi K, Ogawa A, Ikuyama K, Akai Y, Okano M, Kagoshima M, Tsuchida T. Regulation of abdominal adiposity by probiotics (Lactobacillus gasseri SBT2055) in adults with obese tendencies in a randomized controlled trial. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2010 Jun;64(6):636-43. 
  • Kadooka Y, Sato M, Ogawa A, Miyoshi M, Uenishi H, Ogawa H, Ikuyama K, Kagoshima M, Tsuchida T. Effect of Lactobacillus gasseri SBT2055 in fermented milk on abdominal adiposity in adults in a randomised controlled trial. Br J Nutr. 2013 Apr 25:1-8. [Epub ahead of print]
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