Can Probiotics Affect Your Metabolic Health?

Metabolic health, or how well your body converts the food you eat into energy, is an integral part of overall health. You can measure metabolic health with markers like cholesterol, blood sugar, and waist circumference.

woman sitting on a sofa taking a probiotic supplement with a glass of water

When metabolic health is out of balance, it can lead to metabolic syndrome, a constellation of symptoms like insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. You can unknowingly live for years with these quiet abnormalities. Over time, metabolic problems act like a slow burning fire, putting you at significant risk for heart disease, type two diabetes, and other health problems. 1

So it's no wonder people are looking for ways to improve their metabolic health. Diet, supplements, and lifestyle habits can all play a role in metabolic health. And more recently, the interest in gut health has led people to wonder: can probiotics affect metabolic health?

The truth is that even though it seems like conversations about gut health and probiotics are everywhere, there's still so much we don't know. The science is complex (and there's new research emerging every day), but here is what we do know about probiotics and metabolic health.

How is the Gut Microbiome Related to Metabolic Health?

You can't discuss probiotics without a solid understanding of the gut microbiome and its relationship to metabolic health, so let's start there. 

Gut Microbes are Essential for Health

The gut microbiome is the community of microbes (bacteria, fungi, and viruses) that live in the gastrointestinal tract. Even though intestinal microbiota are separate from us (and outnumber our own cells), they play an essential role in our health, helping with digestion, immunity, vitamin synthesis, hormone production, and regulation—including those that affect metabolic health.

The health of your microbiome depends on the diversity of beneficial bacteria, all with differing roles. A diverse, healthy microbiome is thought to be more resilient and better able to withstand outside forces (like a poor diet or antibiotics) that might disrupt the delicate balance of microbes. 

Gut Microbe Imbalances Increase the Risk of Inflammation and Metabolic Disease

When the number of beneficial bacteria is out of balance, called dysbiosis, the risk of inflammatory diseases like obesity and type two diabetes increases. We don't know exactly what the so-called ideal ratio of intestinal microbiota should be, and it likely varies from person to person. But interesting patterns in research suggest an imbalance in the gut microbiome is linked to metabolic syndrome. 

For example, people who have difficulty losing weight tend to have different ratios of microbes than lean people. So there may be gut bacteria that support metabolic health through their impact on weight and metabolism.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Read more about </strong> <a href="/blog/gut-health-and-weight-loss">gut health, blood sugar, and weight loss</a>.</p>

Another way the gut microbiome may affect metabolic health is through its effect on inflammation. Chronic low-grade inflammation has been linked to the development of obesity and metabolic disorders. Some studies suggest that specific gut microbial compositions are associated with improvements in inflammation. In contrast, others may upregulate the inflammatory process in the body.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Read more about </strong> <a href="/blog/ways-to-reduce-inflammation">reducing inflammation by improving gut health</a>.</p>

So it's evident that a healthy gut microbiome is essential to metabolic health. Still, the question remains whether taking probiotics can alter it enough to change and positively influence health.

a selection of frosted donuts on a wooden table
Risk factors for chronic inflammation include smoking, stress, sleep disorders and a diet rich in saturated fat and refined sugar.

How Do Probiotics Influence the Gut Microbiome?

Probiotics are live microorganisms that can confer a health benefit to the host (you!). Probiotics are found naturally in many fermented foods, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi. They can also be taken in supplement form. 

Probiotics are thought to be beneficial to the gut microbiome in multiple ways. They can help to increase the number of beneficial microbes and decrease the number of harmful microbes. They also produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), these are metabolites your bacteria produce when they ferment fiber. 

SCFAs are linked to several health benefits, including improved insulin sensitivity (which is linked to better metabolic health) and decreased inflammation.  Taking probiotics has been shown to help balance the microbiome and impact SCFA production, affecting metabolic health. 

What Does the Research Say about Probiotics and Metabolic Health?

There's a lot of research to sort through on probiotics and metabolic health, but here are a few glimpses into how they could help:

  • Some research suggests that taking probiotics (along with prebiotics, discussed below) leads to weight and fat mass loss. 
  • A meta-analysis found significant reductions in blood sugar and A1c (a longer-term marker of blood sugar) for people taking probiotics, especially those living with diabetes. 
  • A study on women with gestational diabetes, a form of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy, found that probiotics supported better glucose metabolism to help lower blood sugar levels. 
  • Probiotics could help improve cholesterol levels by helping remove cholesterol molecules from the body or reducing cholesterol absorption in the gut.
  • Several studies on people with metabolic syndrome found small but significant improvements in metabolic risk factors after probiotic supplementation.

All of these studies are exciting, but there are also studies with mixed results. Your microbiome's health depends on many factors, including genetics, medications, environment, diet, and exercise. 

Even the health of your mother's gut microbiome or how you were born (c-section babies have different microbiomes than those born vaginally) can play a role.

So probiotics are only one part of the equation. Still, they could be an important part of an overall plan to support metabolic health. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Read more about </strong> <a href="/blog/probiotics-gut-health">improving gut health with probiotics</a>.</p>

What About Prebiotics for Metabolic Health?

You can't talk about probiotics without prebiotics. Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates (think fiber) that act as food for probiotics and other beneficial microbes in the gut.

Think of prebiotics as the fuel that helps probiotics do their job. They feed your bacteria, supporting the numbers of diverse, beneficial bacteria while increasing SCFA production to influence immune health and inflammation.

Studies on prebiotics for metabolic health are also promising, especially in combination with probiotics. Prebiotics are found in many foods, including onions, garlic, bananas, asparagus, and oats. 

prebiotic-rich red onions, garlic and artichokes in a grocery store
Prebiotics are a special type of fiber that encourage proliferation of healthy gut bacteria.

What Probiotic Strains Support Metabolic Health?

Probiotics are discussed as if they are one big group of organisms, But there are many different strains of probiotics, each with its own unique benefits. 

While more research is needed, scientists are trying to determine which strains could be most hopeful for metabolic health. Here are a few examples:

  • Lactobacillus gasseri SBT2055, a strain of probiotic bacteria, may influence fat absorption and excretion in the body, which could support weight loss.
  • Akkermansia (A. muciniphila) bacteria are associated with healthy weight and blood sugar balance. Studies suggest that A. muciniphilia could help with metabolic health and weight by supporting inflammation, energy balance, insulin sensitivity, and blood sugar balance. 
  • Daily supplementation for six months with B. animalis ssp. lactis 420  helped reduce waist circumference in participants.
  • A study on people living with diabetes who ate a probiotic yogurt containing B. animalis subsp. lactis Bb-12 and L. acidophilus La-5 for 6 weeks had reduced fasting glucose levels that could be related to changes in the gut microbiome.
  • Healthy volunteers supplemented with B. Infantis had lower inflammatory markers in the body.
  • One study gave participants a probiotic cheese with L. casei 01 for four weeks and noted beneficial changes in cholesterol, blood sugar, and triglycerides.
  • Supplementing with Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus strains could lead to better blood sugar control related to the production of a SCFA called butyrate, that's also especially beneficial for inflammation.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn about </strong> <a href="/blog/benefits-stable-glucose">the benefits of balanced blood sugar</a>.</p>

While all of this research is promising, it's still in its early stages, and more studies are needed to understand the effects of probiotics on metabolic health. 

Some studies have found probiotic supplements have no impact on metabolic health, possibly because other factors also influence the microbiome. It's challenging to study the effect of probiotics or prebiotics alone (because you'd never consume them in isolation in the real world). 

Until we know more, some scientists believe that multi-strain probiotics are probably your best bet since the ideal strain or combination has yet to be discovered (and we are all biologically different).

Do Probiotics Affect Metabolism?

There is evidence, though more is needed, that the type of bacteria found in your gut can influence how many calories you absorb from food and how well your body breaks down and uses those calories. The gut microbes help break down complex carbohydrates and extract energy from them. Research suggests that the type of bacteria present influences how many calories you absorb during this process.

Do Probiotics Boost Energy Levels?

Probiotics won't necessarily have the same impact as drinking a cup of coffee, but since there is a direct link between the gut and brain, probiotics could indirectly support energy levels.

If probiotics can help to improve gut health, this may lead to improved nutrient absorption and less inflammation, both of which could have an impact on energy levels or brain fog. For example, one study found that B. longum 1714 may help improve vitality and mental fatigue during stress. 

Blood sugar imbalances could also impact energy if they lead to fatigue or crashes, so probiotics that help regulate blood sugar may help support energy levels. 

smiling woman on a tennis court waiting for the serve
Cells need nutrients to produce energy. A healthy gut is better at breaking down food and absorbing nutrients.

Do Probiotics Have Side Effects?

Probiotics are generally considered to be safe. However, there is a possibility that they may cause bloating, gas, or diarrhea in some people who have bacterial overgrowth or are sensitive to probiotics. 

It's always a good idea to discuss new supplements with your healthcare provider, but probiotics are unlikely to cause any serious side effects

How to Use Probiotics to Support Your Metabolic Health

If you're interested in experimenting with probiotics to improve your metabolic health, there are a few things to keep in mind. 

  • Choose a high-quality probiotic supplement with a high CFU. CFU stands for colony forming units and refers to the number of live bacteria in each capsule. A high CFU means that there are more live bacteria, which may be more effective.
  • Choose a probiotic supplement with multiple strains of bacteria. Different strains of bacteria have varying effects on the body, so a multi-strain probiotic may be more effective than a single-strain probiotic (unless you are targeting a specific health issue with a single-strain probiotic).
  • Look for a probiotic supplement that has been third-party tested. This means that an independent lab has tested the product to ensure that it contains the bacteria listed on the label and that they are viable.
  • Stay consistent. It doesn't really matter if you take your supplement in the morning or evening. Just try to take it at a time when you'll remember. Unlike medications, it can take time to see results, so consistency is key. 

Finally, probiotics alone aren't going to miraculously cure all of your metabolic ills. Probiotics are just one piece of the puzzle. A healthy, fiber-rich diet, regular exercise, and managing stress are all necessary for a healthy metabolism. But if you're looking for an extra edge, adding a probiotic supplement to your routine could be a helpful addition to your metabolic health plan.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Keep learning about probiotics: </strong> <a href="/blog/probiotics-blood-sugar">how probiotics can affect blood sugar</a>.</p>

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About the Author

Caitlin Beale Headshot
Caitlin Beale is a registered dietitian and nutrition writer with a master’s degree in nutrition. She has a background in acute care, integrative wellness, and clinical nutrition.
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