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Nearly one in five children and adolescents living in the United States has overweight or obesity, placing them at risk for many chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes. A study presented at the European Endocrine Society’s recent conference suggests that probiotics can help manage obesity in young people.

Probiotic bacteria are widely defined as live microorganisms that, when consumed in sufficient amounts, confer a health benefit on the consumer. They contain a variety of microorganisms, but Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium bacteria are among the most common. Probiotics can be found in yogurt and other fermented foods and are widely available as dietary supplements.

The authors of study were particularly interested in the effects of supplemental Bifidobacteria. They placed 100 obese children and teens between the ages of six and 18 years on a reduced calorie diet and then randomly assigned them to receive either a Bifidobacteria probiotic or a placebo. The authors measured the effects of the probiotic supplement in terms of body weight, metabolism, and gut microbial composition.

They found that the children who took the probiotics while following the reduced calorie diet had reduced waist circumference, body mass, insulin function, and had fewer harmful bacteria in their gut. These findings demonstrate that probiotic supplementation may augment the beneficial effects of calorie reduction in children and adolescents with obesity.

For the most part, however, usage of probiotic supplements has preceded the scientific evidence of their efficacy. Many probiotic supplements contain insufficient numbers of bacteria to elicit a beneficial response and many are not stored properly to maintain the viability of the bacteria they supposedly contain. Watch this clip in which Drs. Jed Fahey and Rhonda Patrick discuss concerns about the safety and efficacy of probiotic supplements.

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