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Probiotics can aid in management of childhood obesity, study finds

New research presented at the 22nd European Congress of Endocrinology points to the potential of probiotics in helping manage childhood obesity.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 340 million children and adolescents aged 5-19 were obese in 2016; in addition, updated data show 38 million children under the age of 5 were obese in 2019. Obesity can lead to health complications including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, musculoskeletal disease and even some cancers.

New research presented at the 22nd European Congress of Endocrinology, or e-ECE 2020, however, points to the potential of probiotics in helping manage childhood obesity. Specifically, researchers concluded the probiotic strain Bifidobacterium breve, in combination with a calorie-controlled diet, may help obese children and adolescents lose weight.

The study authors examined 100 obese children and adolescents aged 6-18 suffering from insulin intolerance; this condition, if left untreated, can lead to type 2 diabetes. All 100 subjects were put on a Mediterranean-style diet with limited calories. The subjects were then given the probiotic (Bifidobacterium breve BR03 and Bifidobacterium breve B632) or placebo for eight weeks. During that time, clinical, biochemical and stool sample analyses were conducted.

According to the authors, both the probiotic and placebo groups experienced a reduction in body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, blood pressure, insulin resistance and concentrations of E. coli bacteria in their guts. However, the probiotic group saw greater results in weight loss, insulin sensitivity and E. coli populations.

These effects continued for several weeks after treatment, unusual among probiotics.

"Many studies show that when you stop taking the probiotic, it vanishes in the intestines and doesn't have long-lasting (effects)," said Christopher Moran, MD, pediatric gastroenterologist and director of the Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition Fellowship at MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston, and assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. Moran was not part of the study.

“Probiotic supplements are frequently given to people without proper evidence data,” said Flavia Prodam, PhD, associate professor in clinical nutrition, department of health sciences at the University of Piemonte Orientale in Italy and one of the study’s authors. “These findings start to give evidence of the efficacy and safety of two probiotic strains in treating obesity in a younger population.

“The next step for our research is to identify patients that could benefit from this probiotic treatment, with a view to creating a more personalized weight-loss strategy,” Prodam continued. “We also want to decipher more clearly the role of diet and probiotics on microbiome composition. This could help us to understand how the microbiota is different in young people with obesity.”

Probiotics can be found naturally in many products, including fermented food and drink like kimchi, miso, sauerkraut and kombucha, as well as cultured dairy such as yogurt and kafir. Probiotics can also be added to other food and drink products.

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