A probiotic for obesity? Really?

Did the New York Times oversell the results of a recent study on a probiotic?

“People with metabolic disorders may benefit from supplements of a common gut bacterium, a small pilot study suggests,” reported the New York Times in July.

“Researchers tested the bacterium, Akkermansia muciniphila, in 32 men and women who met the criteria for metabolic syndrome by having at least three of five conditions: high fasting blood sugar, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, low HDL (the ‘good’ cholesterol) or excessive waist circumference,” noted the Times.

The study randomly assigned people to take daily tablets with live bacteria, pasteurized (dead) bacteria, or a placebo for three months.

“Compared with the placebo group, those who took pasteurized A. muciniphila had significantly improved insulin sensitivity and total cholesterol, and decreases in several blood markers of inflammation and liver dysfunction,” reported the Times.

“They also had decreased body weight, fat mass and waist circumference, though those differences were not statistically significant. The live bacteria were largely ineffective.”

Wait, what? Dead is better? And the difference in body weight was not significant, but the headline read “A probiotic for obesity?”

What’s more, the people who got the dead bacteria started the study with worse insulin sensitivity, so the three groups weren’t equal at the outset. Even the study’s title called it a “proof-of-concept” and “exploratory.”

Companies are already splashing “probiotics” on their labels with little evidence that they do anything. Headlines like this don’t help.

Oh, and five of the study’s authors have patents on using A. muciniphila to treat obesity. Two have started a company that will sell it.

Bottom Line: A probiotic for obesity? W-a-a-a-y too early.

Photo: klss777/stock.adobe.com

The information in this post first appeared in the October 2019 issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter.

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