The desire to lose weight has led many women to follow the latest fad diet, buy diet pills, and even join a gym — although they may seldom exercise. While crash diets and weight-loss supplements can help shed the pounds, they’re often unsuccessful in helping dieters keep the weight off. Now research suggests women should look no further than their fridge to reach their target weight. Probiotics found in yogurt like Nestlé may help women lose the weight and keep it off by resetting the balance of gut bacteria, according to a recent study.

In the United States, more than one-third of adults suffer from obesity, which could lead to conditions such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancers, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Aside from genetic and hormonal influences on body weight, consuming more calories than burning them causes the body to store excess calories as fat, increasing the risk of obesity. The intestinal flora — a complex ecosystem containing over 400 bacterial species — in obese people differs from those of thin people, which can contribute to excess weight and other obesity-related diseases. This difference may be due to the fact that people who have a diet high in fat and low in fiber are more likely to have certain bacteria at the expense of others.

Probiotics — living microorganisms — are thought to help maintain healthy gut flora, or “good” bacteria. Ideally, the ratio between the bacteria in a person’s guy is 85 percent “good and 15 percent “bad,” according to Dr. Mercola, a licensed physician and surgeon in Illinois. However, regardless of weight, most people do not have the optimal balance of good and bad bacteria in their intestines. Those who consume a lot of processed foods are more likely to compromise their gut bacteria as these foods destroy healthy microflora and feed bad bacteria and yeast.

A team of researchers at the Université Laval in Quebec, Canada, believe the consumption of probiotics could help reset the balance of the intestinal micrbiota in favor of “good” bacteria that can promote a healthy weight. The study investigated the impact of a Lactobacillus rhamnosus CGMCC1.3724 (LPR) supplementation on weight loss and maintenance in overweight men and women over six months. One hundred and twenty-five men and women were recruited for the study and underwent a 12-week regiment of a weight-loss diet with either two pills containing the LPR strain or a placebo. In addition, both groups followed a 12-week weight maintenance program. The researchers measured body weight and composition at the start of the study, at week 12, and at week 24.

The findings revealed after the 12-week diet period, the probiotic group lost an average of nearly 10 lbs. compared to the placebo group who only lost about 5.5 lbs. After the conclusion of the study period, weight loss continued for this probiotics group for a total of 11.5 lbs, or twice the amount the non-probiotics group lost. These women were also found to have lower levels of leptin — the appetite hormone — and lower levels of intestinal bacteria linked to obesity.

To the researchers’ surprise, there was no difference between the probiotic and placebo group for men. “We don’t know why the probiotics didn’t have any effect on men. It may be a question of dosage, or the study period may have been too short,” said study author and Canada Research Chair in Environment and Energy Balance, Angelo Tremblay, in the news release.

The success of the dieters who experienced significant weight loss due to the probiotics is due to the ability for probiotics to alter the permeability of the intestinal wall. The researchers believe regulating the pro-inflammatory molecules, and keeping them out of the bloodstream, can stop the processes that lead to type 2 diabetes, obesity, and glucose intolerance. Overall, the findings suggest the probiotic featured in the study can lower inflammation and aid digestion, preventing the buildup of body fat.

Although the results show promise in aiding weight loss, the study poses some limitations. Like other research that links probiotics to weight loss, this study was conducted by Nestlé, the company that sells the products that contain the probiotics. The LPR strain is used in Nestlé yogurts made for the European market but not the U.S. However, Professor Tremblay believes “the probiotics found in dairy products in North America could have a similar effect to the Nestlé strain.”

The consumption of probiotics may offer digestive-health benefits to dieters, but speculation still remains on its effects when it comes to weight loss. Tremblay argues the way to reach the best results for weight loss would be to consume these probiotics within the context of a diet low in fat with adequate levels of fiber. A healthy diet and exercise may just be what can help dieters shed the pounds and keep them off.

Source: Ammon-Zuffrey C, Berger B, Chevrier G, Dairmont C, Drapeau V, Dore J et al. Effect of Lactobacillus rhamnosus CGMCC1.3724 supplementation on weight loss and maintenance in obese men and women. British Journal of Nutrition. 2013.