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Probiotics, Prebiotics, Synbiotics, Postbiotics, and Obesity: Current Evidence, Controversies, and Perspectives


Purpose of Review

In this review, we summarize current evidence on gut microbiome and obesity; we discuss the role of probiotics, prebiotics, synbiotics, and postbiotics in obesity prevention and management; and we highlight and analyze main limitations, challenges, and controversies of their use.

Recent Findings

Overall, the majority of animal studies and meta-analyses of human studies examining the use of probiotics and synbiotics in obesity has shown their beneficial effects on weight reduction and other metabolic parameters via their involvement in gut microbiota modulation. Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus strains are still the most widely used probiotics in functional foods and dietary supplements, but next generation probiotics, such as Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, Akkermansia muciniphila, or Clostridia strains, have demonstrated promising results. On the contrary, meta-analyses of human studies on the use of prebiotics in obesity have yielded contradictory results. In animal studies, postbiotics, mainly short-chain fatty acids, may increase energy expenditure through induction of thermogenesis in brown adipose tissue as well as browning of the white adipose tissue. The main limitations of studies on biotics in obesity include the paucity of human studies; heterogeneity among the studied subgroups regarding age, gender, and lifestyle; and use of different agents with potential therapeutic effects in different formulations, doses, ratio and different pharmacodynamics/pharmacokinetics. In terms of safety, the supplementation with prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics has not been associated with serious adverse effects among immune-competent individuals, with the exception of the use of probiotics and synbiotics in immunocompromised patients.


Further large-scale Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) in humans are required to evaluate the beneficial properties of probiotics, prebiotics, synbiotics, and postbiotics; their ideal dose; the duration of supplementation; and the durability of their beneficial effects as well as their safety profile in the prevention and management of obesity.

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Fig. 1


AMPK 5' :

AMP-activated protein kinase


Brown adipose tissue


Branched-chain amino acids


Body mass index


Camu camu


C-reactive protein




Diabetes mellitus


Deoxyribonucleic acid


Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio


Fermented infant formula




Green tea extract


High fed


High-esterified pectin


Inulin-type fructans


Metabolic syndrome


Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease


Polymerase chain reaction


Randomized controlled trial


Short-chain fatty acids


Type 2 diabetes mellitus






Uncoupling protein-1


White adipose tissue


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Vallianou, N., Stratigou, T., Christodoulatos, G.S. et al. Probiotics, Prebiotics, Synbiotics, Postbiotics, and Obesity: Current Evidence, Controversies, and Perspectives. Curr Obes Rep 9, 179–192 (2020).

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  • Diet
  • Gut
  • Intestine
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Microbiome
  • Microbiota
  • Obesity
  • Postbiotics
  • Prebiotics
  • Probiotics
  • Sybiotics