As someone who suffers from occasional, mild irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and takes the probiotic Align to keep me virtually symptom free, I was surprised to learn that imbalanced gut bacteria may also affect how much you weigh. Here’s what Mehmet Oz and Michael Roizen, MDs, have to say on the subject (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Health and Fitness, 8/9/11).

Answering a question about gut bacteria generating weight gain and if medication prescribed for it can produce weight loss, the docs maintain that there’s “some lab evidence” that gut bacteria can impact the number on the scale, citing research that “mice who lack a certain protein are about 15% heavier than other mice and have more of an intestinal bug that causes calories to be stored as fat.” They add that “the mice also have higher body-wide inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Worse, they have metabolic syndrome, which in humans is characterized by belly fat, high blood sugar, high blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol.”

Take a minute and consider whether you fit this health profile. View the issue not as a “weight” problem, but as a health concern. If the metabolic shoe fits, note whether or not you eat a great many high-sugar foods or carbohydrates. Please do this from a neutral perspective without judging yourself. If judgments come, notice them mindfully, but do not engage with them. You are gathering information about your health, not appearing before a tribunal assessing your integrity. Apparently, according to Oz and Roizen, “you might be encouraging those fat-boosting microbes” if you’re overdoing it with sugary foods. If so, a reminder that this does not make you a bad person, only someone who’s not been taking very good care of herself. If you feel judgment, again, let it go. Before reading on, find a curious place within yourself that’s seeking new information and reasons to become healthier, not new reasons to beat up on yourself.

If you recognize yourself in the medical profile above, a pro-biotic might be just the ticket. Your GP—better yet, a gastroenterologist—can give you information about gut bacteria and probiotics. You can also research the subject on the Internet, but only on reliable medical websites, please. I highly recommend getting a professional medical opinion on the subject because different probiotics are for different conditions and some work better than others (for example, I’ve had no luck with store brands). You might also end up trying several before finding one that works. As far as I know, probiotics cannot harm you, but don’t let me be the last word. Ask your doctor for advice.