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Last Updated on May 14, 2021

Possible Side Effects of Probiotics (And Why They Usually Pass)

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Possible Side Effects of Probiotics (And Why They Usually Pass)

Taking probiotic supplements has become something of a trend lately. While there’s plenty of evidence of their health benefits, you may have heard some stories about unpleasant probiotics side effects. Fortunately, these aren’t anywhere near as common or as bad as they seem.

Probiotics are a type of bacteria known as “friendly” gut bacteria – also known as microflora – that reside in various parts of your body. While most of these are in the gastrointestinal tract, microflora is also present on your skin, in your mouth and other areas.

Numerous studies have shown that the health of your gut microflora can provide clues to your overall health and wellbeing.[1]

Digestive problems can be linked to imbalances in your gut bacteria, which in turn can lead to other serious conditions such as food allergies, behavioral disorders, mood changes, autoimmune disease, arthritis, chronic fatigue, skin disorders and even cancer. That’s why taking probiotics as a supplement has been touted as one of the most effective ways to get your health back on track.

Probiotic supplements are forms of living bacteria and yeasts that provide health benefits when taken in liquids, powders or capsules. They can also be eaten as probiotic foods such as like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and miso.

What you might not realize, however, is that probiotic supplements can have some slightly unpleasant side effects at first! Although these do pass and only affect a small proportion of the population, it’s helpful to know what you’re in for when you begin a probiotics regime.

1. Digestive Symptoms

Because most of your body’s microflora lives in your gut, this is the area that will be targeted most acutely when you take probiotics. Typical symptoms may include some gas, bloating, cramps or just feeling a little more ‘full’ than usual.

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If your probiotic contains a strain of beneficial yeast, you may also experience a change in bowel movements. Some people also report feeling thirstier. One study suggested that these symptoms occur because the healthy new bacteria expand their territory in the gut, colonizing the small intestine and colon.[2]

Extra gas may also be caused by bacteria-induced changes to your gut motility or transit time. These alterations can sometimes cause abnormal intestinal spasms or prevent your stomach muscles from fully emptying the stomach of food you’ve eaten.

Although only a minority of people experience these symptoms, it’s helpful to know in advance. In fact, it’s also a good sign that the probiotic is actually working!

Fortunately, these symptoms usually subside after a week or two of taking the probiotic. If you really can’t cope, try reducing your daily dose to half that recommended on the label. You can then gradually increase your dose over the following weeks. This allows your gut to adjust to the new influx of bacteria slowly.

2. Amines in Probiotic Foods May Trigger Headaches

Headaches and migraines have also been reported by some new probiotic users. Although probiotic supplements don’t cause headaches, some foods seem to trigger mild symptoms. This may be due to amines, a substance created during the fermentation process. Foods rich in probiotic bacteria and protein (such as kimchi, yogurt or sauerkraut) contain small amounts of amines. The subtypes of amines include tyramine, tryptamine, and histamine.

It’s been found that large amounts of amines can overstimulate your nervous system, causing a sudden increase or decrease in blood flow. In some cases, this can lead to headaches or migraine. One study found that reducing your intake of amines with a low-histamine diet tends to correspond with a reduction of headache symptoms.[3]

It’s also possible that a minor Herxheimer-like reaction could be to blame. This occurs when bacteria or yeast in your gut die off in large numbers. If you experience a die-off reaction[4] after starting your probiotic regime, it can also because some of the older bacteria within your gastrointestinal tract are dying off and releasing some pro-inflammatory cytokines. This can cause oxidative stress or the release of endotoxins. Fortunately, this phase should pass once your body adjusts to the probiotic.

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It may help to keep a food diary while eating probiotic foods in order to pinpoint the cause of your headaches. Keep drinking plenty of water to flush any excess toxins out.

3. Adverse Reactions to Allergens

Those with food intolerances or allergies may be more susceptible to adverse reactions from probiotics. One of the most common reactions is to the dairy content of probiotics.

Many probiotic strains are derived from dairy and contain lactose, the sugar in milk. However, studies suggest that the probiotic bacteria in fermented and unfermented milk products can actually reduce the symptoms of lactose intolerance.

Every case is unique, and a minority of people with lactose intolerance can suffer from gas and bloating when consuming probiotic strains like Bifidobacterium bifidum when they begin their course. Although these symptoms may dissipate, it’s advisable to switch to dairy-free probiotics.

Those with egg or soy intolerances may react to the presence of these allergens in some products. Similarly, those who are sensitive or allergic to yeast should avoid supplements that contain yeast strains.

If you have sensitivities or allergies to certain foods, check the label on the product before purchasing.

Another factor to consider is that many probiotic supplements also contain prebiotics. These are plant fibers that your body cannot break down, so instead, your gut bacteria consume as ‘food’. The most common prebiotics include lactulose, inulin, and various oligosaccharides.

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Although the fermentation process is usually beneficial to your gut bacteria, these prebiotics can cause some extra bloating and gassiness. This is not an allergic reaction as such, but can sometimes be enough to put people off taking the probiotic.

4. Skin Reactions

Although rare, there have been some reports of probiotics causing skin rashes or mild itching.

A review conducted in 2018 found that a small number of IBS patients who took a probiotic to treat their symptoms developed an itchy rash.[5] As a result, at least one patient dropped out of the trial.

If you begin a new probiotic supplement and find that your skin is suddenly itchy, it’s likely to be a temporary response that will pass within a few days. While the itchiness may be annoying, it’s unlikely to become severe or debilitating.

One of the theories for skin itchiness or rashes after taking probiotics is that the bacteria are triggering an allergy. If you are allergic to one of the added ingredients in a particular supplement – such as egg, soy or dairy – your immune system may cause an inflammatory response. This may also occur after eating fermented foods that contain a high amount of biogenic amines such as histamine. These responses are quite natural when a new bacterial species is introduced to your gut. If you already have a histamine intolerance or sensitivity, you may be more likely to end up with a skin rash or itchiness.

If the problem becomes too much to bear, stop taking the probiotic and consult a health practitioner. Check the ingredients on the label. When your rash clears, try a different probiotic product that contains different ingredients.

5. May Contribute to Small intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)

A 2018 study suggested that there may be a link between SIBO and probiotic supplementation in people who regularly suffer from ‘brain fog’.[6] It appears that the symptoms of these people improved when they stopped taking probiotics and started taking antibiotics.

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The bacteria in your small and large intestines are usually somewhat different from one another in terms of species and strains. Your large intestine contains mostly anaerobic bacteria, which can grow without oxygen. These bacteria survive by fermenting prebiotics, the carbohydrates that cannot be broken down in the gut.

Small intestine bacterial overgrowth SIBO occurs when bacteria from your large intestine end up in your small intestine and start growing. Symptoms are often mistaken for IBS because they include gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Sometimes, SIBO can cause ‘brain fog’ and short-term memory problems. In fact, SIBO is more common in those with IBS.

Although it’s not known what causes the bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine, some researchers suggest it can be a result of sluggish gut motility. This causes food to spend longer periods of time in the gut, which in turn means more fermentation in the small intestine.

Probiotics Side Effects Are Usually Only Temporary

Most of these side-effects only occur in a handful of cases. They usually only last for a short period of time after starting a probiotic regime, and will go away as your body adjusts.

If the side effects are caused by your gut adjusting and rebalancing, the worst thing you can do is stop taking the probiotic!

If your side effects are caused by an allergy or intolerance, or by an excess of histamine, you may want to look for a different probiotic or stop taking probiotics altogether.

Speak to your healthcare provider to determine the best course of action for your gut health and overall wellbeing.

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More About Probiotics and Prebiotics

Featured photo credit: Paweł Czerwiński via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Lisa Richards

Nutritionist, Creator of The Candida Diet, Owner of TheCandidaDiet.com

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Published on September 17, 2021

How to Take Probiotics for the Best Health Benefits

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How to Take Probiotics for the Best Health Benefits

Probiotics are a popular topic among health enthusiasts and medical professionals, alike, and rightfully so! As individuals seek to improve their health by becoming advocates for themselves, probiotics are often a good choice to become part of their new health-focused regimen.

However, there are some ways that will allow you to maximize the health benefits that you can get from probiotics. Read on to learn more about how to take probiotics for the best health benefits.

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics

are living bacteria that provide countless health benefits when ingested. These bacteria are naturally occurring in the gut but can—and should—be replenished through external means. The gut contains beneficial bacteria that make up the microbiota and plays a key role in maintaining health in both the body and mind. A healthy gut keeps the digestive process working smoothly, which prevents free radical and toxin build up in the body known to lead to many acute and chronic illnesses[1]

It is also thought that probiotics secrete substances that trigger the immune system to react more strongly, thereby preventing pathogens from being able to take root and cause illness.[2]

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Can You Take Too Many Probiotics?

Taking too many probiotics is not a common issue. For those who have taken too many probiotics (and each person will need to find their own tolerance level), they will likely experience gut disruptions and gastrointestinal side effects.

Probiotics are generally safe regardless of the amount taken, and any side effects are generally mild. It is impossible to take a toxic level of probiotics. The most common side effects of taking more probiotics than you can tolerate are gas, bloating, and diarrhea. These side effects can be treated individually and are generally corrected after 24 to 48 hours and stopping the probiotics until they are resolved.

It can be tempting to discontinue probiotic use altogether after a negative experience out of fear of another bad reaction, but simply reducing your dose and taking your probiotic as directed should prevent further issues. It is important for those with a weakened immune system or serious illness to discuss probiotic use with their healthcare provider before starting a probiotic regimen.

Can You Take Prebiotics and Probiotics Together?

As probiotics grow in use, prebiotics is beginning to get attention as well. Prebiotics come in supplement form but can also be fiber-rich foods that feed good gut bacteria. Probiotics replenish the good bacteria in the gut while prebiotics maintains the gut microbiome by feeding the good bacteria we have in the gut. Because of this relationship between prebiotics and probiotics, it is perfectly acceptable to take them together. However, if your diet already contains healthy, fiber-rich foods then you will likely not require prebiotic supplements.

Prebiotics contain fibers and natural sugars that encourage the growth of essential gut bacteria. They are easy to digest and keep the gut in balance. Prebiotic foods contain fiber and can include bananas, garlic, and dark leafy greens. Probiotic foods contain live cultures and include miso, some yogurts, kimchi, and sauerkraut.[3]

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You can learn more in my other article: Prebiotic vs Probiotic: What’s the Difference and Why Are They Important?

Can You Take Probiotics While Pregnant?

When carrying a child, a mother wants to create the safest environment possible. This is a time where the mother-to-be will begin integrating new and recommended health practices like exercise, supplements, and new diet habits. One question that is asked by pregnant women is whether or not probiotics are safe to take while pregnant. The benefits of probiotics are well documented, and many pregnant women want to know if probiotics will benefit them as well.

Pregnancy may be a good time to integrate a probiotic into your regimen simply due to the increased potential for an imbalance in gut bacteria that pregnancy naturally produces. Stress, medications, diarrhea, and vomiting as well as certain diet choices can cause bad bacteria to overrun the gut and lead to a dampened immune response, inflammation, fatigue, and more.

The simple answer is yes, probiotics are generally safe to take while pregnant. However, it is always recommended to discuss any introduction or discontinuation of supplements with your healthcare provider.

Many studies have shown that not only are probiotics safe to take while pregnant but also that they can add great benefits for mother and baby. A 2019 study by Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology found that the pregnant women’s gut microbiota improved through probiotic supplementation and that her immune system was enhanced.[4]

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During pregnancy, the pregnant mom’s immune system will go into a dampened state as the body works to protect and grow the fetus. This places her at greater risk for common illnesses she may have been able to fight off naturally before. Therefore, integrating a probiotic into her supplement regimen may help keep her and her baby safe from unwanted and avoidable illness.

One important factor to consider when taking a probiotic during pregnancy is the quality of the product you are purchasing. Not all probiotics are created equal. To maximize benefits while also avoiding unnecessary ingredients, it is crucial to choose a high quality and reputable probiotic.

When Is the Best Time to Take Probiotics?

As with many supplements and medications, there are certain times and factors that can change their efficacy, for good or bad. Research shows that the best time to take a probiotic is 30 minutes before a meal.[5] Consistency is key when it comes to taking a probiotic and experiencing as many of the potential health benefits as possible. This means that it is necessary to take it daily to ensure routine and regular replenishment of the gut’s bacteria.

The stomach is a highly acidic environment, which can make it difficult for many supplements to pass through in their most bioavailable form. The same is true for probiotics. Look for a high-quality probiotic that uses time-release tablets to deliver its bacteria safely to the gut.

The composition of your meal can also help or hinder your probiotic’s efficacy. A large meal will move more slowly through the stomach and trigger more stomach acid production. If your probiotic is taken along or prior to this type of meal, the probiotic will move more slowly and be exposed to a hostile environment for longer.

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The Bottom Line

When taking a probiotic, the most important thing to consider is product quality. Carefully read packaging and websites to ensure you are getting a product that is safe, pure, and effective. Look for a probiotic that will release its bacteria slowly and deliver them safely past your stomach acid.

Probiotics have been shown to support the immune system, prevent gastrointestinal issues, combat side effects from chronic conditions, and give extra support during pregnancy. These are just a few from a long list of scientifically backed benefits. Regardless of your motivation, just about every individual can benefit from adding a probiotic to their supplement and health regimen.

Lastly, here’s my recommendations on probiotics: 7 Best Probiotic Supplements (Recommendation and Reviews)

Featured photo credit: Christopher Campbell via unsplash.com

Reference

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