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Last Updated on May 14, 2021

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

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

7 Best Probiotic Supplements (Recommendation and Reviews) 3 Simple Steps to Reduce Your Gut Inflammation What Helps Yeast Infections: Foods To Eat And Avoid What to Eat When Constipated? 10 Foods to Improve Your Gut Health 7 Super Fast and Effective Ways to Reduce Gas in Stomach

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1 7 Best Probiotic Supplements (Recommendation and Reviews) 2 3 Simple Steps to Reduce Your Gut Inflammation 3 What Helps Yeast Infections: Foods To Eat And Avoid 4 What to Eat When Constipated? 10 Foods to Improve Your Gut Health 5 7 Super Fast and Effective Ways to Reduce Gas in Stomach

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Last Updated on June 11, 2021

7 Best Probiotic Supplements (Recommendation and Reviews)

7 Best Probiotic Supplements (Recommendation and Reviews)

You’ve probably heard that probiotics are a great way to boost your gut health. And indeed, they are! But how do you find the right probiotic for you? Where do you look? Which products are good and which are not?

Here’s an outline of what you need to look for when choosing the best probiotic supplement for you.

First of all, you should check off these five questions.

1. Will the Bacteria in the Probiotic Reach Your Gut?

A good probiotic should be designed in a way that allows the bacteria to survive the harsh acidic environment of your stomach. This means that the bacteria have a better chance of arriving at your intestines, ready to establish themselves and do their work.

That’s why you should look for a probiotic supplement that uses some form of time-release technology, such as BIO-tract or delayed-release capsules that protects the probiotic bacteria and prevents them from being broken down in your stomach.[1]

2. How Many Billion CFUS of Bacteria Do I Need?

CFU stands for “colony-forming unit.” This is the amount of live and active bacteria contained in each dose. Generally speaking, the higher the CFU count, the more effective the probiotic. However, not all products will state how many CFUs they contain, which can be a sign that the actual count is very low.

A good probiotic supplement should contain at least 10 billion CFUs for it to be effective or at least 5 billion CFUs for children.

3. Which Strains of Bacteria Does It Contain?

There are hundreds of different strains of bacteria, and all of them have unique properties. Some probiotics have been shown to help with specific health conditions. Most of the probiotics in commercial formulations are naturally found in a healthy gut.

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Some of the best bacterial strains to look for in a probiotic are L. Plantarum (for protecting the membrane that surrounds your gut), L. paracasei (for its antibacterial properties that can ward off pathogens like E. coli and Candida albicans), and L. acidophilus (to regulate acidity in your gut and boost your immune system).

4. How Many Different Strains of Bacteria Are Included?

There are more than 1,000 different species of bacteria in a healthy gut. So, it’s best to choose a probiotic supplement that contains a variety of strains. All these strains work together, each supporting one another with their different properties. The more strains, the more work that gets done!

5. Are There Any Other Ingredients That Might Damage Your Gut Health?

Many supplement manufacturers include fillers and unnecessary ingredients to lengthen shelf life, sweeten their product, or make the contents easier to pour into capsules. Be sure to read the ingredients label carefully as some of these “extras” can be harmful to gut health.

Look out for common allergens, such as gluten, nuts, dairy products, or animal products, especially if you’re intolerant or allergic to them. Also, be aware that some gums (like those found in ‘gummy’ kids’ probiotics) can increase inflammation in your gut.

What Is a Good Probiotic?

Several factors go into making a good probiotic. First of all, try to look past the big numbers that are used in marketing. You’ll see adverts for probiotics that have 50 billion, 100 billion, even 200 billion CFUs! The harsh reality is that these numbers are usually irrelevant. Probiotics with high CFU counts often deliver only a few of those bacteria past your stomach acid. Time-release tablets, for example using patented technologies like BIO-tract, can deliver 15 times more bacteria to the gut than an equivalent probiotic in a vegetable capsule.[2]

For example, my preferred Balance ONE Probiotic contains 15 billion CFUs of bacteria. It uses time-release tablets, and each one of those tablets delivers the same amount of bacteria to your gut as a 225 billion CFU probiotic in a vegetable capsule.

Second, look for the strains that the probiotic contains. A good probiotic for digestive health and immune support should contain at least 5 strains, and preferably 10. All of those strains have different benefits and characteristics. The more you take, the more benefits you’ll enjoy.

Lastly, watch out for unnecessary sweeteners or flavors. No one needs their probiotics to taste like candy! Many probiotics, and especially probiotic gummies, contain a range of sweeteners and other ingredients that can actually impair your gut health.

With all the criteria in mind, here are the 7 best probiotic supplements available in the market, together with my reviews to help you choose the best one for you.

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1. Balance ONE Probiotic

    This is one probiotic supplement that ticks all the right boxes. It contains 12 strains of probiotics with 15 billion CFUs per tablet. These include the most-researched strains, such as Lactobacillus Plantarum, Lactobacillus paracasei, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei, Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and more.

    The Balance ONE Probiotic is also free from unnecessary fillers and allergens, such as nuts, dairy, gluten. It’s non-GMO and vegan, and it doesn’t require refrigeration, so it’s perfect for travel or keeping on your desk at work. It only contains strains that are already present in the human gut without any Soil Based Organisms (SBOs) or active yeasts.

    The most important feature of the Balance ONE probiotic is its patented delivery system known as BIO-tract. This special patented process involves compressing the probiotic bacteria into tablets. This means that Balance ONE probiotics can survive passage through the acidic conditions of the stomach without being destroyed. Studies have shown that this delivery method gets 15 times as many bacteria past stomach acid compared to regular vegetable capsules.[3]

    If you’re looking for a quality probiotic with high efficacy, Balance One is my number one choice.

    Check out Balance One Probiotic here.

    2. Renew Life Ultimate Flora Extra Care Probiotic

      This is a good probiotic that contains a wide variety of strains and a powerful dose. There are a guaranteed 30 billion live probiotic cultures, including 12 probiotic strains, which makes it a good choice for anyone seeking a starter probiotic.

      It uses delayed-release vegetable capsules which, while not as effective as the BIO-tract system, are still an effective way to deliver bacteria to the gut. The rest of the specs check out too. It has multiple strains for effective support and is free from gluten, dairy, and soy.

      Check out Renew Life Ultimate Flora Extra Care Probiotic here.

      3. Vitamin Bounty – Pro 25 Probiotic and Prebiotic

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        With 25 Billion organisms per dose, Vitamin Bounty is a good choice for a maintenance probiotic. It also has an impressive 13 probiotic strains to help support overall digestive health.

        It’s also made with a delayed-release capsule that protects the live bacteria contained within each capsule from the stomach’s harsh environment. This helps in the delivery of the bacteria to the intestines and improves efficacy. There is also a huge range of strains plus a nice bonus of Fermented Greens, which help as a prebiotic.

        Check out Vitamin Bounty – Pro 25 Probiotic and Prebiotic here.

        4. Hyperbiotics PRO-15 Advanced Strength

          Again, this formula is made with the BIO-tract patented delivery method. The probiotic contents are released over an eight to then hour period, which means they’re more likely to bypass the acidic environment of the stomach and move into the intestinal tract alive. It has the added benefit of New Zealand Kiwifruit powder, which functions as a prebiotic that helps the healthy bacteria colonize and supports digestion and regularity.

          Like Balance One, Hyberbiotics Pro-15 has a guaranteed shelf life that doesn’t require refrigeration. It contains only strains that are already present in the human gut without any Soil Based Organisms (SBOs) or active yeasts.

          Check out Hyperbiotics PRO-15 Advanced Strength here.

          5. Smart Belly Adult Daily

            This formula contains a selection of 7 well-researched lactobacillus and bifidobacterium strains, as well as a prebiotic. The CFU is 7 billion, which is less than ideal, but it does use the patented Bio-tract delivery system so that the majority of those probiotic bacteria will survive stomach acid. It’s allergy-free and requires no refrigeration.

            Check out Smart Belly Adult Daily here.

            6. Garden of Life Colon Daily Care 40 Billion CFU

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              This well-known brand of probiotic boasts 40 Billion CFU per capsule with 16 strains of probiotic bacteria. This includes B. lactis HN019, a strain proven to help promote bowel regularity and help relieve bloating. It also has the nice feature of a desiccant-lined bottle technology to support the shelf life of the probiotics, and it’s allergen-free.

              The only concern with this probiotic is that it does not use an effective method to deliver its bacteria past stomach acid, so it’s hard to say whether those 40 billion probiotic bacteria are guaranteed to reach the intestines.

              Check out Garden of Life Colon Daily Care 40 Billion CFU here.

              7. Align Probiotics Digestive Probiotic

                Last but not least, Align is designed to support digestive health. Its main feature is its inclusion of Bifidobacterium longum 35624, which the manufacturers claim will deliver 24/7 support to the gut.

                This particular strain isn’t often seen in other products. If you’re suffering from IBS, this could be a good choice.

                Check out Align Probiotics Digestive Probiotic here.

                The Bottom Line

                There are so many probiotic supplements on the market that it can be difficult to make an informed choice. The health supplement industry is largely unregulated and many of the cheaper products tend to be of poor quality.

                You can use the questions at the top of this article to determine if your probiotic is worth the money. If you need some further guidance, the probiotics listed in this article are all good choices.

                More About Probiotics

                Featured photo credit: Paweł Czerwiński via unsplash.com

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