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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.

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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Last Updated on July 28, 2020

14 Low GI Foods for a Healthier Diet

14 Low GI Foods for a Healthier Diet

Diet trends may come and go, but a low-GI diet remains one of the few that has been shown to include benefits based on science. Low GI foods provide substantial health benefits over those with a high index, and they are key to maintaining a healthy weight.

What is GI? Glycemic index (GI) is the rate at which the carbohydrate content of a food is broken down into glucose and absorbed from the gut into the blood. When you eat foods containing carbohydrates, your body breaks them down into glucose, which is then absorbed into your bloodstream.[1]

The higher the GI of a food, the faster it will be broken down and cause your blood glucose (sugar) to rise. Foods with a high GI rating are digested very quickly and cause your blood sugar to spike. This is why it’s advisable to stick to low GI foods as much as possible, as the carbohydrate content of low GI foods will be digested slowly, allowing a more gradual rise in blood glucose levels.

Foods with a GI scale rating of 70 or more are considered to be high GI. Foods with a rating of 55 or below are considered low GI foods.

It’s important to note that the glycemic index of a food doesn’t factor in the quantity that you eat. For example, although watermelon has a high glycemic index, the water and fiber content of a standard serving of water means it won’t have a significant impact on your blood sugar.

Like watermelon, some high GI foods (such as baked potatoes) are high in nutrients. And some low GI foods (such as corn chips) contain high amounts of trans fats.

In most cases, however, the GI is an important means of gauging the right foods for a healthy diet.

Eating mainly low GI foods every day helps to provide your body with a slow, continuous supply of energy. The carbohydrates in low GI foods is digested slowly, so you feel satisfied for longer. This means you’ll be less likely to suffer from fluctuating sugar levels that can lead to cravings and snacking.

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Let’s continue with some of the best examples of low GI foods.

1. Quinoa

GI: 53

Quinoa has a slightly higher GI than rice or barley, but it contains a much higher proportion of protein. If you don’t get enough protein from the rest of your diet, quinoa could help. It’s technically a seed, so it’s also high in fiber–again, more than most grains. It’s also gluten-free, which makes it excellent for those with Celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

2. Brown Rice (Steamed)

GI: 50

Versatile and satisfying, brown rice is one of the best low GI foods and is a staple for many dishes around the world. It’s whole rice from which only the husk (the outermost layer) is removed, so it’s a great source of fiber. In fact, brown rice has been shown to help lower cholesterol, improve digestive function, promote fullness, and may even help prevent the formation of blood clots. Just remember to always choose brown over white!

3. Corn on the Cob

GI: 48

Although it tastes sweet, corn on the cob is a good source of slow-burning energy (and one of the tastiest low GI foods). It’s also a good plant source of Vitamin B12, folic acid, and iron, all of which are required for the healthy production of red blood cells in the body. It’s healthiest when eaten without butter and salt!

4. Bananas

GI: 47

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Bananas are a superfood in many ways. They’re rich in potassium and manganese and contain a good amount of vitamin C. Their low GI rating means they’re great for replenishing your fuel stores after a workout.

They are easy to add to smoothies, cereal, or kept on your desk for a quick snack. The less ripe they are, the lower the sugar content is! As one of the best low GI foods, it’s a great addition to any daily diet.

5. Bran Cereal

GI: 43

Bran is famous for being one of the highest cereal sources of fiber. It’s also rich in a huge range of nutrients: calcium, folic acid, iron, magnesium, and a host of B vitamins. Although bran may not be to everyone’s tastes, it can easily be added to other cereals to boost the fiber content and lower the overall GI rating.

6. Natural Muesli

GI: 40

Muesli–when made with unsweetened rolled oats, nuts, dried fruit, and other sugar-free ingredients–is one of the healthiest ways to start the day. It’s also very easy to make at home with a variety of other low GI foods. Add yogurt and fresh fruit for a nourishing, energy-packed breakfast.

7. Apples

GI: 40

Apple skin is a great source of pectin, an important prebiotic that helps to feed the good bacteria in your gut. Apples are also high in polyphenols, which function as antioxidants, and contain a good amount of vitamin C. They are best eaten raw with the skin on! Apples are one of a number of fruits[2] that have a low glycemic index. Be careful which fruits you choose, as many have a large amount of natural sugars[3].

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8. Apricots

GI: 30

Apricots provide both fiber and potassium, which make them an ideal snack for both athletes and anyone trying to keep sugar cravings at bay. They’re also a source of antioxidants and a range of minerals.

Apricots can be added to salads, cereals, or eaten as part of a healthy mix with nuts at any time of the day.

9. Kidney Beans

GI: 29

Kidney beans and other legumes provide a substantial serving of plant-based protein, so they can be used in lots of vegetarian dishes if you’re looking to adopt a plant-based diet[4]. They’re also packed with fiber and a variety of minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and other beneficial plant compounds. They are great in soups, stews, or with (whole grain) tacos.

10. Barley

GI: 22

Barley is a cereal grain that can be eaten in lots of ways. It’s an excellent source of B vitamins, including niacin, thiamin, and pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), fiber, molybdenum, manganese, and selenium. It also contains beta-glucans, a type of fiber that can support gut health and has been shown to reduce appetite and food intake.

Please note that barley does contain gluten, which makes it unsuitable for anyone who is Celiac[5] or who follows a gluten-free diet. In this case, gluten-free alternatives might include quinoa, buckwheat, or millet.

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11. Raw Nuts

GI: 20

Most nuts have a low GI of between 0 and 20, with cashews slightly higher at around 22. Nuts, as one of the best low GI foods, are a crucial part of the Mediterranean diet[6] and are really the perfect snack: they’re a source of plant-based protein, high in fiber, and contain healthy fats. Add them to smoothies and salads to boost the nutritional content. Try to avoid roasted and salted nuts, as these are made with large amounts of added salt and (usually) trans fats.

12. Carrots

GI: 16

Raw carrots are not only a delicious low GI vegetable, but they really do help your vision! They contain vitamin A (beta carotene) and a host of antioxidants. They’re also low-calorie and high in fiber, and they contain good amounts of vitamin K1, potassium, and antioxidants. Carrots are great for those monitoring their weight as they’ve been linked to lower cholesterol levels.

13. Greek Yogurt

GI: 12

Unsweetened Greek yogurt is not only low GI, but it’s an excellent source of calcium and probiotics, as well. Probiotics help to keep your gut microbiome in balance and support your overall digestive health and immune function. Greek yogurt makes a healthy breakfast, snack, dessert, or a replacement for dip. The most common probiotic strains found in yogurt are Streptococcus thermophilus[7] (found naturally in yogurt) and Lactobacillus acidophilus[8] (which is often added by the manufacturer). You can also look into probiotic supplements for improving your gut health.

14. Hummus

GI: 6

When made the traditional way from chickpeas and tahini, hummus is a fantastic, low-GI dish. It’s a staple in many Middle Eastern countries and can be eaten with almost any savory meal. Full of fiber to maintain satiety and feed your good gut bacteria, hummus is great paired with freshly-chopped vegetables, such as carrots and celery.

Bottom Line

If you’re looking to eat healthier or simply cut down on snacking throughout the day, eating low GI foods is a great way to get started. Choose any of the above foods for a healthy addition to your daily diet and start feeling better for longer.

More Tips on Eating Healthy

Featured photo credit: Alexander Mils via unsplash.com

Reference

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