Available as capsules or in powder form probiotics are arguably among the best selling supplements. Although they have many, many benefits and positives this article looks as the possible side effects of probiotics.
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Do Probiotics Cause Side Effects?
Probiotic products and supplements are very popular these days.
Due to the many health benefits probiotic bacteria can provide, lots of people top-up their good bacteria levels every day.
The role probiotic bacteria play in supporting a healthy gut microbiome is well documented. This type of gut-friendly bacteria aids digestion, supports healthy immune function, and reduces the risk of certain chronic diseases such as diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Although there can be no doubt about the health benefits probiotics can provide, their use also has the potential to cause side effects in a minority of individuals.
This article provides information about the common side effects of probiotics. It also addresses other considerations you may need to bear in mind before choosing and using probiotic products or supplements.
5 Things to Consider Before Using Probiotics
1. Probiotics Might Cause Digestive Issues
Although most people who use probiotics don’t experience side effects, bloating and intestinal gas are the most commonly-reported problems among those who do. [source]
Yeast-based probiotics also have the potential to cause constipation. They may make some people feel more thirsty as well.
Should they arise, the aforementioned digestive issues can be annoying but they are neither severe nor frightening.
Fortunately, side effects of this nature tend to only occur when people are using probiotics for the first time. The negative issues generally disappear after a few weeks. It’ just a case of allowing the body time to adjust to the presence of extra probiotics in the gut.
You can reduce the likelihood of side effects by sticking to a low dose of probiotics during the early stages of treatment and then slowly increasing the dose over the following 2-3 weeks.
However, if you experience bloating or other digestive issues for more than a few weeks, it’s best to stop taking your chosen probiotics and getting some professional medical advice. There could be issues you are unaware of.
On the whole, probiotics are generally good for digestion.
2. Some Probiotic Strains May Increase Histamine Levels
Lactobacillus buchneri, Lactobacillus helveticus, Lactobacillus hilgardii, and certain other probiotic bacteria strains increase histamine levels in the digestive organs.
Histamine is a molecule the body produces in response to threats. It plays an important role in the human immune response.
When histamine levels increase, it causes the blood vessels to dilate. This allows extra blood to flood into the area(s) of infection.
Histamine also causes the blood vessels to be more permeable. This makes it easier for the immune cells to access the infected tissue and neutralize the pathogens.
This process may trigger allergy symptoms such as watery eyes, runny nose, or itching. In severe cases, the process may also present breathing difficulties.
Histamine produced in the digestive tract is normally degraded by the enzyme diamine oxidase (DAO). This prevents histamine levels from becoming sufficiently elevated to cause symptoms.
Unfortunately, some people have histamine intolerance. People who have this problem do not produce enough DAO to keep histamine levels under control. This can have unfortunate repercussions.
When histamine builds up, the excess passes through the intestines and enters the blood. This produces a reaction that is similar to an allergic response.
Anyone who suffers from histamine intolerance needs to avoid foods that increase histamine. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16782524/)
Needless to say, it may also be necessary to avoid probiotic products that provide histamine-boosting bacteria strains.
3. Some Probiotic Foods Might Cause Headaches
Sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, and certain other probiotic foods contain biogenic amines that may cause headaches.
Biogenic amines are compounds produced when food proteins are fermented by bacteria. Histamine, tryptamine, tyramine, and phenylethylamine are the amines most commonly found in probiotic foods.
Some research suggests low-histamine diets may reduce headaches by up to 75%.
However, other research provides conflicting results so this is an area that requires further study.
If you have noticed a pattern that suggests probiotic foods may be giving you headaches, a probiotic supplement may be a better alternative.
4. Some Probiotics Contain Additional Ingredients
Probiotic products often contain additional ingredients. Sometimes these additions have the potential to cause problems for certain individuals.
For instance, some probiotic supplements contain soy, egg, dairy, yeast, and/or other ingredients some people need to avoid.
If you have any allergies or intolerances, it’s important to thoroughly scrutinize the label before you buy a probiotic product. It’s the only way to be certain the product does not contain ingredients that have the potential to make you unwell.
Some probiotic products contain prebiotic fiber as well. It can be a smart inclusion because prebiotics nourish probiotic bacteria and help it to multiply. Products that have this paring are known as synbiotics.
Unfortunately, some people who do not have a problem tolerating probiotics find synbiotics give them bloating and gas. Those who do will need to adopt a purist attitude and stick to normal probiotics.
5. Probiotics Might Cause Infection
Although probiotics are safe for most people, some people need to avoid them. Especially people who are unusually susceptible to infections. It’s possible the bacteria may enter the blood and cause disease.
People who are taking immune system depressants or have medical conditions that impair normal immune response are particularly at risk. It’s also unwise to consume probiotics if you have recently undergone surgery.
Research also suggests probiotics are unsuitable for individuals suffering from severe acute pancreatitis. Consuming them may increase the risk of mortality.
Side Effects of Probiotics Summary
Probiotics offer numerous health benefits and are a safe option for the vast majority of people. However, side effects might be an issue for a small percentage of people.
Where this is the case, the side effects will probably only be a problem during the first few weeks of use.
In the majority of cases where side effects occur, they will be mild digestive problems such as bloating, gas, or changes in bowel movement.
Some people may need to exercise extra care when choosing how they attain extra probiotic bacteria.
Certain foods and supplements provide probiotic strains that can elevate histamine levels (in some people) and cause allergy-like symptoms and/or headaches.
Certain probiotics contain dairy, soy, or other allergens that may make them unsuitable for some people.
Synbiotics can also present problems for a minority of people. Although they are an excellent option for most of the population, they can cause some people to experience undesirable gut issues.
Anyone who has a weak immune system will probably have to avoid using probiotics.
If you want to begin adding more probiotic bacteria to your gut microbiome and have doubts about doing so, your doctor will be able to offer you the best advice. He or she will advise of any possible side effects of probiotics.