Your body naturally contains a variety of bacteria and other microorganisms. As one of the fastest-growing supplements in terms of popularity, the benefits of probiotics are quickly being revealed. But there may be some potential side effects that accompany these benefits. For most people, these side effects are minor (if they occur at all). Regardless, it is important to discuss the side effects that a person may experience after taking a probiotic.
Although you may be taking a probiotic to help relieve symptoms such as gas and bloating, these also happen to be the most common side effects. This is a normal occurrence that can happen when the body is adjusting to the new balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut. For those new to probiotics, it's important to remember that our gastrointestinal system may need time to adapt.
To decrease these symptoms, consider beginning with smaller portions of probiotic-rich foods, or spacing out the frequency of probiotic supplements instead of taking them daily. Always monitor how your body responds and consult with your healthcare provider for guidance.
Another side effect to be aware of is an upset stomach. According to this meta-analysis, this is more common in people who already have pre-existing digestive conditions, compared to those who don’t. Symptoms can range from upper abdominal discomfort to indigestion and nausea. These effects are generally temporary, but it’s still crucial to monitor them and discuss them with your healthcare provider if they do present themselves.
There is strong and solid evidence that probiotics can help address antibiotic associated diarrhea. However, loose stool can also manifest as a sid e effect for some individuals depending on the potency of the probiotic and the ingredients present. This negative side effect is more common, particularly in individuals with histamine intolerance or sensitivity. The reason for this is that certain strains of probiotics can produce histamine within the digestive tract. So, if you are someone who is sensitive to histamine, taking these strains can exacerbate or trigger changes in the stool. The strains included in Care/of Probiotic blend are not associated with promoting histamine levels.
For some people, certain strains of probiotics may actually lead to temporary changes in bowel movements, depending on their individual gut biome. When probiotics are introduced, they work to alter the existing microbiome environment. So, for those who naturally have a more rapid transit time through the gastrointestinal system, initially adding probiotic-rich foods or supplements can result in a noticeable shift in bowel movement patterns. This shift can be experienced as a feeling of constipation or a decrease in the frequency of bowel movements, but this usually balances out over time. But, as always, you should check with your doctor. Sudden changes in bowel movements like chronic or persistent constipation should not be experienced as a result of probiotics. If you do experience constipation, there are many potential causes (including but not limited to lack of fiber, lack of adequate hydration, or lack of movement, among other more serious underlying issues), so you should talk to your doctor about the concern.
Although very rare, certain individuals may notice headaches when they begin eating fermented foods. This is often linked to the biogenic amines (including histamine) that are present in some probiotic-rich fermented food sources that can impact blood flow. For some, lactic acid may also be a trigger. This study found that Streptococcus thermophilus contributed to amine formation when making home-made yogurt. There is still significant research that needs to be done because there are mixed results from other studies regarding sensitivities to bioamines.
Histamine and other amines function as chemical messengers in the body, and some are more sensitive to them than others. Factors such as individual immune responses, genetic predispositions, and environmental influences can all play a role in determining someone’s level of sensitivity.
When it comes to probiotics, not all strains are created equal, and not all are suitable for everyone. Only your medical provider can truly determine what is safe for you. However, there are some items you can look out for. Firstly, if you are someone with food allergies or intolerances, it’s critical to always read the label of supplements and review the added ingredients.
Additionally, particular allergens, such as those derived from cow’s milk, like lactose, or even eggs, may potentially be lurking in some formulas. So, anyone with known sensitivities or allergies needs to be vigilant when selecting a probiotic supplement.
Lastly, as mentioned earlier, there are specific strains known to produce histamine, which can sometimes lead to reactions that mimic allergic reactions, even though they’re purely histamine-based. Strains that fall under this category include Lactobacillus buchneri, Lactobacillus helveticus, Lactobacillus hilgardii, and Streptococcus thermophilus.
Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that serve as a fuel source for beneficial gut bacteria, allowing them to thrive. Thus, there are many supplement formulations that include prebiotics and probiotics together in order to help provide the most benefit – these are referred to as synbiotics. These too come with their share of potential side effects.
Adverse reactions to prebiotics and synbiotics may be similar to those experienced when taking probiotics. Again, those with food allergies or sensitivities should always review the ingredient labels carefully.
Moreover, since prebiotics are fiber-rich foods, suddenly increasing the amount of high-fiber foods into your diet can lead to temporary digestive discomfort, especially if you’re not consuming enough fluids.
While most probiotics are generally well-tolerated, there are some less frequent side effects and reactions to be aware of:
Outside of these specific reactions, probiotics might not be suitable for everyone, especially those with compromised immune systems or certain health conditions. Before integrating probiotics into your health regimen, it's always recommended to consult a physician, especially for anyone with existing health conditions or a history of sensitivities. The NCCIH highlights that there's a lack of solid information on the frequency and severity of side effects from probiotics. This can be an exciting area for researchers to further explore.
Before taking a probiotic, you should speak with your physician about the best way to begin. If you may benefit from a probiotic, your physician may recommend starting with bacteria-containing food–foods like yogurt and kefir. Your physician may also recommend that you start with a smaller dose (lower CFUs) when first starting out.
Some of the most common initial experiences include temporary stomach and bowel changes (e.g. irregular bowel movements) since the bacteria directly impact your digestive and metabolic systems. Some people report temporary bloating or softer stools when starting a new probiotic, which is both normal due to the changes happening in your gut biome.
Probiotics have surged in popularity due to their various health benefits, particularly for digestive health. While they offer potential benefits for many, there is still a possibility to experience side effects. Most of these potential side effects are mild and temporary, stemming from the body's adjustment to a shifting balance of gut bacteria. It's important to recognize individual factors such as allergies, intolerances, or pre-existing health conditions, which can influence how you might react to probiotics, prebiotics, or synbiotics. Starting with a food-based approach and consulting a healthcare provider before diving into supplements can also be beneficial.