Most people who take a quality probiotic supplement only notice the positive effects, such as improved digestive functions, a stronger immune system, and a higher level of energy.
However, if the good and bad bacteria in your digestive tract are unbalanced, you may notice a few mild probiotic side effects while your gut is rebalancing.
Unfortunately, this aspect of taking a probiotic supplement is seldom discussed, which leads some people to conclude that their probiotic supplements are not working as they should. As a result, they stop taking the supplement before they’ve had a chance to notice the benefits.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the negative side effects of probiotics and what you can do to reduce or prevent them.
Probiotics Side Effects & How to Prevent Them
1. Most Common Probiotic Side Effect - Gas
The most commonly noted negative side effect is mild gas and bloating when you initially begin taking probiotics. Gas and bloating means that your digestive system is not breaking down and absorbing your food completely, allowing the microbes to ferment the food and produce gas.
The feeling of bloating is usually because your body is not used to the increased probiotic activity. Taking a probiotic can increase the number of probiotics inside your gut. This increased microbial activity produces additional gas which your body is not used to.
After the initial period (within the first few days of taking probiotics), your body should gradually adapt to the new friendly bacteria, allowing for improved digestion.
If your gas and bloating do not get better while taking probiotics there are two things you can do:
1. Taking a digestive enzymes supplement along with your probiotics can help your body break down, digest, and absorb food and reduce gas and bloating.
2. Try taking the probiotics on an empty stomach before bed. Probiotics can produce gas when provided with certain kinds of foods and taking probiotics before bed minimizes the chance of that happening.
2. Can Probiotics Cause Constipation?
Probiotics typically reduce constipation. According to several studies, probiotics were found to increase the average number of weekly bowel movements by 1.3, and generally supported softer stools that were easier to pass. These studies found Bifidobacterium to be the most effective probiotic for supporting regular digestive health.5
Because constipation is not typical when taking probiotics, experiencing constipation with probiotics may be a sign that you do not have enough fiber or water in your diet. In these instances we recommend increasing consumption of fiber with your probiotics. You can also start taking prebiotic fiber with your probiotics. Be sure to select one that is organic and diverse so your probiotics can have good food to thrive.
DrFormulas Organic Prebiotic Fiber
3. Diarrhea Probiotic Side Effects
Studies have shown how helpful probiotics can be for infectious diarrhea, traveler's diarrhea, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, and C diff diarrhea. However, they can cause diarrhea in some people.
This negative side effect should pass as your body gets fully adjusted to the new probiotics. In the long run, probiotics should not cause diarrhea. If you have diarrhea that lasts greater than 2 weeks while taking a probiotic then stop taking probiotics.
Headaches may be experienced when consuming probiotic-rich foods such as yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut. These foods may contain biogenic amines, which are substances that naturally form in any protein-based foods as they age or ferment.3
Common amines found in probiotic rich foods include histamine, tyramine, and tryptamine.4 Studies suggest that some people may be sensitive to amines, which can stimulate the central nervous system and cause headaches.5 Kimchi can also be high in sodium which causes headaches.
Most probiotic supplements should not have any headache-causing biogenic amines or salt.
4. Allergic Reactions to Probiotics
Another possible side effect of taking probiotics is an allergic reaction. Humans can be allergic to just about anything, including milk which is often used in the probiotic production process.
The purification process used in the production of some probiotics such as Nexabiotic Advanced should remove most of these allergens but you should avoid probiotics if you have had an anaphylactic type reaction to any of the ingredients.
If you are lactose intolerant you should be able to tolerate the small amounts of milk in probiotics.
5. Probiotic Overdoses
Probiotic-rich foods and supplements are generally considered safe. Your body is already filled with trillions of diverse bacteria, so overdosing is rare assuming that your immune system is healthy and functioning as normal.8
That said, you can always have too much of a good thing. Taking too many probiotics can create an unstable intestinal environment, which may result in many of the gastrointestinal side effects mentioned above, including diarrhea, abdominal pain, gas, bloating, and nausea.12
If you accidentally overdose on probiotics you should not be concerned as your gut microbiome will quickly reach a new equilibrium after you stop taking probiotics. An effective probiotic dose is 10 billion CFUs. Start with a dose around 10 billion CFUs and increase as needed.
Contraindications for Probiotics
Although probiotics benefit the immune system, they can potentially pose a danger to people with compromised immune systems who would be unable to respond properly if probiotics end up in the bloodstream.6
According to one review article, persons who have the highest risk when taking probiotics are immunosuppressed or are premature infants. Immunocompromised people include those with untreated HIV, people with weakened immune systems (cancer patients, patients who have had recent bowel surgery, or those that are taking immunosuppressant drugs such as corticosteroids.)7
Minor risks include having a central venous catheter, having an impaired intestinal barrier, cardiac valvular disease, and those simultaneously taking a broad spectrum antibiotic to which the probiotic is resistant, and taking probiotics via a jejestomy tube.
The authors of the review article recommended that probiotics be used with caution if there is one major risk and one minor risk.13
If you have a weakened immune system you should consult your physician before taking a probiotic supplement.