Whenever a new item comes on the healthcare block, we automatically want to know more about it. Will it help us? What can it actually do? Is it even worth it? Most of the time, these items disappear and we don’t hear about them again, but one which has stuck around is probiotics.
We still don’t really know a huge amount about them, and studies are still very much ongoing into the possible benefits and side effects of probiotic use. What we do know is that they can be very beneficial for anyone who suffers from digestive system upsets on a regular basis, as well as being an ideal way to ensure overall gut health.
How to Consume Probiotics?
Probiotics can be taken either as a supplement, e.g. yoghurt-style drink, a tablet, or a capsule, or it can be taken via your regular diet. For instance, making sure that your overall diet has plenty of foods which are known to be high in natural probiotic content, would also do the trick. The problem is, whilst there are many foods which are high in probiotics, not all of these are very easy to incorporate into a regular diet.
Some foods which are known to be high in probiotic content include:
- Leafy greens
- Fermented foods
- Miso soup
- Dark chocolate
- Yogurt (items which state ‘live cultures’)
- Traditional buttermilk
As you can see, some of those dishes are not exactly easily available in traditional supermarkets, and might not be foods which everyone will like. For that reason, supplements are a great idea.
What are Probiotics?
We’ve mentioned that probiotics are useful in gut health in particular, but what exactly are probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria which live in the stomach and they are classified as ‘good’ bacteria. The word ‘bacteria’ tends to make people think that they should be avoiding them like the plague, but that’s not the case with probiotics. Your stomach needs good and bad bacteria, in order to maintain a natural balance. When that balance is out of whack, e.g. there is too much bad, and not enough good, stomach disturbances occur.
It isn’t only the stomach where good and bad bacteria dwell, as the female genital tract is also a spot where balance needs to be in harmony. When yeast disturbances happen in this area (probiotics are also yeasts), problems such as thrush can occur.
Gut health is where probiotics do their most important job however, and they also help to maintain the smooth running of the overall digestive system. There are many different strains and subtypes of probiotics, but the main two you will hear about are lactobacillus and bifidabacterium.
What Are the Benefits of Probiotics?
There are many studies which are still ongoing into the actual benefits of probiotics. As with any item in the health supplement world, it’s vital to find a product that suits you and follow the instructions on the pack. This is because there is no uniform dosage for probiotics. Shopping around and finding the ideal strain of probiotics for any issues you have is therefore vital.
The main benefits of probiotics include:
- Improved gut health
- Smooth running of the digestive system
- Can help to avoid yeast infections in the female genital tract
- Can help to prevent diarrhoea and treat it also
- Ideal for anyone who suffers from digestive tract issues, e.g. IBS
- May improve certain mental health conditions – Studies have shown that certain strains may have an affect on mood
- Certain strains may help with heart health, by helping to reduce cholesterol levels
- May help with certain allergies, e.g. eczema
- Studies have shown that certain strains may help to boost the immune system
- May help you to lose weight, especially in the belly area
From that list, you can see why probiotics have stuck around, and why so many people use them on a daily basis.
You can find some of the best probiotic supplements formulated for different circumstances here:
5 Probiotic Side Effects You Need to Know About
The problem with probiotics is that there hasn’t been enough research into dosage, frequency of use, and the possible side effects they might have. Studies that have been done haven’t really shown anything conclusive in either direction, e.g whether probiotics are beneficial or not, but the above benefits really point towards the positive, rather than the negative.
For completeness’ sake however, it’s important to know bout any identified side effects, and to weigh up the risks versus benefits carefully. Before you begin to take any supplement, whether probiotics or something else entirely, always check with your doctor if you have any health issues, or if you are taking any medications. Only begin taking the supplement when your doctor has given you the green light to do so.
Let’s talk about five side effects connected with probiotics, to help you make your final decision.
1. Probiotics May Cause A Few Digestive Upset Symptoms at First
As your body is getting used to the supplement, there might be a few digestive system side effects to deal with at first. The most commonly reported are an increase in bloating and a little extra gas. It depends entirely on the type of probiotic you are taking as to the degree of possible side effects, e.g. yeast-based probiotic products might cause constipation at first, until the body becomes used to the supplement on a regular basis. This shouldn’t persist after a couple of weeks at most, but obviously take precautions against constipation, to avoid complications.
A good way to reduce any potential digestive system upsets due to the new supplement is to use a low dose at first and then build up over the coming weeks. This will help to reduce any unpleasant side effects, such as bloating or gas.
2. Certain Probiotics May Cause Headaches
Certain probiotics contain something called ‘amines’, and these may cause headaches in some people when they first start taking the supplements. There are natural probiotic foods which also contain amines, such as sauerkraut, some yogurts and kimchi. In this case, we’re talking about things like histamine and tyramine, to name just two. Those who are particularly sensitive to these amines may find that they notice an increase in headaches.
More studies are ongoing into why this is and whether the amines really have a huge direct risk of headaches or not. It’s a good idea to keep a diary of your food intake if you do notice headaches, and to work out whether or not you are eating amine-rich foods or not. If you are taking a new supplement, switch to a different type and see if this changes your headache pattern. Supplements on the whole don’t cause the same types of amine-related headaches, compared to foods which are high in probiotics.
3. Certain Types of Probiotics Might Cause Increased Histamine Levels
There are some people who are particularly sensitive to histamine levels, and as we just mentioned in terms of headaches, this can cause an issue for overall health and wellbeing. There are certain strains of probiotics which may increase the amount of histamine present in the digestive tract.
The reason this can be an issue is because whenever histamine is present, the body thinks that there is something to fight, e.g. an infection or a problem. This causes your blood vessels to increase in size and more blood is delivered to that area.
Those who have sensitivities to histamine may not be able to break the histamine down properly, so instead it is absorbed into the intestines. The result is an allergic reaction, literally what your body was trying to prevent by detecting a threat.
You can see in more visual terms how histamine works in this video.
The most common types of probiotics which may cause histamine to be produced are lactobacillus buchneri, lactobacillus helveticus, lactobacillus hilgardii, and also streptococcus thermophilus.
4. Certain Probiotics May Contain Ingredients Which Some People Are Allergic To
It’s always important to read the label of any supplement you are considering taking, because there are many ingredients contained within them. If you have an allergic reaction to an ingredient within a probiotic supplement, the reaction could be anything from mild to severe. It’s simply not worth taking the risk.
The reason this is a risk with probiotics is because certain supplements contain egg, soy, milk, sugar, and lactose, and these are common allergy issues for some people. In that case, if you have any such allergies, always read the label.
Another possible issue is yeast allergy. There are certain probiotics which are very much yeast-based, and these could cause a problem for those with allergies to yeast strains. In this case, go for a supplement which is more bacteria-based than yeast-based.
The single best way to avoid a possible reaction is to read labels carefully. If you are buying supplements online, you should look at the ingredients before you make your purchase.
5. Probiotics Aren’t Always Suitable For Everyone
Whilst most people can usually take probiotics without an issue, there are a few instances which can cause an unsafe situation to arise. There are situations in which the bacteria which are contained in probiotics could actually make their way into the bloodstream, rather than being absorbed into the gut. In this case, infection can occur, and it can also be quite severe.
The most common situation where this could happen is anyone who has a low-acting immune system, e.g. anyone who has recently undergone any type of surgery, and anyone who is undergoing chemotherapy.
We should point out that this risk is considered to be low, and there are no reports of a very serious incident occurring. Having said that, there aren’t enough studies to 100% conclude the safety of probiotics in this case, so you should weigh up the pros and cons very carefully and discuss with your doctor if your immune system has been suppressed for any particular reason.
There is also a suggestion that anyone who has severe pancreatitis is not suitable for probiotic usage. This could drastically increase the risk of complications and even death.
Are Probiotics Safe?
Further studies are required in order to learn more about the further benefits and possible side effects of probiotics in the general population.
Overall, studies which have taken place so far certain show a very advantageous effect of probiotics, when taken with caution, i.e. after discussion with a doctor. To give you a greater idea of how probiotics work, check out this video below.
You will also notice that the list of benefits is far longer than the list of side effects. This is because we don’t know for sure just what the scope of possible side effects is.
Before you decide on a particular type of probiotic to use, it’s a good idea to look into the various strains and what they are used for. There are far too many to talk about, and certain types are better for certain ailments than others.
By identifying your particular problem and researching accordingly, you may be able to find the relief you’ve been searching for. It’s also a very good piece of advice to shop around. Prices vary wildly, and so do dosages. Always read the label and adhere to the advice written there. If you have any problems, a quick word with your doctor should see you through.