Are There Any Side Effects to Probiotics?

Many people stumble upon probiotics not by chance, but rather because they’re attempting to fix a health problem they’ve been dealing with, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation or even a skin condition that just doesn’t seem to subside. While probiotics are often used to restore harmony in the body, they can also be associated with certain side effects.

More often than not, however, side effects experienced after taking a probiotics supplement means that it’s actually working. Probiotics are strains of the bacteria that already live within the body and populate the human microbiome. There may be an initial transition period for those who have lived with an imbalance of bacteria for years. Once healthy bacteria take up residence in the gut, however, any initial side effects tend to dissipate completely.

Possible Side Effects of Probiotics 

It’s important to realize that the vast majority of people who take a probiotics supplement won’t experience any side effects at all. Most side effects associated with probiotics tend to be mild but it helps to understand why they’re happening. Let’s take a closer look at some of the more common side effects of probiotics and what they may mean for your body.

Gas / Bloating 

By far the most common side effect of starting probiotic supplements is dealing with gas and bloating. Gas can be particularly unsettling for those who are not expecting it, as many people take probiotics to remedy gas and bloating. It may lead some to believe that the probiotics they’re taking aren’t working or are actually working against their goals, which might persuade them to cease taking the probiotic supplement.

Gas and bloating may be uncomfortable, but contrarily, they’re actually good signs when taking probiotics. For the colon to function properly and fight against “bad” bacteria that enters the body through food, it requires a slightly acidic environment. When an imbalance of microflora occurs within the gut, pH levels go from acidic to alkaline, a common result of antibiotic use.

Introducing probiotics into the body has the effect of reverting alkaline pH levels back to a certain degree of acidity, which is a preferred environment for beneficial bacteria to grow and populate. It also creates a back and forth between good bacteria and the harmful microbes that have taken hold of the gut thus far. The result? Gas, bloating, loose stools and additional GI-related symptoms.

Fortunately, the gas and bloating associated with starting probiotics doesn’t tend to last long, essentially as long as it takes for beneficial bacteria to once again gain footing in the gut. For those who are taking antibiotics either acutely or on a regular basis to treat a chronic health issue, the “tug of war” between beneficial and harmful bacteria can be lengthy. Once balance is eventually restored you can expect to see a dramatic improvement in any GI-related symptoms.

Skin Sensitivity 

As with GI issues, many people turn to probiotics to help remedy skin issues. While the skin does have its own microbiome and can experience improvements from the introduction of probiotics into the gut, it can also show sensitivity at first for some.

This can occur for two reasons. For one, some fermented foods that contain probiotics also contain histamines, which can result in a mild allergic reaction that causes skin rash or pimples to occur. Skin sensitivity can also happen when the body works to eliminate toxins. If an imbalance in the microbiome exists and you introduce probiotics to bring things back to normal, you may experience an initial flare of pimples.

Immune System Issues

Because nearly 80% of the immune system can be found within the gut, probiotics are often considered by those who are looking to add some degree of immune system support to their daily regimen. For those who are severely immunocompromised, however, probiotics may not be advisable. Individuals with immunodeficiencies may end up over-stimulating the immune system with probiotics, resulting in potential health complications. Anyone who is immunocompromised should always discuss with a doctor whether it’s safe for them to take probiotics.

Allergic Reaction

One additional factor that consumers should pay attention to prior to taking probiotics is if they have any severe allergies. Probiotics can help to reduce the symptoms of many allergic reactions, but they may also contain active or inactive ingredients that are allergenic. Read the labels of supplements you’re considering to ensure there is no threat of allergic reaction.

Reducing the Side Effects of Probiotics

Most people who start taking probiotics experience no side effects or symptoms at all, but for some, mild gas and bloating will present. Unfortunately, the initial side effects associated with starting probiotic supplements cannot be avoided completely for those who are recovering from a severe imbalance of microflora in the gut.

There are a few steps you can take to help reduce potential side effects associated with probiotics:

Hydrate - Hydration is one of the most importance factors in helping to improve overall health and wellness, and one that many people unfortunately tend to overlook. Many of the side effects associated with probiotics — diarrhea, gas and pimples -- are signs that the body is working to detoxify itself. Water plays a major role in the detoxification process and can help to speed it up, so don’t hesitate to push fluids more than usual when starting a course of probiotics. If anything, you’ll feel less tired and more energetic throughout the day.

Decrease Your Dosage - If you’re particularly uncomfortable from side effects associated with probiotics, you may want to decrease your dosage slightly in the initial week. This is especially true if the supplement you’re taking contains more than 10 billion colony forming units (CFUs), as you may be “overdosing” on probiotics by taking the recommended dosage. Cutting your dosage in half for the first few days may help to reduce any associated symptoms until the transition period has ended.

Watch Your Diet - As your body works to adjust to a rebalancing of bacteria in the gut, you owe it to yourself to pay attention to the food you’re eating. Avoid any foods that might contribute to additional GI disturbances, such as processed foods, alcohol and any foods rich in sugars or unhealthy fats. Stick to foods like asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes and beans, all of which contain large amounts of prebiotic fiber that can assist probiotics in doing their jobs properly.

Which Probiotics Supplement is Right for You?

One of the most important things to remember when shopping for a probiotics supplement is that not all options on the market are created equal. Some are far better suited to treating certain ailments than others, for example, while others contain numerous different strains that actually kill each other in the process of trying to gain a foothold in the gut. Not sure where to start? Here are a few things to look for.

1. Avoid Multiple Strains

So many of today’s probiotics supplements include multiple strains of different types of bacteria in hopes that doing so will create a more “broad-spectrum” effect on the body—not true. If anything, supplements that contain more than just a single strain of probiotics can actually cause more harm than good. This is because various strains will actually fight each other for dominance as they make their way to the gut, effectively killing each other off in the process. Don’t buy into the hype—stick with single-strain probiotics for best effect.

2. Don’t Overdo the CFUs

As stated above, the body is really only able to process a threshold of approximately 10 billion CFUs per dose of probiotics. Anything more is just wasted units, and you’ll not only pay more for extra CFUs, but “overdosing” on them can actually create additional GI-related issues that won’t do you any favors. For best results, stick to probiotics that contain a reasonable amount of CFUs rather than those which boast billions of units per dose.

3. Watch for Shelf-stability

A shelf-stable probiotics supplement is one that won’t lose active cultures over time or require refrigeration. The vast majority of products on the market are not stable without refrigeration, however. Be sure to ensure you’re purchasing a supplement with plenty of active cultures contained inside by researching which options are the most shelf-stable.

While side effects can occur when taking probiotics, be sure to remind yourself that they’re most likely a sign that things are progressing the way they should be. So long as you’re treating your body right and taking a supplement from a reputable company, your body will handle the rest of the work on its own.  



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