What are the Side Effects of Probiotics?
Most people use probiotics without any adverse effects. Side effects are uncommon. Some people do get flatulence and minor stomach discomfort when they first start using probiotics, but those effects gradually subside. These are the most common side effects:
The flatulence is harmless, even though it can be embarrassing. Normal digestion involves bacteria breaking food down and producing gas which contains sulfur. Probiotics add more bacteria and food break-down activity to the digestive tract, which can increase gas production. People who eat foods high in sulfur, such as asparagus, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, tend to produce more gas than others.
Some microorganisms have a long history of use as probiotics without causing illness in people. However, safety has not been thoroughly studied scientifically. More safety information is needed, especially for how safe particular strains are in young children, elderly people and people with compromised immune systems.
What are the Risks of Probiotics?
There is some concern that lactobacillus species (the most studied and understood probiotics) from supplements that contain live bacteria might grow too well in people whose immune systems are weakened. This includes people with HIV/AIDS or people who have taken medications to prevent the rejection of a transplanted organ. Consultation with a healthcare provider is advised before anyone with a weakened immune system consumes lactobacillus.
People with short bowel syndrome (inability to absorb enough nutrients in the small intestine to support life, after half or more of the small intestine has been surgically removed) might be more likely than others to develop lactobacillus infections. A healthcare provider should be consulted before people with short bowel syndrome begin the use of probiotics.
Labels and Side Effects
Dietary supplements are not monitored in the United States like food and drugs. They fall under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994. The act requires that the dietary supplement or dietary ingredient manufacturer be responsible for ensuring that a dietary supplement or ingredient is safe before it is marketed. The only time that the U.S. interferes is if action is needed against a manufacturer after it’s marketed and found to be unsafe. Consumers can’t be certain of safety or content of available supplements. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not allow manufacturers to make health claims about their products. The FDA has granted GRAS status (Generally Recognized As Safe) for probiotics.
There is one voluntary certification program, ConsumerLab.com (CL), by which a supplement manufacturer can choose to be evaluated. The CL provides independent test results to consumers and healthcare professionals to identify the best, available, health and nutrition products. Products that have passed CL’s testing for identity, strength, and purity can print the CL Seal of Approval on their products.
Conclusion: Probiotics Side Effects
Some researchers assert that side effects are assurance that the probiotic is effective. Other researchers assert that if probiotics are having beneficial effects, it is possible that they are also having harmful effects. Clearly, more research is needed. It is wise to consult a healthcare provider before beginning the use of probiotics.
If you’re looking for a basic background explanation about probiotics, you’re invited to read this article: What are Probiotics?
Side Effects of Probiotics: References
- Ciorba, MA, A Gastroenterologists guide to probiotics. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2012 Sep;10(9):960-8
- Kligler B, Cohrssen A, Probiotics. Am Fam Physician. 2008 Nov 1; 78(9):1073-8