Side effects of probiotics: skip them + get the benefits

Side effects of probiotics: woman smiling
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Take a probiotic. That advice gets put out there a lot. But what about other helpful info? Like what to look for in the product you buy. Or what to know about certain probiotics strains. And how to avoid side effects of probiotics all together and pick the right product for your body.

Why probiotics get recommended to so many women

To many of us, probiotics sound relatively new. But their health benefits date back at least 100 years and go beyond preventing diarrhea while on antibiotics. More recent studies show gut microbiome‘s powerful and complex role in mental and physical health.

Building gut health can help the body process excess hormones, protect against intestinal permeability, boost mood, lower anxiety, and modulate the immune system (which is largely in the gut). With all of those benefits and far fewer side effects than most medications, probiotics have become a go-to for many women looking to improve their overall health and well-being.

One of the most common side effects of probiotics and how to skip it

Probiotics are generally safe. Most women won’t have any issues with the probiotics they decide to take. If you’re having issues after starting them, it’s likely that you’re simply going too fast: taking too much for your body and not easing into it. As your body tries to adjust and your microbiome begins to change, this occasionally makes for bloating, constipation, gas, cravings for extra water, and more.

Fortunately, there’s an easy fix. Start low and go extra slow. Choose a probiotic that can be split into small doses. For example, capsules can be opened and a tiny amount sprinkled into food or a drink. You can store and use the same capsule for the entire first week or two of taking the probiotic, letting your body get used to it and also making the product last you longer.

A less common side effect of probiotics that may mean you need different species or strains

Histamine intolerance happens when you have too much histamine in your body. The condition only affects about 1% of the United States population. (But it does happen, and it’s why we also make products that are histamine-free.) In this instance, women whose bodies are sensitive or who deal with chronic conditions, like autoimmune disorders, could experience symptoms when they take certain strains of probiotics.

  • diarrhea and stomach pains, nausea, or indigestion
  • sneezing, congestion, or respiratory issues
  • dizziness
  • low energy
  • redness and itchiness on or under the skin
  • hives, or urticaria
  • fogginess
  • and more

Here’s what happens: with histamine intolerance, your body notices something it considers an allergen. It alerts mast cells to release histamine. (Mast cells are immune cells throughout your body, but mostly in connective tissue.) Wherever the allergen is, the body then sends blood there to cue white blood cells to help out. That overproduction of histamine can be too much for the body to handle. The extra histamine gets sent to your bloodstream. Your homeostasis is thrown off, your blood vessels dilate, immune cells rush in, and you could have some of the symptoms mentioned above.

As a whole, histamine isn’t bad. It helps your digestive and immune system function and more. The problem is when you have too much of it. If you have immune dysfunction, it’s important to know: some species and strains of probiotics aggravate histamine responses and others dampen it. If you have a tendency toward too much histamine, histamine-releasing strains of probiotics could tip the balance of histamine in your gut and be a problem. But there are other options.

How to choose the right probiotic for your body

So what probiotics should you choose for your body? Here are a few things to consider to get the most benefit from (and avoid any unnecessary side effects) of the probiotics you take.

Think about your goals and find the probiotics species and strains that are best for them

Probiotics help build your gut microbiome, but different species and strains of probiotics do different things. For example, all of our probiotics are designed to improve mood and lower anxiety. We use evidence-based research to determine which species, strains, and quantities will support those goals.

Look for products that are free from allergens and enteric coating

Whether you have a food allergy or not, look for dairy-, sugar-, corn- and gluten-free probiotics. You should also avoid enteric coating. It adds extra ingredients (that are not needed). Plus, the heating process used during enteric coating can potentially damage some of the good bacteria you’re wanting to get.

Take them with food and start with a small amount

Like anything else, allowing your body some time to slowly get used to probiotics is a good idea. Your gut health affects every system in the body, and shocking it (even with good bacteria!) can cause some symptoms. Instead of rushing into a full dose, open the capsule and sprinkle a small amount into your smoothie, over oatmeal, or any other food. Make you’re sure you’re getting plenty of hydration.

Consider if prebiotics (fiber) could be helpful along with probiotics

Foods that you eat, along with some probiotics products, also contain prebiotics. Prebiotics are plant fiber that nourish good bacteria (probiotics). Prebiotics have been proven to be good for constipation of unknown causes. For some women, it may also be useful for constipation due to low levels of thyroid hormones, or hypothyroidism. (Also, probiotics in general have been shown to help thyroid function.) Keep in mind, prebiotics aren’t good for all individuals. Occasionally, prebiotics can be binding for some people and worsen constipation. Our probiotic-only formulas are a better fit. Also, anyone with SIBO, or small intestinal bacteria overgrowth, should talk to a provider before starting prebiotics.

Advice for if you’re sensitive to medications or vitamins or have autoimmune or other immune issues

Sometimes, women with autoimmune conditions are trying to build their gut health to help normalize their immune response. Yet, they also report just not feeling well on probiotics. Any time the body is already dealing with an issue or hypersensitive to stimuli, it’s helpful to introduce any and all new products slowly into your routine and seeing how you respond.

Realize not every species and strain of probiotics is for everyone

Every body reacts differently to probiotics. If you’re sensitive to histamine or intolerant, certain strains of probiotics may not work for you because they produce more histamine than others. Anyone who fits in this category should avoid d-lactate in particular. Some probiotics strains help the body downgrade its histamine response. In general, Bifidobacterium strains are better at this. But specific lactobacilli strains also help. We have two histamine-free products, Bifidus Boost and Mood Super Strains. These products include strains like:

  • Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG
  • Bifidobacterium infantis or longum
  • Bifidobacterium breve
  • Lactobacillus plantarum 

The most important thing to remember if you supplement with probiotics

If you’re starting a probiotic supplement, remember to start small, ease your body into it, and also let your healthcare provider know you’re taking them.

Sylvia Hall & Hormonely Co. Staff
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