Starting Probiotics? Watch Out for These Side Effects

Starting a new supplement of any kind can sometimes mean side effects — and with the ever-growing popularity of gut health and the gut-mind connection, probiotics may be a new supplement staple to your health and wellness routine.

Many people may associate probiotics with easing constipation, while others may fear probiotics cause diarrhea. It’s important to keep in mind that everybody and every body is different — so what probiotic side effects you may experience could be completely different from the probiotic side effects your friend experiences.

However, there are some common side effects of starting probiotics to keep in mind. Here’s what experts have to say about probiotic side effects.

person with stomach ache from probiotics

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that support the gut, which is the foundation of our immune system. Today’s inflammatory Western diets, lack of sleep, and rising stress levels are all causing our guts to suffer. This is why it’s essential to give your gut some extra love with a daily dose of probiotics.

Probiotics nurture and support our health by optimizing our digestion and metabolism. They can even improve sleep quality, energy levels, and help elevate our moods. (Talk about a win-win!)

Probiotics also work to improve nutrient and vitamin absorption within the body. This allows the body to get the most nutritional value from the foods we eat. Think about it: If you’re going to make the decision to eat healthily, you want your gut to reap all of the benefits of that healthy diet, right? (Let me answer for you — yes.)

Probiotics can also help alleviate allergies, balance blood sugar, defend against leaky gut and other digestive ailments and issues, help maintain a healthy pH balance, increase the body’s ability to tolerate stress, produce neurotransmitters, provide protection during cold and flu season, reduce inflammation, regulate hormones, and support heart health. Is there anything probiotics can’t do?

Okay, so probiotics are clearly good for our health, but what are the potential side effects of starting probiotics?

Probiotic side effects

Although probiotics have many health benefits, some side effects can occur, shares Wendy Lord, RD and medical content author at Health Reporter — but the good news is most of them are minor and affect only a small part of the population.

When beginning a probiotic regimen, you may experience some bloating and mild gas, says Trista Best, RD. “This is to be expected as the gut’s microbiome is changing for the better and should not last past a few days of adjustment,” she explains.  

Lord says constipation and a weakened immune system can also occur. If you get your daily dose of probiotics from food, know that some sources contain biogenic amines, which can stimulate the central nervous system and thus cause headaches in some instances.

If you experience symptoms for a prolonged period, you’ll want to evaluate your probiotic’s quality. “Making adjustments to the dosage may also benefit anyone experiencing unpleasant side effects,” says Best.

However, if side effects last for more than a few weeks, Lord says it’s best to stop taking the probiotic altogether and consult a specialist. 

Tips for starting probiotics

Probiotics should be considered a medicine, not a dietary supplement, and taken only when necessary, says Lord — but if you want to increase the number of good bacteria in your body naturally, eat foods containing lactic acids, such as fermented vegetables or yogurt.

Lord says if you’ve already decided to take probiotic supplements, opt for ones with a wide array of different bacteria and always follow the rules for storing them. “Since probiotics are one of the most sensitive dietary supplements and are effective only when alive, it is important to protect them from high temperatures,” she explains.  

When exposed to elements like higher temperatures, humidity, and light, probiotics are more likely to die and become ineffective after consumption, so be sure to check if the supplements should be stored in the refrigerator, concludes Lord.

The bottom line on probiotic side effects

There may be some common side effects when starting a probiotic, but the benefits far outweigh the potential side effects. If you’re on the fence about probiotics, consider adding them to your health and wellness arsenal — but know the potential probiotic side effects so you can be better prepared.

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About Ashley Martens

Ashley Martens is a Wellness Writer based in Chicago, Illinois. With a background in a digital marketing coupled with her knowledge of general nutrition and a lifelong passion for all things health, wellness, fitness and nutrition, Ashley offers a healthy alternative to traditional writing. You can learn more Ashley and her writing over at her blog, Three to Five a Day.