Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that have been found to help promote better digestive health and support your immune system. These microorganisms exist in your intestines and help to break down food, absorb nutrients, and minimize harmful bacteria that may otherwise cause disease. You can get more probiotics by incorporating probiotic-rich foods or supplements into your diet. Foods containing probiotics include yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir.
Many people take probiotic supplements for additional health benefits as they offer higher doses of probiotics than probiotic-rich foods. Generally, probiotics are safe, but you can have too much of a good thing. Let’s take a look at the four common signs that you may be taking too many probiotics.
4 Signs You Are Taking Too Many Probiotics: 1. Bloating
Bloating is the most common side effect with many forms of digestive distress. It occurs when your abdomen fills with excess air or gas. Your stomach may look large or swollen and feel tight to the touch. While it’s generally not fatal, bloating can come with plenty of pain and discomfort.
4 Signs You Are Taking Too Many Probiotics: 2. Gas
Gas and bloating often go hand in hand. The digestive process itself normally produces gas. The average person passes gas 13 to 21 times per day. Gas in your GI tract comes from air that you swallow or by the break down of undigested foods by bacteria in your colon (or large intestine). Normally, as bacteria digest food in your gut, gas is released. Certain foods, particularly those high in fiber, cause more gas production than others.
Probiotic supplements essentially provide your gut with more of the good digestive bacteria. Overdosing on that bacteria can cause increased gas (which also means more bloating).
4 Signs You Are Taking Too Many Probiotics: 3. Diarrhea
Diarrhea is characterized by loose, watery bowel movements that may happen more frequently. Diarrhea may also be accompanied with general abdominal pain, bloating, and nausea. Acute diarrhea lasts only about a day or two and goes away on its own. It is usually caused by food or water that has been contaminated by a harmful bacteria, virus, or parasite. Diarrhea that lasts longer can point to a more serious underlying problem.
Probiotics such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Saccharomyces boulardii have actually been found to reduce the duration of diarrhea. However, overdosing on probiotics can irritate your gut and result in loose stools.
4 Signs You Are Taking Too Many Probiotics: 4. Abdominal Pain
All of the above symptoms can contribute to general abdominal pains, which can be exhibited as sharp pains, cramps, or tightness.
How Many Billion Probiotics Should I Take?
Probiotics are measured by Colony Forming Units (CFUs), which essentially indicate the number of viable cells. A probiotic supplement should have around 10 billion CFUs as this is the dose required to reduce the duration of diarrhea in children.
Not only is dose important but delivery as well. Many probiotic products do not protect the probiotics inside from stomach acid which kills many of the probiotics inside before they make it to the gut. Look for probiotics with an “enteric coating” or some kind of delayed-release mechanisms to maximize the effective probiotic dose you are getting.
In addition to the dose, you need to consider the diversity of your probiotics. Many probiotics have one, two or just a couple strains or types of probiotics. Studies have shown that more diverse formulations of probiotics with multiple strains of probiotics is more helpful than single strain probiotics.
How to Reduce Probiotic Side Effects
If you are taking probiotics and experience any of the above side effects, you don’t need to stop taking them completely. Lowering the dosage is often the best way to keep any gastrointestinal discomfort or other side effects at bay.
Most often, your body may just need to adjust to the sudden dose of beneficial bacteria. This initial adjustment period should usually only last the first few days as your gut’s microflora begin to rebalance. Try to reduce your dosage by half until the symptoms have disappeared then proceed to the suggested dose.
Along with reducing your dosage, you should also:
- Take your probiotics on an empty stomach – Probiotics can produce gas when combined with certain foods. Taking your probiotics on an empty stomach ensures that that won’t happen and ensures the maximum survivability of the beneficial bacteria. Take your probiotics at least 30 minutes before you eat. If you are still experiencing problems, try taking your probiotics on an empty stomach before bed.
- Drink plenty of water – Many of the side effects are a result of your digestive system undergoing the process of detoxification. Staying hydrated will speed up the process and keep you from getting dehydrated if you have diarrhea.
- Stay patient – It can take up to two weeks for your body to adjust to the probiotics before the benefits kick in.
Use Probiotics to Your Benefit
By now you should be more aware of the potential side effects of overdosing on probiotics and how to eliminate or minimize those side effects. If you continue to have discomfort while taking probiotics, I recommend you stop taking that particular brand.
Because of the differences in dose, diversity, and delivery mechanisms, not all probiotics are created equal. One probiotic will not have the same benefits or side effects as another. For example, a probiotic using one strain of Lactobacillus acidophilus may help your digestive health, but another using a different Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain may not have the same effect. It may take some experimenting to determine the right brand for you.