Can Probiotics Cause Diarrhea? Here’s What The Experts Say

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    Probiotics are especially important for gut health. Initially, it is possible for them to cause diarrhea, but this is normal and a sign that they are working.

    Are you considering adding probiotics to your daily routine, but worried about the potential side effects? If so, you may have heard rumors that probiotics can cause diarrhea. This article will dive into the science behind this claim and explore if there is any truth to it. We'll cover the basics of probiotics, and discuss what research has found regarding their effects on digestive health and their potential for causing diarrhea.

    What are probiotics

    Probiotics are defined as microorganisms, such as bacteria and yeast, that are beneficial to the human body, especially the gut. These organisms play an important role in maintaining a healthy microbiome - the community of microorganisms living inside our bodies. Probiotics can be found naturally in fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut or taken in supplement form.

    What is the role of probiotics in the human body

    The primary benefit of probiotics is their ability to restore balance to the microbiome. When this balance is disrupted by antibiotics or other factors, such as stress, probiotics can help re-establish normal levels of healthy bacteria and yeast populations. This helps promote overall health and well-being by promoting intestinal tract health and immune function and synthesizing and enhancing the bioavailability of nutrients. Probiotics are an important part of a healthy diet for humans and may be an avenue to provide a safe, cost-effective, and natural approach to promoting gut health and immune function.

    Types of probiotics

    Different types of probiotics have different effects on the body, so it is important to know which strains are most effective for particular needs! The most common species of probiotics include Lactobacillus, Bifidobacteria, and Saccharomyces. These three probiotic strains have been studied extensively for their ability to improve digestive health, support immune functions, and reduce symptoms associated with certain conditions.

    They help to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestines and restore balance in the gut microbiome. It is important to always read the labels of any probiotic supplement you buy because, for some, refrigeration is necessary to keep them alive. Strains that contain Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Streptococcus tend to be sensitive to heat. If they are not properly refrigerated during transport or storage, they may contain fewer live bacteria than expected, diminishing their potential health benefits.

    What are the benefits of probiotics supplementation?

    Supplements containing probiotics have become increasingly popular due to the many health benefits they offer. Studies have shown that taking probiotic supplements may help improve digestion, support healthy bowel movements, as well as boost immunity.

    An interesting study found that participants who were given yogurt that was fortified with the strain, Bifidobacterium lactis BB-12, reported increased bowel motility and frequency, compared to the control group who just received plain yogurt.

    Additionally, probiotic supplements have a positive effect on the immune system by promoting healthy gut flora, which helps to protect against harmful pathogens. Recent research has suggested that probiotics may also increase levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA), an antibody produced by the body to promote immune function.

    IgA is one of the most important components of the immune system and its role is to protect mucosal surfaces such as those found in the intestines, respiratory tract, and other areas. Results of initial clinical studies found that increasing IgA levels with probiotics could potentially help boost immune function.

    Can probiotics cause temporary diarrhea?

    Initially, it is possible for probiotic supplements to cause temporary diarrhea, especially if you’re taking a high dose or a new strain of probiotics. This is considered normal and it happens because the presence of new bacteria in your digestive system causes your body to react by flushing the bad bacteria out as quickly as possible. This can lead to loose stools, which should go away after a few days once your body adjusts to the new bacteria.

    One study shows that probiotics can help manage antibiotic-associated diarrhea with strains L. acidophilus (LA-5) and B. bacteria (BB-12) in a probiotic supplement. Another study found that fermented milk products that contain lactobacilli and bifidobacteria can help with antibiotic-associated diarrhea as well.

    Chronic loose stools or constipation are signs of other health issues and should be discussed with your doctor.

    Can probiotics cause temporary constipation?

    In general, based on research, bowel movements tend to be promoted with probiotic use. Probiotics should not contribute to constipation.

    Potential side effects and risks of taking probiotics

    Probiotics tend to have very minor side effects, but it is important to understand them before adding them to your diet. Gas and bloating are two of the most common side effects when taking probiotics. Probiotic bacteria can produce gas as they break down food particles in the gastrointestinal tract. These will reside after a few days after starting them.

    For individuals with compromised immune function or other serious underlying diseases, the World Gastroenterology Organisation (WGO) advises restricting probiotic use to the strains and indications that have proven efficacy.

    It is important to start slowly and increase the dosage over time if needed. Always look at ingredients in supplements to make sure you are avoiding any ingredients that you may be allergic to or avoiding due to dietary preferences.

    How to take probiotic supplements safely

    Taking probiotic supplements safely starts with following the instructions on the label. In most cases, this includes when and how many times a day to take them for optimal results. If necessary, you should also make sure that any probiotic supplements that require refrigeration are stored correctly in order to maintain their potency and effectiveness. It is also recommended that you speak with your healthcare provider before beginning a regimen of daily probiotics.

    Can you take too many probiotics?

    There are no specific daily recommendations or limits on probiotic supplementation, however, it is possible to take too many of anything, probiotics included. Deciding how much or how often someone should take probiotics is highly individualized and best discussed with a healthcare professional.

    Final takeaways

    Probiotics are essential for maintaining healthy digestive and immune systems. They are also important for regulating bowel movements and keeping the body balanced. However, there is a potential to experience side effects from taking probiotics, including temporary diarrhea.

    Though it may be alarming to experience this side effect, it is actually normal and a sign that the probiotics are doing their job! Diarrhea caused by probiotics is usually mild and will reside with continued use of the supplement or food source. Diarrhea should not last more than a few days as your gut adjusts to its new balance with the introduction of beneficial bacteria.

    If you’re concerned about experiencing diarrhea while taking probiotics, speak with your healthcare provider to determine if they're right for you.

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    Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
    Medical Content Manager
    Dr. Montrond-Correia is a licensed naturopathic physician and a certified nutrition specialist (CNS). She holds degrees from University of Bridgeport, Georgetown University, and University of Saint Joseph, and supplemented her education with internships in the health and wellness space. She's focused on research, herbal medicine, nutrigenomics, and integrative and functional medicine. She makes time for exercise, artistic activities, and enjoying delicious food.
    Jordana Tobelem, RD
    Freelance Contributor
    Jordana Tobelem is a Registered Dietitian who enjoys helping others become the best versions of themselves through proper nutrition education. Jordana is passionate about promoting lifestyle changes through nutrition, physical activity, and behavior to create a superior quality of life. She uses her experience in the clinical field of dietetics to provide consulting services to an array of healthcare brands and companies. Jordana loves finding the most current research in nutrition to create meaningful content to share with her clients. Jordana has been a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics since 2018 and also holds certifications in both Personal Training and Health Coaching.