The Pros and Cons of Probiotics: Benefits vs Risks
It has long been known that bacteria lives in our digestive systems and they play a major role in getting food digested with minimal problem. Within the past 15 years, the nutrition world has seen a massive jump in interest when it comes to probiotics. In fact, nowadays, you can go to your local Walmart and see multiple shelves spanning an entire aisle that are loaded with a giant variety of probiotics.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that can enhance the gut microbiota, thus improving digestive function. One can acquire probiotics via food, such as yogurt, kombucha, and pickles, or through supplementation. As with most supplements, though, one needs to make sure that the dosage instructions on the bottle are closely adhered to because there is such a thing as “too many” probiotics. Before we get into that, let’s take a closer look at the role of probiotics in digestion.
Your gut is loaded with billions of bacteria. These microorganisms play a critical role in digestion, nutrient absorption, immune function, and your overall well-being. When an imbalance occurs in the microbiota, this can lead to various digestive issues, such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea; in fact, one of the leading reasons why doctors caution from overuse of antibiotics is that they can inadvertently kill the good bacteria in the gut. Probiotics can help restore microbial balance by introducing the good bacteria your gut needs to normalize the digestive process.
The main role for enzymes is to make it easier for the body to be able to build up or break down thing; in the case of digestion, enzymes help to separate and breakdown macro and micronutrients so the body can use them. One of the main benefits from probiotics is their production of some of these important enzymes, which is one way that probiotics can help to ease digestion.
As mentioned earlier, the gut is loaded with billions of bacteria, but not all of the bacteria is good. Probiotics provide good bacteria that competes with potentially harmful gut bacteria, thus reducing risks of inflammation or infection.
Conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, and inflammatory bowel disease, can make going about your day quite uncomfortable. It is common for doctors to prescribe their patients to take probiotic supplements suffering from these or similar digestive conditions because adding in more good bacteria to the gut can help reduce the stomach bloating and discomfort, as well as restore the body with helpful gut microbiota to normalize digestion.
Potential Risks of Probiotic Supplements
Probiotics are generally safe, but it is important to remember that it’s still bacteria and it can come with certain risks. The most common is possible contamination, which is why you want to use a trusted brand and closely inspect the bottle to ensure that the product hasn’t been tampered with. When probiotics are contaminated, they may also include harmful bacteria that can get you quite sick. If you’re new to probiotic supplements and uncertain which brands can be trusted, ask your doctor.
One of my biggest issues about supplements has to do with the lack of regulations in the US. Since supplements aren’t inspected and scrutinized by the FDA, there’s a possibility that the ingredients on the label may be incorrect. In fact, multiple studies and reviews have demonstrated that supplements from manufacturers with poor quality control have been found to contain prohibited substances. This can be problematic for a person who must undergo drug testing because they may unknowingly test positive and consequences may follow.
As with any supplement, people with food allergies need to be especially careful about taking probiotic supplements. In this case, check with your doctor before taking these supplements because complications can range from a simple rash to something as serious as digestive or respiratory conditions, and even death.
Potential undesirable side effects from taking probiotics may include gas and bloating, most commonly when you first start taking them. For most people, this is just temporary and may go away once your body becomes accustomed to the probiotics. On occasion, some individuals may suffer from abdominal pain or diarrhea. If the severity is bad enough, you should see your doctor and seek a viable alternative that doesn’t cause similar complications.
Excessive Probiotic Intake?
Is there such a thing as overdosing with probiotics? While an official upper limit for safe consumption has yet to be set, this should not translate as “feel free to take all the probiotics you want!” What makes things more difficult for broad standardizations is that different strains of bacteria in probiotics carry different potencies. In most cases, high quality manufacturers proceed with caution by being fairly conservative with their dosage recommendations, namely to reduce the possibility of consumers becoming ill.
Additionally, if you are someone with a sensitive stomach, you should be advised to test with a conservative dosage to see how your body reacts. Look at the dosage amounts by comparing different brands, making sure that it’s concerning the same bacteria strain. Unless otherwise recommended by your doctor, you may want to go with the product that has the smallest dosage, first.
Consuming too large a dose of probiotics has the potential for being problematic. In most cases, you would have to take a massive amount, which is why you want to stick with the manufacturer’s (or your doctor’s) dosage recommendations. Excessive intake can compromise immune function and even make you susceptible to infections. People already with weak immune systems have to be even more careful to avoid excessive probiotic intake because complications may be further magnified.
Probiotics offer promising benefits for digestion and overall gut health, and respected medical professionals and the research supports this. Taking probiotic supplements can help to restore microbial balance and enhancing digestive function, as well alleviate symptoms of various digestive conditions. In fact, about a year ago, I was hit hard with a bad case of food poisoning, and one of the things my doctor recommended was that I take probiotics, which was massively helpful. However, much like any other supplement, you need to make sure you do your homework and be careful. By openly discussing probiotic supplementation with your doctor and asking all the questions you have on your mind, you can avoid many potential problems and enjoy the full benefits of probiotics.