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Do Probiotics Cause Gas? Exploring the Side Effects of Probiotics

a woman taking a probiotic pill with water, do probiotics cause gas

Key Takeaways

  • Probiotics can cause gas and minor side effects in some individuals.
  • Probiotics are live microorganisms that support beneficial gut bacteria growth.
  • Common probiotic strains include Lactobacillus rhamnosus, bifidobacteria, and Saccharomyces boulardii.
  • Probiotic-rich foods include yogurt, kombucha, kimchi, and fermented sauerkraut.
  • Side effects like gas, bloating, or diarrhea typically subside within days or weeks.
  • Probiotics offer benefits such as improved digestion, immune function, and mental health.
  • They may also aid in weight management, heart health, skin health, and dental health.
  • To prevent gas, start with small doses of probiotics and avoid new gas-causing foods.
  • If probiotics cause persistent gas, consider changing the strain or dosage.

If you've ever taken probiotics in the form of pills or probiotic foods like yoghurt, kefir, kimchi, or sauerkraut and been at the receiving end of a bout of flatulence (i.e., gassiness), you're not alone. While probiotics are known and consumed for being gut saviours, some people do experience side effects.

In this article, we'll cover what probiotics are and how they work. We'll also look at why probiotics may be causing gas for some people and what you can do to mitigate or eliminate these symptoms!

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What Are Probiotics And How Do They Work?

Probiotics are functional foods that are observed to have a beneficial effect on the gastrointestinal tract. We first came to know of probiotics from the findings of Russian Zoologist and Nobel Prize Winner Élie Metchnikoff, best known for his work on immunity.

Metchnikoff correlated the prolonged youth and healthy old age of Balkan peasants with the cultured milk included in their diet.

Experts have refined the definition of probiotics over the years. Today, the FDA and WHO jointly coined the current definition of probiotics as "live microorganisms that confer a health benefit to the host when administered in adequate amounts. In this case, they work to help the trillions of beneficial bacteria and microorganisms in the gut grow and thrive.

The most popular microbiotic strains of probiotics include Lactobacillus rhamnosus; Lactobacillus reuteri; bifidobacteria; and certain strains of Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus acidophilus-group; Bacillus coagulans; Escherichia coli strain Nissle 1917; certain enterococci, especially Enterococcus faecium SF68; and the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii.

Alternatively, instead of supplements, you can simply consume probiotic-rich foods (commonly fermented foods) such as yoghurt, buttermilk, sourdough bread, cottage cheese, kombucha, tempeh, fermented pickles, kimchi, miso soup, or fermented sauerkraut.

So, Do Probiotics Cause Gas?

The majority of people generally tolerate probiotics well and find them safe. But they may cause minor side effects in a small percentage of the people who start taking them for the first time.

Some people may initially experience digestive complaints when they start taking probiotics. You may experience gas as well as bloating or diarrhoea. Typically, these subside over the course of a few days or weeks.

If your symptoms don't clear up or seem to worsen, contact your physician. They may be able to suggest alternative probiotic formulas. Stop taking the probiotic in the meantime.

The exact reason why this happens is not known at this time, but when you introduce new bacteria into your existing gut microbiome in the form of probiotic supplements, you may expect some sort of temporary stomach upset as your body adapts.

This is especially true if your gut bacteria balance does not favour the beneficial microbes. When you have more of the harmful bacteria, it can lead to health challenges like infections or disease.

Other Side Effects of Probiotics

When discussing the effects of probiotics, it's important to consider that, although rare, there are other reactions apart from the excess gas that are often mentioned.

A small number of individuals who consume probiotics report headaches, possibly linked to amines in fermented probiotic foods. These amines can affect those with sensitivities, leading to discomfort.

Another infrequent but notable effect is histamine intolerance, where increased histamine levels from consuming probiotics can simulate allergy symptoms.

These side effects are uncommon and usually resolve over time. However, if you're consuming probiotics and these rare reactions occur, it's prudent to seek advice from a healthcare provider. They can guide you in managing these symptoms or adjust your probiotic intake accordingly.

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Benefits of Probiotics

a person scooping out yogurt from a glass jar, do probiotics cause gas

Probiotics benefit the body in different ways, and the effects can also vary depending on the specific microorganism present in the probiotic. Typically, probiotics:

  • Help your body maintain a healthy community of microorganisms or help your body’s community of microorganisms return to a healthy condition after being disturbed.
  • May produce substances that positively affect the body's functioning.
  • May influence your body’s immune response in a good way!

In more practical, real-world terms, probiotics have shown benefits for:

  1. Improving digestive health: Probiotics help maintain a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut, supporting the optimal digestion of food, preventing constipation, and possibly reducing the risk of digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
  2. Enhancing immune function: Probiotics may help to support and boost the immune system by modulating the way the immune system responds. They may help protect against infections by strengthening the gut barrier and producing antimicrobial substances that inhibit the growth of harmful pathogens.
  3. Supporting weight management: There is some research to suggest that the gut microbiome's composition may play a role in helping you manage a healthy weight.  Because of the way they work, probiotics may help regulate your appetite, reduce inflammation, and support healthy metabolism, aiding fat reduction and weight control and preventing obesity.
  4. Improving mental health: Studies have shown that the gut microbiota can potentially influence mental health and mood. Probiotics may help alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression by influencing the gut-brain axis.
  5. Improving heart health: Probiotics have been associated with improved cardiovascular health. They may help reduce risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Probiotics may also contribute to reducing inflammation in the body, which is linked to heart disease.
  6. Boosting skin health: Probiotics have shown promise in supporting skin health. They may help manage skin conditions such as acne, eczema, UV-induced skin damage, and dry skin by reducing inflammation and promoting a healthy balance of skin microorganisms.
  7. Alleviating asthma. Early research suggests that probiotics in combination with regular asthma treatments may be beneficial in alleviating the symptoms of severe asthma. However, more research is needed in this area to arrive at a definitive conclusion.
  8. Improving dental health: Oral health is another area where probiotics may show benefits. Certain strains of probiotics are seen to help maintain a healthy balance of oral bacteria, reducing the risk of oral cancers and gum disease. They may also help prevent plaque and treat bad breath.

It's important to note that not all probiotics are the same, and their effects can vary depending on the strain and dosage. When considering probiotics, it is advisable to consult with a nutritionist or healthcare professional who can recommend the most appropriate strains for your specific health needs.

How to Prevent Gas When Taking Probiotics

It's a good idea to take small doses to start with to help your body acclimatize to the probiotic.  Also, ensure you haven't added any new foods to your diet that may be causing the gas

Sometimes, a specific strain of bacteria in your probiotic could cause the issues. In this case, you may want to research different strains and their effects before picking the one that's best for you. 

At other times, you may have food sensitivities like lactose intolerance, in which case look for dairy-free probiotics.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q1. How do you avoid gas when taking probiotics?

Introduce small doses of probiotics gradually to help your gut microbiome get used to the influx of new microorganisms. Some strains of microorganisms are more likely to cause gas in some people as the gut microbiome can be individual to each person. Also, ensure that you're not introducing new foods into your diet that may potentially cause flatulence.

Q2. Does gas mean probiotics are working?

It can mean that the probiotics are actively working with your gut microbiome adjusting to the addition of new microorganisms. However, gas production isn't necessarily a pleasant side effect. If the symptoms persist for more than the first few days or weeks at the most, it may be advisable to stop taking the probiotic. You may need to opt for an alternative strain of probiotic bacteria or you may have issues with a specific product or products included in the probiotic like dairy, for example.

Probiotics are generally well-tolerated by most people. The potential side effects like the gassiness described and bloating or diarrhoea are minor and only affect a small percentage of people. They usually subside after a few weeks of taking them, and sometimes as quickly as within a few days.

Q3. Do probiotics help with gas or make it worse?

Adding probiotics may be able to help with gas problems because of their beneficial effects on gut microbacteria. If you have long-standing flatulence, despite following a good diet and healthy lifestyle measures like exercise, having side effects like gas and bloating it could mean something else is going on in terms of your underlying health. Consult your doctor, or alternative medical practitioner to address the root cause.

Q4. Should I stop taking a probiotic if it makes me gassy?

If taking probiotics makes you gassy, it's not always necessary to stop. Instead, consider reducing the dosage or switching strains. However, if discomfort persists, consult a healthcare professional.

Q5. What happens if you take probiotics and then stop?

Stopping probiotics may cause your gut microbiome to gradually revert to its state before probiotic use. This change might lead to the return of any digestive issues the probiotics were helping to manage.

Final Thoughts

Probiotics are composed of gut-friendly microorganisms that have been linked to a wide range of health benefits, from improving digestion to boosting our immune system.

What's more, the side effects are often minor, temporary, and applicable to a small fraction of those who consume it. Some people may experience gas when taking a probiotic.

If you're concerned about gas while taking probiotics, here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. Start slowly: Gradually introduce probiotics to give your gut time to adjust.
  2. Choose the right strains: Some probiotic strains are less likely to cause gas.
  3. Monitor your diet: Certain foods can contribute to gas, so be mindful of your diet.

Remember, the goal of probiotics is to support your gut health and overall well-being. While they might produce a little extra gas initially, it's often a sign that they're working to rebalance your gut.

So, don't let the fear of gas deter you from enjoying the potential benefits of probiotics.  At the same time, take corrective measures if your symptoms aren't improving or are worsening.

Darcy Ogdon-Nolan

Holding a Bachelor Of Science (Hons.) combined with close to a decade now in the health food and wellness industry, I believe I'm uniquely positioned to provide a depth of knowledge and first-hand experience on emerging health products, trends and ideas! From greens powders and medicinal mushrooms through to protein powders and workout nutrition - I'm particularly interested in what modern science can uncover about what human cultures have been using to treat ailments for millennia!

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