Think twice about those probiotics

August 13, 2018

Probiotics are everywhere these days!  There are over-the-counter supplements, fermented foods like yogurt, kombucha, and sauerkraut, specially formulated yogurts, and probiotic water.  Not to mention prebiotics and the increased advertisement of prebiotic and probiotic foods.  We will all have healthier, happy gastrointestinal (GI) systems.  Sounds good right?  Maybe not.

A new study cautions against overloading your system with probiotics.  As with most things, probiotics are beneficial (hence the name PRO-biotics) in moderation.  Taking high count probiotic supplements may result in those bacteria colonizing the small intestine, which is not a good thing.  In the small intestine, the bacteria will feed off of carbohydrates that you eat that your system hasn’t absorbed yet.  This leads to GI symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, distention, and fullness.  Additionally, those bacteria will produce more D-lactate, which has been linked to brain fog.  In the study, D-lactate levels were elevated in 76% of the patients who were taking probiotics and had unexplained brain fog, abdominal gas, distension, and bloating.  When patients stopped taking probiotics and were treated with antibiotics, 70% had reduced symptoms, and 85% had no more brain fog.

So what does this all mean?  We’ll have to wait to find out as it is an active area of research.  One survey of studies on probiotics concluded, “The current literature is not well equipped to answer questions on the safety of probiotics in intervention studies with confidence.”  While another reported, “More research is needed to properly describe the incidence and severity of adverse events related to probiotics.”  Until the complexities of the gut microbiome are better understood, moderation is probably the best policy.  Unless your doctor recommends probiotics, it might be best to stick to probiotic rich foods like kefir and sauerkraut.

If you’re interested in the scientific details, check out the following scholarly journal articles.

Rao SSC, Rehman A, Yu S, Andino NM. Brain fogginess, gas and bloating: a link between SIBO, probiotics and metabolic acidosis. Clin Transl Gastroenterol. 2018 Jun 19;9(6):162.

Doron S, Snydman DR. Risk and safety of probiotics. Clin Infect Dis. 2015 May 15;60 Suppl 2:S129-34.


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