Are Probiotic Supplements Safe? The Risks & Benefits to Your Health
7 minute read
Most information we see about probiotic supplements boasts the numerous benefits to your health. However, we all know that nothing is perfect, and with the good always comes the bad.
As beneficial as probiotics are, there are some risks involved with taking supplements. As a consumer, it is important for you to know both sides of the story, so you can truly do what is best for your health.
Benefits to Bacterial Support
Probiotics have become increasingly popular in recent years because of the impact they have on gut health. Probiotics promote efficient digestion and nutrient absorption.
Beneficial bacteria help to digest the food that reaches your gut and further break it down, so you can absorb as much nutrition as possible. Their activities release important fatty acids and vitamins that are essential to your health.
These helpful microorganisms also protect you from inflammation. When your gut is out of balance, inflammation occurs as well as damage to the intestines.
Leaky gut syndrome is a common result of poor gut health and results in damaged intestinal walls that can allow the escape of toxins into your bloodstream. Your immune system targets these traveling toxins, but this, unfortunately, leads to systemic inflammation and increased risk for disease.
The prevention or control of inflammation also allows probiotics to support weight loss. Research shows that inflammation and fat storage are strongly linked in what appears to be a vicious weight-gaining cycle.
Inflammation interferes with metabolism and signals your body to store fat cells. These fat cells release inflammatory markers further perpetuating inflammation. By reducing the inflammatory response by promoting a healthy gut, your body is in a better position to more effectively lose weight.
Outside of the gut and digestive health, probiotics have benefits for other parts of your body too. The gut-brain axis allows for direct messaging between your gut microbes and your brain cells.
An unhealthy gut has been linked to signs of depression, and, in turn, depressive and anxious thoughts trigger an upset stomach. Healthy gut bacteria release serotonin, which is the “happy” neurotransmitter indicating that a happy tummy can prevent feelings of depression and anxiety.
Along the same channels of communication, probiotics can also promote cognitive health. Because a healthy gut is correlated with minimal to nonexistent levels of inflammation, your delicate brain cells are protected from the potential damage.
Neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s have links with brain inflammation and probiotics can take care of this at the source. Happy guts do not trigger inflammation, which keeps your brain safe and cognition strong.
Taking Care With Probiotic Supplements
Having a healthy collection of bacteria in your gut promotes digestion and nutrient absorption which boosts your health. This beneficial flora also helps keep harmful strains at bay, which protects you from unpleasant illness or infection. Because your natural gut community depletes with age, taking a supplement is generally a good idea.
One of the main reasons for taking probiotics is to replace those lost during a course of antibiotics. As great as these medications are for eliminating pathogenic bacteria, they also wipe out the beneficial ones too.
The problem with this is that probiotic supplements actually delay what your body would do naturally. As a living community, your gut bacteria would regenerate and replenish on its own, and probiotic supplements have been found to interfere.
There are also some cases where probiotics do not help because not all individuals react the same way to taking them. Studies have found that when taking a probiotic supplement, some bodies do not welcome them and they end up being excreted.
The benefits are never felt because the probiotics never get the opportunity to hang out in the gut where they are needed. Through trial and error, you should evaluate if your body will accept help from probiotics.
Probiotics, for the most part, are generally safe but certain individuals may need to avoid them. If you have a weakened or compromised immune system, the presence of excess bacteria can cause infections.
Too much bacteria can increase your risk for illness if your immune system is not operating at optimal levels. Always check with your doctor before starting a probiotic supplement to make sure your immunity will be tolerant of the heightened bacterial presence.
Helping the Probiotics to Work for You
A high-quality probiotic supplement gives you a host of bacterial strains, often from several different families. With a supplement, the bacteria are consumed in isolation, which limits its effectiveness, especially if your body rejects it.
Probiotics can also be found naturally in certain foods and this is an alternative way to get probiotic benefits without the risks of a supplement. There are lower quantities of probiotics in food sources, which may make them more tolerable than their supplemental counterparts.
| Related: 5 Best Probiotic Foods You’ve Never Heard Of |
Fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir are just a few that you can add to your diet to naturally increase probiotic presence in your gut. The added benefit of probiotic foods is that you also get the byproducts from these, such as helpful digestive enzymes and fatty acids.
That said, to get the best out of any probiotic source, you need to increase your consumption of prebiotics as well. Probiotics require prebiotics in the same way that you require food to function.
Prebiotics allow gut bacteria to flourish naturally, which may eliminate the need for supplemental support altogether. For those that have trouble with supplements, opting to support their gut community with extra prebiotics may be a better approach.
The best prebiotic (dietary fiber) foods to feed your gut include asparagus, bananas, oats, onions, and legumes.
The Bottom Line
Probiotics have developed a positive reputation, and rightfully so. The benefits to your digestive system are just the start, as probiotics can benefit your immunity and mental health as well.
However, despite consisting of natural bacteria like those found in your gut, probiotics may not be for everyone. There are risks you should be aware of and precautions to take to make sure that you get the benefits you seek. If probiotic supplements are the right choice, though, be prepared for a healthier and happier you.