Probiotics: Safety aspects and Challenges in use

Probiotics: Safety aspects and Challenges in use

Bacteria has a reputation for causing disease, hence the idea of tossing down a few billion a day for the health seems literally— hard to swallow. But today the advances in medicine and scientific evidences suggest that bacteria can treat and even prevent some illnesses with foods and supplements containing certain kinds of live bacteria.

Probiotics today are big and rapidly growing business and are today among the most popular dietary supplements. The term probiotic refers to dietary supplements (tablets, capsules, powders, lozenges and gums) and foods (such as yogurt and other fermented products) that contain

“beneficial” or “friendly” bacteria. The organisms themselves are also called probiotics.They are tend to improve digestion, strengthen immunity, help in weight loss and also protect against periodontal disease, among other proposed benefits, as well as for general health.

Research claim that probiotics confer health benefits mainly by rebalancing the normal microflora in the large intestine (colon). There are many general types of bacteria used as probiotics (two common ones are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium), and many different species as well as strains within species. They have

different physiological effects—and thus possibly different health benefits (as well as possible risks). Some yeasts, such as Saccharmyces, can also act as probiotics.Probiotic products may contain a single strain or many strains, and the number of organisms in a daily dose can range from 1 billion to more than 250 billion.

The health benefits of probiotic food supplements have been well documented, including a lower risk of infections, improved digestion and even a reduced risk for some chronic diseases.

Amongst all these benefits there is an evolving question:

Will the friendly bacteria in these supplements and foods keep you healthy?

Along with many health benefits linked to taking probiotics, there can also be side effects. Most of these are minor and only affect a small percentage of the population.However, some people with serious illnesses or compromised immune systems may experience more severe complications.This article reviews the most common side effects of probiotics.

Unpleasant Digestive Symptoms

While most people do not experience side effects, the most commonly reported reaction to bacteria-based probiotic supplements is a  increase in gas and bloating.Those taking yeast-based probiotics may experience constipation and increased thirst.It is not known exactly why some people experience these side effects. Some people experience an increase in gas, bloating, constipation or thirst when they start taking probiotics.

Amines in Probiotic Foods May Trigger Headaches

Some probiotic-rich foods, like yogurt, contain biogenic amines. Biogenic amines are substances that form when protein-containing foods age or are fermented by bacteria.The most common amines found in probiotic-rich foods include histamine, tyramine, tryptamine and phenylethylamine.Amines can excite the central nervous system, increase or decrease blood flow and may trigger headaches in people sensitive to the substance.

Probiotics can cause Diarrhea Usually “bad” bacteria and viruses in  gut cause diarrhea. Recent research shows that probiotics are actually quite effective to treat diarrhea by balancing “good” and “bad” bacteria. However, probiotics also stimulate  digestive tract which can lead to mild diarrhea in the first 2 to 3 days of taking a new probiotic supplement.

Some Strains Can Increase Histamine Levels

Some bacterial strains used in probiotic supplements can produce histamine inside the digestive tract of humans.Histamine is a molecule that is normally produced by  immune system when it detects a threat.When histamine levels rise, blood vessels dilate to bring more blood to the affected area. The vessels also become more permeable so that immune cells can easily get into the relevant tissue to combat any pathogens.

This process creates redness and swelling in the affected area, and can also trigger allergy symptoms such as itching, watery eyes, runny nose or trouble breathing.

Diamine oxidase deficiency

Normally, histamine that is produced in digestive tract is naturally degraded by an enzyme called diamine oxidase (DAO). This enzyme inhibits histamine levels from rising enough to cause symptoms .However, some people with histamine intolerance have trouble properly breaking down the histamine in their bodies, seeing as they do not produce enough DAO.The excess histamine is then absorbed through the lining of the intestinal tract and into the bloodstream, causing symptoms similar to an allergic reaction .Theoretically, they may want to select probiotic supplements that do not contain histamine-producing bacteria, but to date, there has been no research on this specific area.Some histamine-producing probiotic strains include the following strains of Lactobacillus buchneri,helveticus,hilgardii and Streptococcus,thermophilus

Increase risk with lactose intolerance

While studies suggest that most people with lactose intolerance can tolerate up to 400 mg of lactose in medications or supplements, there have been case reports of adverse effects from probiotics.Since a small number of people with lactose intolerance may experience unpleasant gas and bloating when consuming lactose-containing probiotics, they may want to choose lactose-free products.

In addition to containing powerful probiotics, some supplements also contain prebiotics. These are plant fibers that humans cannot digest, but that bacteria can consume as food. The most common types are lactulose, inulin and various oligosaccharides.When a supplement contain both probiotic microorganisms and prebiotic fibers, it is called a Synbiotic. Some people experience gas and bloating when consuming Synbiotic.

Increase Infection Risk for Some

In some cases, the bacteria or yeasts found in probiotics can enter the bloodstream and cause infections in susceptible individuals.Those at greatest risk for infection from probiotics include people with suppressed immune systems, prolonged hospitalizations, venous catheters or those who have undergone recent surgeries.However, the risk of developing an infection is very low. When infections do occur, they typically respond well to traditional antibiotics or antifungals. However, in rare cases, deaths have occurred. Research also suggests that people with severe acute pancreatitis should not take probiotics, as this may increase the risk of death.

Supplemental probiotics are generally well-tolerated by most. However, there are some conditions which make it difficult to properly metabolize excess D-lactate found in L. acidophilus. Unfortunately, this condition often goes unnoticed by new probiotic users because they believe what they are experiencing are die-off symptoms; the worsening of symptoms in response to the “die-off” of bad bacteria in the body.The best probiotic supplement should offer varied strains of beneficial bacteria so digestive system will receive the most benefit.

Probiotics cause skin problems

Consuming probiotics can lead to skin rashes and mild acne. On the one hand, an allergic reaction to one of the ingredients can cause skin rashes. For example, if probiotics is taken in the form of commercially fermented food, there are likely to consume biogenic amines like histamine. However, skin rashes can also be a sign that body eliminates toxins and waste. On the other hand, specific bacteria on skin or an imbalance of bacteria can cause acne. When probiotics taken, bacteria is added in the body which might at first cause pimples.


Today lot of research is going on to determine whether probiotics are really safe to be used very widely in almost all kinds of digestive problems. On other side of the coin of use of probiotics is being tested rapidly so that they can help us reduce any fatal events.