Probiotics are getting a lot of attention these days. From newly marketed yogurts to supplement capsules, probiotics are being touted seemingly everywhere as an important element in your digestive health. But you may not know if probiotics are right for you. In fact, some people who consume probiotics -- live microorganisms in particular foods and supplements -- may experience unpleasant side effects.
What Are Probiotics?
According to Pennsylvania State University, the term "probiotics" refers to a type of healthy bacteria found in fermented foods as well as in supplement form. These live bacterial organisms are similar to the trillions of microorganisms everyone has living naturally in their intestinal systems, fighting off bad bacterial and illness every day. And while the idea of having bacteria in your digestive system -- let alone willingly ingesting them -- may sound odd or unpleasant, these live microorganisms are actually quite necessary for good health.
What Do They Do?
In essence, probiotics help maintain a healthy balance between beneficial bacteria and illness-causing bacteria in your body. When your healthy bacteria become depleted, such as from illness, the use of antibiotic medications or stress, you can experience digestive upset or compromised immunity. Probiotics devotees consume live bacteria-containing foods, such as yogurt and buttermilk, or take probiotics supplements, to restore their normal balance of good vs. harmful bacteria and treat and prevent illnesses such as various digestive disorders, says Pennsylvania State University.
Despite their apparent usefulness in treating digestive problems like diarrhea and irritable bowel symptoms, probiotics can cause negative side effects as well. The University of Maryland Medical Center notes that the bacteria Lactobacillus acidophilus, the most common type of probiotic, can actually cause digestive upset, such as upset stomach and gas, in people who consume large doses -- i.e., more than 1 to 2 billion cells per day. In addition, individuals with heart valves may experience bacterial infection from taking probiotics, although the University of Maryland Medical Center states that this is rare. Though unlikely, an anaphylactic allergic reaction to probiotics is possible as well.
Probiotics are generally considered safe, especially in their naturally occurring, whole-food form. After all, people have been safely eating yogurt, buttermilk, tempeh, miso and other probiotics-rich fermented foods for centuries. However, if you're interested in trying probiotics for health reasons, consult your doctor before trying them. Proper dosage of probiotics varies according to the symptoms you are trying to treat, and your physician can provide appropriate information and help you with any side effects you may experience. In addition, the Mayo Clinic states that your doctor should also advise you regarding the best strain of probiotics to treat your particular condition. This may help minimize the likelihood of adverse effects as well.