Cindy woke up feeling as if her brain was floating in a swamp. The past few days had been rough with lots of digestive issues and brain fog.
Not to mention, she was moody as heck.
Actually, moody was an understatement. Cindy’s husband would describe her mood as highly variable. One moment she seemed completely fine and then next, she was biting your head off.
The worst part was that Cindy had no idea WHY this was happening.
She was doing her best to eat right, move, drink plenty of water, and take supplements like a probiotic.
That should be enough, right?
Except what she didn’t know is that there are problems with probiotics. Because the symptoms are similar, people think that they could have all sorts of food sensitivities (that they don’t actually have).
Sometimes they’ll swear that they have candida (since that’s a popular culprit to blame in the gut).
Ultimately, misplaced blame results in taking action that doesn’t help and wastes money (and time).
That’s terribly upsetting after spending so much time trying to figure it out for yourself. Especially when you discover that you’ve fallen victim to at least one of the problems with probiotics.
Problems With Probiotics That No One Likes To Hear
I get asked more often than you probably realize about what probiotic is best to take. The answer I give often isn’t what people want to hear.
Truthfully… the probiotic that’s best for you depends on a number of factors.
There is no “one size fits all” probiotic out there.
The reason is that people can (and often do have) problems with probiotics.
The common assumption that all probiotics are created equal allows you to rationalize that the only differentiating factor is the price.
If you take anything away from this article coming from the mouth of a clinical nutritionist trained to use probiotics therapeutically, let it be this:
Basing your purchase solely on price is one of the worst ways to pick a probiotic.
Just because there’s a killer deal at Costco doesn’t mean that particular formulation is right for your gut.
Nor does it mean that you have to buy the Bentley of probiotics.
There are so many different strains of probiotics and they serve different roles.
Especially when not all probiotics are just your run-of-the-mill bacterial strains. Probiotics can also be yeast-based, spore-based, and soil-based that all have pros and cons.
Some are great for modulating the immune system. While others can be helpful to the skin or vaginal health. Some are scientifically proven to increase the diversity of the microbiome (like MegasporeBiotic) while others can help eliminate unfriendly gut bugs like Candida or Klebsiella.
And yes, probiotics can cause side effects (so stop thinking that they are always innocuous since you can buy them at any drug store without a prescription).
The point here is that not all probiotic strains are created equal.
Buying probiotics based on a deal (or even what worked for another person) ignores the concept of bio-individuality. (Essentially, this means that your approach to your health should be as unique and customized as your body and health are).
And it flies in the face of good science because testing does exist to help us discover what’s going on (and wrong) in your gut. (Certainly a topic for another day!)
Most Common Problems With Probiotics (That You Could Have)
Like Cindy, most people assume that probiotics carry no risks or side effects. That assertion couldn’t be further from the truth.
One of the main reasons someone would suspect that their probiotic is causing issues is that they begin to experience an increase in digestive issues after taking it.
Symptoms can include gas, belching, abdominal bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.
But these GI symptoms are not the only things to factor into your health puzzle.
Symptoms that show up outside of their GI tract are most commonly dismissed. Conventional medicine has trained us well to expect symptoms in the region most likely affected by whatever it is that you’re taking.
If you take a probiotic for your gut, you expect to experience issues there.
Not in, say… your brain.
Brain fog, mood swings set off by the tiniest things, angry outbursts (that seem to come out of nowhere), anxiety, chronic fatigue, and depression don’t loudly scream “look in the gut” to a typical doctor.
But your gut is directly connected to your brain via the vagus nerve making it is possible for gut issues to show up as mental/emotional symptoms.
And your skin is connected and communicating to your gut via chemical and immune signals all the time!
Reasons that underlie why you’re having problems with probiotics include the following reasons:
Low Thyroid Function
Your thyroid is responsible for many automatic functions in your body including GI motility. Essentially the rate of motility determines how fast or slow things move through your GI tract.
For people with diarrhea, their GI motility is much too quick.
And those with constipation (pooping less than once per day), GI motility is much too slow.
Because constipation is a hallmark symptom of low thyroid function, it can have another side effect —
Gut flora can move backward to your small intestine (from your colon).
This creates a situation known as SIBO, of which 54% of those with hypothyroidism test positive for.
And this explains why if your gut motility is not optimal, adding additional probiotics into the system can make you feel worse.
One of the problems with probiotics (especially in high dosages) is that the increasing number of bacteria take up residence in the wrong location. And now every time you eat, you experience a myriad of weird GI symptoms that include extreme abdominal bloating, belching, gas, abdominal discomfort (or even pain and tenderness), and even bad breath.
Supplement companies are always coming up with creative ways to give you more bang for your buck. Knowing that probiotics need prebiotics to thrive, they’ll add them directly to the supplement.
It’s not uncommon to see prebiotics listed as MOS (mannan-oligosaccharides), FOS (fructo-oligosaccharides), Inulin, or prebiotic blends (that could include Jeresulam artichoke).
(Yes, they are all FODMAPs.)
Prebiotics are substances that gut residents can “eat” and ferment that helps them multiply and thrive in your gut. As a result, your gut flora then produces small-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that help acidify your colon.
That’s right… you WANT an acidic colon (not an alkaline one — for my friends who obsess of alkalizing their bodies).
An acidic colon prevents certain unfriendly or pathogenic bacteria from overgrowing in your gut. Plus SCFAs leave the gut and communicate with the microbiome of your skin too!
But when someone has SIBO (that’s been undiagnosed which is often the case), the prebiotics in probiotic supplements make you feel awful and increase all of your symptoms.
This can also be the case if you’ve got a dysbiotic (or unbalanced) gut microbiome.
Excessive D-Lactic Acid Production In Your Gut
A recent article in Psychology Today called “Unexpected Findings Cause Scientists To Rethink Probiotics” details the problems with probiotics that have been encountered by researchers.
Therein, the author cites a recent study investigating probiotic supplementation’s role in the development of small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO for short) and excessive quantities of D-Lactic Acid in the gut.
(You can read more about what SIBO is here.)
It’s possible that you’re familiar with SIBO, but you probably haven’t heard of D-Lactic Acid and its role in your gut.
Similar to L-Lactic Acid that’s formed in your muscles (and causes muscle cramps), D-Lactic Acid is a byproduct of lactic acid-forming bacteria. There is a pretty long list of different probiotics that produce D-Lactate as well as some not so friendly bacteria like Klebsiella.
While the research on excessive D-Lactic Acid in the gut only focuses on those who have short bowel syndrome (SBS), I can tell you that it is clinically possible to experience symptoms from having too much D-Lactate in your gut.
I work with a lot of clients who have tested positive to elevated levels!
(If you’re ready to figure out what’s going on in your gut due to ongoing gut issues, let’s talk!)
Symptoms become more extreme with the increase of D-Lactic Acid (source) and can include:
- Slurred speech
- Ataxia (loss of control of body movements)
- Gait disturbance
- Tachypnea (abnormal rapid breathing)
- Aggressive behavior
- Nystagmus (involuntary eye movement)
- Blurry vision
- Explosive speech
- Feeling drunk
As you can see, most of these symptoms are not GI related!
The reason that this is tied to probiotics that you’d buy is that most widely available probiotics on the market include probiotics make D-Lactate.
I’m not saying that D-Lactate is bad. The key here is balance since one role D-Lactate plays is to help acidify your gut.
Should you have excess D-Lactate production already going on (due to a GI infection or dysbiosis), supplementing more bacteria that also produce it will make you feel worse.
Also, many fermented foods are also produced with lactic acid. I generally recommend that a client with elevations in D-Lactic Acid in the gut avoid these foods until we see a significant improvement in symptoms.
Getting Answers To Your Chronic Gut Problems
If you struggle to know what type of probiotics are best for you, are worried that you are experiencing one of the problems with probiotics, or you are fed up managing your GI symptoms (through a series of guesses), there are ways to get clear answers.
Testing is a key step to looking at the delicate balance of your gut.
Otherwise, all you’re doing is throwing darts in the dark hoping that you hit the bullseye.
Testing helps you identify the root causes of chronic gut dysfunction (as well as the other symptoms you are living with).
Knowing the “why” helps us know the most effective “how” to get your gut turned around.
The answers provided by this testing have been the total game-changer for many of my clients (you can read their stories here) and that’s why I know it can be for you too!
If you’re ready to get your gut back on track, let’s talk about your unique root causes that are keeping you stuck and how to rebalance and rebuild your gut!