Is there a downside to taking probiotics?

Probiotics are a buzzword in the health community. Bacteria isn’t all bad and probiotics refer to the good bacteria that aids our overall health, digestion, and immune system.

Probiotics are so popular that people are beginning to ask questions about whether there is another side to the coin. More and more people asking: “are probiotics good or bad?”

Ahead, we’ll take a look at some of the most commonly cited and well-researched benefits of probiotics, along with the possible downsides of eating probiotic-rich foods and taking supplements.

The Good Side of Probiotics

Now it’s time to get into the meat of this topic, and begin to answer the question: “are probiotics good or bad?”

We’ll start by discussing the benefits of probiotics before covering the possible drawbacks. Here are some of the most popular and researched probiotic benefits, and the reason they’re a hot-button topic in the health community.

Improving the Immune System

Other than solving digestive problems – which we’ll touch on below – the primary reason many people take probiotic supplements is to improve their immune systems.

Taking probiotics can help fortify your immune system against certain infections and even shorten the duration of the infection. One review from 2015 concluded as much, though they did state that the research on the topic is flawed and incomplete.

Determining whether or not these supplements will improve your immune system is difficult. It’s hard to get a true control group, and people come into contact with different viruses and infections from one another.

Regardless, an improved immune system is one of the commonly touted benefits of probiotics.

Improving Digestive Issues

Another reason probiotics are so popular is because they can improve and eliminate digestive issues. Probiotics are bacteria, and having the right balance of bacteria in your stomach helps with digestion.

This feature of probiotics is particularly useful when you’re coming off of an antibiotic regimen. Antibiotics can eradicate some of the beneficial bacteria along with the harmful. Eating foods with probiotics and taking supplements is said to help restore your bacteria balance to its natural, healthy state.

Lowering Blood Pressure

People also use probiotics to lower blood pressure. This effect is be most notable in those with high blood pressure, but even peopl with moderately high blood pressure may see these benefits.

Weight Loss

The weight loss element of probiotics doesn’t have much research behind it just yet. Still, there are several anecdotal cases of people swearing that eating probiotic-rich foods helped them shed a few extra pounds.

Current research is insufficient to draw solid conclusions, but weight loss is something you’ll likely read as a common benefit of taking probiotics.

The Downside of Probiotics

Looking into probiotics, you might get the feeling that all of their benefits sound too good to be true. How can these bacteria be so beneficial to everyone without causing any side effects?

The supplement industry seems to be quite invested in probiotics. They have a lot of benefits – as you can see from our list above – but there has to be something they’re not telling us, right?

While there aren’t too many reported issues with probiotics, more research needs to be done into how they can negatively affect our bodies. A systematic review of the topic, released in April of 2018, found that inadequate reporting on the potential harms of probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Individuals

From what the research tells us, probiotics are beneficial to healthy people who take them. People with healthy immune systems who want to further strengthen their health could benefit the most from taking probiotics.

There are some caveats to this, however. Although there isn’t much formal information on the topic, we know that probiotics can be harmful to those who are seriously ill or have a compromised immune system.

Children, the elderly, and pregnant women should talk to their doctors before deciding to take probiotic supplements. These groups are more likely to have compromised immune systems and might begin to see some negative effects when incorporating supplements into their diets.

If you have cancer and are undergoing chemotherapy, for instance, probiotics can actually heighten your risk of becoming sick rather than lower it.

Some have even experienced serious conditions such as sepsis, bacteremia, and inflammatory bowel disease after taking probiotics with a compromised immune system.

We recommend talking to your doctor before you add supplements to your diet no matter what. You could benefit from probiotics if you’re healthy, but they can end up making things worse if you’re unhealthy.

Are Probiotics Good or Bad for You?

Asking the question, “are probiotics good or bad for you?” is fair. Researchers still have a long way to go to prove or disprove some of the benefits of probiotics. They also need to take a closer look at the possible side effects of taking these supplements.

As a whole, though, probiotics show positive effects for most healthy individuals who take them. Those who have a compromised immune system or are sick should probably stay away from them for now. When in doubt, ask your doctor!

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