The benefits of probiotics are seemingly numerous and they address a host of lifestyle issues. From the use of antibiotics and the contraceptive pill, and the imbalances that these can cause in the gut microflora, to irritable bowel syndrome and diets rich in processed foods and environmental toxins, our intestines are under constant attack. Probiotics, the ‘friendly bacteria’ that live in our bodies are edged out by the unfriendly variety, resulting in digestive disorders, infections and colonic related diseases.
In a healthy gut, probiotics thrive in abundance, ensuring that there is no space for the malignant bacteria to wreak havoc in our bodies. Probiotics have been a natural part of our ancestors’ diets for centuries. However, the growth of the fast food industry, with the emphasis on convenience as opposed to quality, means that many harmful practices have become the norm in the way we grow, cultivate and consume our food. Nowadays, unless we make the effort to buy organic, chances are that our meat and dairy have been laced with antibiotics, not to mention the artificial fertilisers in crops, all of which make their way into our systems. Some of this is unavoidable, such as the chlorine in tap water that also kills off the friendly bacteria in our bodies. But we do have to make a conscious effort to ensure that our diets are giving us the nutrients we need rather than saturating us with harmful chemicals.
Add to this the fact that what we eat has also changed significantly- we no longer get the required nutrients just from our diets so we have to turn to food supplements. This is now big business, as more and more people are becoming aware of the long standing deficiencies in their diets and the health problems that these are causing. With the majority, it has now got to the stage where a concentrated injection of the lacking nutrients in the form of food supplements is required. If we naturally derived these from balanced diets, there would be no issues of side effects or precautions to consider. As it is, due to the lack of these friendly bacteria in the type of food we regularly consume, we need food supplements in order to effectively reintroduce them back into our systems.
Probiotic supplements, as with other food supplements do have some side effects and precautions to consider before taking them, albeit generally fairly minor ones. The rule of thumb is to gradually introduce the supplements into your diet: the good bacteria start destroying the bad bacteria in your gut and this may result in gas, bloating and stomach cramps for a few weeks. In order to minimise this, it is advisable to avoid probiotic rich foods when you first start taking the supplements. Once the probiotic supplements have assimilated into your system, you can start eating food containing them.
These side effects are known as ‘excessive drainage syndrome’, and could also be accompanied by headaches and diarrhoea. These are akin to the unfriendly bacteria making a ‘last stand’ as it were, in your system. They are being killed off and the intestines are being re-colonised by the beneficial bacteria and these side effects are a symptom of that. Also, if you are on immunosuppressants, it is best to seek medical advice before taking probiotic supplements. The introduction of these friendly bacteria into your diet could over-stimulate the immune system, causing serious problems. People with otherwise impaired immune systems, or underlying health problems should also consult their doctors if they are thinking about taking probiotic supplements. There have been cases where individuals with problematic immune systems suffered from infections as a result of taking probiotic supplements.
Generally however, the main side effect that people experience is the digestive related issue of excessive gas and bloating when they first start taking the supplements. If you experience this and it is causing a lot of discomfort, it might be worth lowering your dosage and slowly increasing it as the friendly bacteria integrate into your system.
If you are vegan or lactose intolerant, there are rice based probiotic supplements available.