The Pros & Cons of Probiotic Supplements

Probiotic Supplements | Image by evso/Shutterstock

Probiotics, while being touted as means to enhance health, may not be as safe as one might think.

Probiotics are live microorganisms that can produce many health benefits when consumed in dietary supplements, fermented food, or beauty products. Two of the most common forms of bacteria used for this purpose include groups known as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, which cause different effects when used.

Positive benefits associated with these microorganisms include treatments for gastrointestinal afflictions, allergies, dental afflictions, and more.

Experts have also found that probiotics can aid in reducing “postmenopausal bone loss.”

The results of a randomized study published in the National Library of Medicine in March 2020 postulated that certain bacteria found in probiotics could aid in reducing obesity and improving overall health.

Despite these health benefits associated with probiotics, health experts also identify a number of risk factors associated with taking them.

The National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health details several risks associated with this supplement. These reportedly include “infections, production of harmful substances by the probiotic microorganisms, and transfer of antibiotic resistance genes from probiotic microorganisms to other microorganisms in the digestive tract.”

Some products have also been reported to carry more and different microorganisms than what is claimed on a label, which themselves can cause a risk.

In addition to these risk factors, recent studies have found other adverse effects associated with taking probiotics, particularly their effects on the body when combined with antibiotic medication and their impacts on different people.

Research documented in 2018 observed the gut health and microbiome of healthy individuals who had ingested probiotics and antibiotics.

Scientists observed three separate groups, with each being administered antibiotics. One group took a probiotic with ten species of bacteria, another had received transplants of their own gut microbes collected before the beginning of the test from fecal matter, and another served as a control with only the antibiotics.

While individuals in the control and transplant groups had their microorganism levels in their bodies return to normal in days or weeks, the group that had been administered probiotics took over five months to recover.

Another randomized study conducted in 2022 observed the effects of a particular probiotic said to aid in digestive and metabolic health on those who suffered from obesity and other cardiovascular afflictions. The tested group was split, with one group being administered the antibiotic while the other did not.

Researchers observed that while some of those who took the probiotic saw improvements in aspects like blood pressure, others experienced adverse effects like worsened blood sugar and insulin levels.

“This probiotic-induced ‘adverse effect’ may be important in light of multiple observations linking antibiotics-associated dysbiosis and lower microbial diversity with increased susceptibility to a myriad of chronic and infectious diseases,” said scientists in the study.

Erica Sonnenburg, an author of the study, said this trend was a “common theme” with probiotics.

“Probiotics can be beneficial for some individuals. But it also seems that for some individuals they can make things worse,” said Sonnenburg, according to The Washington Post.

Some experts suggest food items rich in probiotics are an alternative to probiotics supplements. Some of these items include sauerkraut, pickles, kombucha, and other items, according to Men’s Health.

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  1. ThisGuyisTom

    It appears as if it can be tough to rectify damaged gut flora.

    GMOs concern me when it comes to gut health.
    It also seems that if we eat GMO foods (which typically are sprayed heavy with Round-up), then it could affect our gut health. 
    According to studies, it certainly happens with animals. But, we also eat those unhealthy grain fed animals and any contaminants just go up the food chain.

    Two animal studies:
    “The Effect of Glyphosate on Potential Pathogens and Beneficial Members of Poultry Microbiota In Vitro,” and “The Influence of Glyphosate on the Microbiota and Production of Botulinum Neurotoxin During Ruminal Fermentation”.
    One of the implications from these studies is that beef or poultry fed Roundup-laced GMO corn or soy would experience unhealthy changes in the make-up of their own intestinal flora, resulting in increasing harm not only to the animals, but to those consuming them.

    • R Reason

      And for those discerning, non-microbiologists, the EPA reports that there are no risks of concern to human health when glyphosate is used in accordance with its current label.


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