While probiotics offer a variety of potentially positive health benefits, they also can produce side effects which may cause you to think more carefully about increasing your intake of these live microorganisms. Knowing the potential dangers of probiotics may help you and your doctor decide whether they are a good choice for you in your quest to improve your health.
Benefits of Probiotics
Probiotics are live microorganisms which, primarily through activity in the intestinal system, are thought to help provide a variety of benefits, including improved lactose tolerance, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, improving mineral absorption, preventing colon cancer and generally improving the immune system and preventing infections.
Mild Side Effects
Lesser side effects of taking probiotics include gas, headaches, diarrhea, bloating, constipation, excessive sinus drainage and abdominal discomfort. These side effects may be magnified in those with serious gastrointestinal issues, younger and older persons (due to less robust immune systems), and anyone with a damaged immune system.
In people with weakened immune systems (e.g., those with a terminal illness, HIV, seniors and infants), the microbes may be seen as an invading virus and be attacked by the body’s immune system. “In some cases they can induce a potentially fatal condition called lactobacillus septicaemia,” said Catherine Collins, chief dietician at St George’s Hospital in London. Many hospitals in the United Kingdom are following subsequent recommendations by the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority, which recommends that probiotics not be used to treat seriously ill patients, according to Collins.
One study at the University Medical Centre in Utrecht, Holland saw 12 percent of patients with acute pancreatitis die after being given genetically modified strains of probiotic bacteria during a trial conducted there. The researchers concluded that extremely ill persons should avoid probiotics.
While those with healthy immune systems need not fear the serious dangers which the use of probiotics may cause, persons with compromised immune systems for any reason should avoid taking them, or at the very least, consult closely with a physician before using them.
Health-e-Solutions comment: Since type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, we have opted to avoid probiotics, even though there are many potential health benefits. As our two boys with type 1 diabetes have healed, the case to add probiotics becomes stronger in some ways, but weaker in others. We prefer to focus on eating the correct foods and keeping supplements to a minimum. If we can accomplish the same thing by eating a healthy diet and living a healthy lifestyle, then we prefer that over supplements.
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- “The Times”: Probiotics Not So Friendly After All, November 10, 2008
- “Daily Mail”: So-Called ‘Friendly’ Bacteria May Be Dangerous, January 29, 2008
- NutraIngredients: FDA Raps Probiotic Swine Flu Supplements for False Claims