The field of gut health is one full of questions, misconceptions, and emerging research. One topic stirring quite the debate is whether probiotics can cause gas. Let's dive into the evidence.
What are probiotics?
As we discuss in detail in our report, Probiotics vs. fiber, probiotics are essentially live bacteria and yeasts that confer certain health benefits, especially for the digestive system. While most people assume (and not incorrectly) that bacteria can cause diseases, your body is actually full of both beneficial as well as bad bacteria. Probiotics are considered the "good" or the "friendly" bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy. Probiotics can help alleviate symptoms of certain gastrointestinal (GI) conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Probiotics can also ameliorate certain allergies and various infections. (However, the potential for probiotics to provide benefits to healthy people and help prevent disease and disorders is still an ongoing area of research.) Research has also shown that probiotics may have a positive impact on mental health, although much remains to be studied in this realm. Our previous report, and many others published in the Eden’s Blog, delve into these health benefits (and myths) in detail.
Probiotics can be found in various food sources such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods. But bear in mind that certain fermented foods may contain many other ingredients besides probiotics — such as sugar, fiber, or lactose — which may (or may not) contribute to the potential of the probiotic food to increase gut microbiome diversity, potentially upping positive downstream health benefits.
If you are not a fan of fermented foods (or they don’t agree with you), but you still want to safely support the health of your gut microbiome, there are a bevy of different probiotic supplements sold in supermarkets and pharmacies. Be aware, however, that dietary supplements are not regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), so it’s important to find a supplement from a reputable brand backed by scientific rigor. If you and your medical provider have determined that you are a good candidate for dietary supplementation, be an informed consumer and utilize resources available to you when shopping for the supplement that’s best for you: See our 3-Step guide: How to buy supplements. Be aware, also, that many probiotic supplements could contain ingredients other than probiotics, particularly if they are a blend (such as a “synbiotic”) of prebiotics and probiotics. See our reports, Can you take prebiotics and probiotics together? and What is a synbiotic?
Risks and side effects of probiotics
It’s important to distinguish the difference between the medical risks and benign side effects associated with any particular substance or food type. Before trying any supplement, or even naturally amending your diet (in some new way) with a particular food type, speak to your medical professional. According to Mayo Clinic, supplements containing probiotics may not be suitable for those with compromised immune systems (such as those undergoing chemotherapy), certain medical conditions, or those undergoing specific medical treatments.
Furthermore, the functional benefits differ amongst probiotic species, and many clinicians caution that further research is necessary to determine which strains and at what dose will provide specific benefits to most individuals.
Can probiotics cause gas?
While probiotics are generally safe for most people, they can cause side effects, primarily digestive ones like gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Most of these are mild and go away as your body adjusts.
Several factors can influence whether probiotics cause gas in an individual. The specific strain of probiotic being consumed plays a role in determining its impact on gas production. Different strains of bacteria have varying effects on the gut, and some may be more prone to causing gas than others.
Additionally, an individual's existing gut bacteria can also influence the gas production caused by probiotics. Those with a diverse and balanced gut microbiota may be able to introduce probiotics without experiencing excess gas. On the other hand, individuals with an imbalanced gut microbiota may require a more gradual introduction of probiotics to minimize gas production.
Diet is another important factor to consider. Certain foods, such as those high in fiber, can contribute to increased gas production on their own or when combined with probiotics. And, as stated previously, natural food sources containing probiotics may also contain other ingredients that could add to GI distress, such as lactose (if you are at all lactose-intolerant), sugar alcohols, or gluten (if you’re sensitive or intolerant to it), just to name a few.
The starting dosage of probiotics can also play a role in gas production. Starting with a high dosage right away may overwhelm the gut and lead to increased gas production. Gradually increasing the dosage over time allows the body to adjust and minimize the gas-related side effects.
Overall, while the scientific evidence on probiotics and gas is still evolving, studies suggest that certain strains of probiotics can be beneficial in reducing bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal pain due to GI distress. However, individual responses may vary and are very probiotic-strain-dependent. It is important to consult with a healthcare professional before starting a probiotics regimen, especially for infants, children or those with underlying health conditions.
How to reduce gas when taking probiotics
If you're experiencing gas after starting probiotics, here are a few strategies to manage this symptom:
- Start with a lower dose and gradually build up
- Try a different probiotic strain
- Check your diet, as some foods may exacerbate gas
- Keep hydrated
- Exercise regularly
Remember, most symptoms should dissipate as your gut adjusts to the new bacteria.
A synbiotic may be right for you
Particularly if you are suffering from GI discomfort, a synbiotic supplement may be worth considering. A probiotic, alone, is unlikely to help you if you are already very constipated, as a 2022 review concluded; for example, probiotics have not been shown to have enough effects on their own to be used as a sole treatment for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), although they may in cases prove helpful in supplementation to medical treatment, mainly to improve a patient’s quality of life. Similarly, a 2021 systematic analysis of the efficacy of probiotics in IBD found that probiotics can induce remission during the active period of ulcerative colitis (one form of IBD), but have no obvious therapeutic advantage in maintaining remission in either ulcerative colitis or in Crohn’s disease (the other form of IBD).
A synbiotic combines probiotics with prebiotics, the latter being fibers that boost gut health by acting as food for good gut bacteria so that the latter can replicate and produce health-promoting compounds. Studies have shown that increasing fiber — whether through your diet or with the right supplements or both — can alter your gut microbiome and thereby result in myriad long-term health benefits. One of those benefits, for many of us, is better digestion. When we feel constipated, often the advice given is to consume more fiber, either in the form of prebiotic foods (e.g., high-fiber vegetables) or with a fiber supplement, as fiber appears to be helpful in increasing stool frequency. (However, fiber does not always improve stool consistency or painful defecation, so certain individuals, especially those suffering from IBD, need to be careful with fiber and may even need to reduce fiber intake. Some studies have suggested that certain prebiotics might exacerbate symptoms. However, individual responses to prebiotics can vary, and some people with Crohn's disease may tolerate them well. It's important to consult your healthcare provider.
3-in-1 Synbiotic Superblend
Eden’s Synbiotic Superblend contains both probiotics and prebiotic fibers, along with several polyphenols that were carefully selected by Eden’s team of physicians and scientists. This unique combination has been formulated to promote digestive, metabolic, cardiovascular, and immune health. To date, this synbiotic supplement has proven to be well-tolerated, although some GI discomfort can occur in people who haven’t previously taken a fiber supplement, or who are fiber-deficient. Symptoms may include bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.