Can You Overdose on Probiotics?
A healthy human being has a very hospitable gut. The guest capacity? Upwards of 100 trillion bacteria. These, however, are not any guests- the bacteria within our gut are a living system of protection. That’s three pounds worth of defense.
While probiotics do indeed help restructure gut bacteria for a more favorable ratio of “good” to “bad” bacteria, the process is a long one that requires maintenance. The reality of the matter is that gut flora is very stable and changing it is a challenge.
A healthy person can handle anywhere from 1 billion to 30 billion colony-forming units (CFU) of probiotics. This range is so wide because our microbiomes are not only complex living systems within themselves, but also unique to each individual.
While certain probiotic products tend to hit the probiotic range mentioned above, estimates by manufacturers are largely theoretical. While that cup of yoghurt may have indeed delivered 20 billion CFU, the question is whether even half took effect.
So can you take too many probiotics? It is not possible.
Feeling Sick on Probiotics
The question of overdosing on probiotics most likely came from the exhausted lips of a person temporarily living in their bathroom, gut clenched in pain.
Oh, we feel you- but this is not a probiotics overdose.
The type of symptoms experienced after taking a high-quality probiotic (or simply one that works) is naturally of the gastrointestinal kind. This can mean anything from fatigue and mild discomfort to gut pain and diarrhea.
Remember when we said that taking probiotics was sort of a guessing game? Well, this is one way (a cruel way) to tell the probiotic product is working. The symptoms you are experiencing are caused by a die-off reaction, meaning that as bad bacteria die, they release toxins that in turn cause you to feel like you are dying. You are not- this stage will pass.
Choose Your Probiotic Source Wisely
While accidentally overdosing on probiotics is impossible, you can over consume certain probiotic sources. For example, soft cheese contains probiotics and if you eat too much of it, you can definitely expect some consequences, but these will be independent of the probiotics themselves.
There are many different sources of probiotics, namely foods including dairy, soy products and fermented veggies; supplements, including tablets, capsules, and powders; and finally, fermented liquids including kvass, kombucha, and kefir.
As you can see, there are countless ways to incorporate probiotics into your diet, but which one is the best?
Our concern here is consuming “too much”, so let’s take a closer look at doses- and this includes sneaky culprits such as sodium, refined sugars, and fat. For those with lactose intolerance, we’ll also look at whether consuming dairy as a source of probiotics is a good idea.
Forgive me for oversimplifying obesity, but I’m going to say that it’s basically a food overdose. So when food is the natural source of a supplement, of course overeating is a concern, but not the way you think.
What we’re interested in here are the micro and macro-nutrients because we can have too much of those and end up feeling sick. When it comes to probiotics in food, the main issue is fat and salt.
Food-based probiotics are divided into two main categories: dairy foods and fermented foods. These include high-fat items like soft cheese and buttermilk and high-sodium items like pickles, and olives.
If you’re going the cheese-plate route, make sure to buy organic and raw. The latter is very important because in order to actually get probiotics from cheese, it must have been made with unpasteurized milk. Also- mind the fat content; cheese is a notoriously calorie-dense food.
When it comes to pickles and olives, the probiotic kind are far less harmful sodium-wise than their pasteurized equivalent. That being said, if you want a tasty pickle, salt is the catch.
Just as is recommended for your general diet, when it comes to probiotic foods, variety is key. Don’t try to satisfy your probiotic needs with one food source because it is not an efficient approach.
Dairy is an excellent carrier of probiotic bacteria which is why you’ll notice that most probiotics are marketed alongside dairy products. When it comes to choosing a probiotic source, dairy causes two main concerns: lactose intolerance and fat content.
If lactose intolerance is the concern, dairy products containing high sources of probiotics such as yogurt and kefir by definition contain bacteria that will help digest lactose.
When I say “by definition”, I mean that these two items have a high-density of probiotics. Other dairy products such as soft cheese, buttermilk, and unfermented milk also contain probiotics, but their content is not high enough to tackle lactose intolerance.
Another issue related to dairy-based probiotics is fat content. Dairy is a notoriously high-fat food, however reaping its probiotic benefits doesn’t have to come at the cost of a spare tire around your middle.
Kefir, which is is arguably one of the best natural sources of probiotics, is traditionally made with whole-fat cow or goat milk because the kefir grains used to ferment the milk work best with this combination.
With eight grams of fat in one serving (8oz), whole-milk kefir is fairly healthy; actually, coupled with a 9g serving of protein and a 4g serving of carbohydrates, kefir makes for a very nutritious and balanced meal. However, those still concerned with fat content can enjoy plant-based kefir drinks made from coconut, almond, and rice-water.
Yogurt is another excellent source of probiotics and fat content is hardly ever a concern given the wide array of low-fat, probiotic yogurts on the market.
We’ve already discussed cheese, so let’s just reiterate: consume in moderation. Cheese is one of those inefficient sources of probiotics because the ratio of fat to probiotic content isn’t optimal.
If you’ve thought about overdosing on probiotics, it most likely happened while reflecting on the supplement type. After all, most overdoses come in a pill form.
So can you overdose on a probiotic supplement? It is humanly impossible to overdose on the probiotics contained within a supplement.
The best way to introduce probiotics into your digestive system is through the digestive system by digesting naturally. What I mean to say is by eating foods containing probiotics.
Probiotic supplements are not regulated strictly and most do not contain nearly as many CFUs of viable probiotics as they claim. Even if they contain the quantity, the quality of the bacteria is often not such to survive, thrive, and cause an effect within your digestive tract.
This is not saying that probiotic supplements do not work, many do- it’s just that causing an overly effective reaction that would lead to an overdose is simply unrealistic given the difficulty of creating a viable supplement in the first place.
1. Vrese, Michael, Anna Stegelmann, Bernd Richter, Susanne Fenselau, Christiane Laue, and Jurgen Schrezenmeir. “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.” Probiotics-compensation for Lactase Insufficiency.
2. Getz, Lindsey. “A Healthful Dose of Bacteria – Yogurt Is the Best Probiotic Source, but Clients Do Have Other Options.” A Healthful Dose of Bacteria – Yogurt Is the Best Probiotic Source, but Clients Do Have Other Options. Today’s Dietition. <http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/100111p46.shtml>
3. Feature, Mary. “Best Types of Probiotics: How to Assess Ingredients, Safety, and More.” WebMD. WebMD. <http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/features/best-probiotics-use>.
4. Hunt, Anna. “Simplifying Probiotics – A Path To Improving Your Gut Health.” Waking Times. 2 Oct. 2013. <http://www.wakingtimes.com/2013/10/02/simplifying-probiotics-path-improving-gut-health/>.
Awesome article post.Much thanks again. Will read on…
Thanks for the article. I noticed for dealing crohn’s disease, the GNC brand probiotics I buy works well for me. I buy the 100 billion count and take 1 every morning. If I dont take one, I feel sick in my lower abdomen all day. And I also feel lethargic….So they work for me. Im afraid to try kefir….Looks weird to me lol…Thanks again for the article. 😀