It seems crazy to think that there can be more bacteria living in our gut than the number of cells in our whole body. But it’s true! These microscopic organisms actually contribute a lot to our health and wellbeing. When our gut bacteria becomes out of balance from things like stress, antibiotics, diet and medication, many people turn to probiotics to help. But do they really work or is it a probiotics myth?
There are a lot of myths surrounding the use of probiotics, their side effects and how effective they really are. So today we are looking at 10 myths of probiotics so you can get the facts straight and make more informed decisions.
Get ready to debunk!
Myth No. 1 – Probiotics can cause gas
Can it get rid of gas or make it worse?
Fact – Eating probiotic foods with increased fiber can increase gas. However, it is a myth that probiotics, especially supplements will make you overly gassy. As your body gets used to the new probiotic good bacteria, your body will make the right amount of gas for you.
The average person produces around 1-4 pints of gas per day and passes gas around 14 times per day. If there is an overload of bad bacteria in the gut, taking probiotics can even improve flatulence and reduce the unpleasant odor. Some probiotic bacteria produce gas when taken with certain foods, so it is best to take them on an empty stomach.
Myth No. 2 – Probiotics can cause acne
Can probiotic cause acne or improve it?
Fact – Although there are several causes of acne including hormones, genetics, medications, cosmetics, gut health can be a big factor for acne. Our gut health can be affected by many things including antibiotics, stress and diet, which then impacts the skin.
Probiotics can help to improve acne as it restores the levels of good bacteria in the gut, and reduces inflammation. Furthermore, probiotics can also help us to absorb more nutrients from food, so the skin cells are regenerated with more of the goodness they need. Acne is often a side affect of an imbalance, but once the gut is rebalanced, it has a health boosting domino effect on the rest of the body, mind and skin.
Myth No. 3 – Probiotics shouldn’t be taken on an empty stomach
Can probiotics be taken on an empty stomach?
Fact – It is a myth that probiotics can’t be taken on an empty stomach. In fact, probiotics work better when taken on an empty stomach as it helps the good bacteria to pass into the gut quicker than if it had to fight through food digestion at the same time.
The best time to take probiotics is first thing in the morning before breakfast, or last thing at night with a few hours gap between your last meal. Of course, if you are only eating probiotic foods rather than taking supplements as well, then you will still benefit from the good bacteria, however probiotic foods alone may not be enough to cause a big difference in bacteria colonization in the gut.
Myth No. 4 – Probiotics help with diarrhea
Can probiotic help with diarrhea?
Fact – There are many causes of diarrhea including infectious bacteria and viruses. For cases such as travelers’ diarrhea, or antibiotic-associated diarrhea, probiotics have been shown to help stop the loose bowel movements for many people, however numerous studies on the subject had conflicting results. In other cases, such as those who are constipated with IBS symptoms, probiotics can actually cause diarrhea.
Probiotics are far from a laxative, but for some, it can feel that way! It also depends which strains of probiotic bacteria you take. There are some types of probiotic bacteria that can cause mild diarrhea for the first few days of taking them as your body adjusts.
Myth No. 5 – Probiotics can cause constipation
Do probiotics treat or cause constipation?
Fact – Constipation is not usually caused by probiotics. However, occasionally some people experience less bowel movements when taking probiotic supplements. This can be for a number of reasons.
The most common reason for constipation when taking probiotics is not enough fiber and water in your diet. The best way to get things moving again is to drink plenty of water and ensure you eat plenty of prebiotic fiber foods such as banana, onion, garlic, leek and asparagus. If you are still feeling constipated after one week of taking probiotics, consult with a health professional and ensure you are drinking adequate water and plenty of fiber rich foods.
Myth No. 6 – Probiotics can cause yeast infection
Can probiotic cause yeast infection?
Fact – A common probiotics myth is that they can cause a yeast infection. This is because probiotics often contain yeasts and good bacteria. Since this type of infection is caused by a yeast overgrowth, it’s easy to see where this myth started. For people who are susceptible to yeast infections, they may experience different side effects depending on the strain of probiotic taken. However, probiotics are often used to treat a yeast infection rather than be the cause of it. In particular, the probiotic strains Lacticaseibacillus rhamnosus (LGR-1) and Lactobacillus reuteri (LRC/14) have been shown to stop the growth of Candida glabrata which can cause yeast infections.
Candida overgrowth starts in the gut. It is an opportunist fungus that will grow fast and can quickly overtake the good bacteria in the gut if left untreated. Candida also feeds off sugar and can send signals to the brain for you to crave more, making it grow even faster. But by taking a high-quality probiotic, and cutting down on processed sugar, you can treat and prevent yeast infections naturally.
Myth No.7 – Probiotics can cause bloating
Will probiotic help with bloating or cause it?
Fact – This probiotics myth is partly true. Many probiotic supplements also contain prebiotic fibers. These are types of fiber that your body can’t digest, but your good gut bacteria can feed on. These types of probiotics are called synbiotics and they often cause excess gas and bloating.
To avoid bloating, look for a probiotic only supplement. Some people may experience mild temporary bloating for a few days as the body adjusts, but if you experience bloating and excess gas for more than a few weeks, seek advice from a health professional. In general, most people find that a good probiotic will reduce bloating overall as the gut flora is balanced to healthy bacteria that assist the digestion process.
Myth No. 8 – Eating probiotic foods is enough
Do I need to take supplements if I already eat probiotic foods?
Fact – Probiotic foods such as kefir, sauerkraut and natural yogurt are great for helping to keep the gut healthy and providing varied nutrients to your body. However, you would need to eat probiotic foods very regularly to have the same effect as probiotic supplements.
Eating probiotic foods once per week would not be sufficient to change any bad bacteria colonization in the gut. Eating them everyday may have an effect as your overall diet would include more good bacteria. But for some people, eating these types of foods everyday is not preferred and so a supplement is a convenient way to intake probiotics regularly.
Myth No. 9 – All probiotics need to be refrigerated
Do all probiotics need to be refrigerated?
Fact – Many probiotic strains do require refrigeration for the microorganisms to survive. However, there are also many top probiotics that do not need to be kept in the fridge. The types of probiotics that need refrigeration are usually non-spore forming bacteria, such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, found in cold foods like natural yogurt and kefir. They are kept in the fridge to extend their shelf life as it slows down the bacteria’s growth phase. When kept out of the fridge, these types of probiotic bacteria will go through their growth phase too quickly and die – which is no benefit to anyone!
The types of probiotics that don’t need to be kept in the fridge are usually spore-forming bacteria such as Bacillus subtilis. This hardy strain of probiotic can survive varied temperatures and make it through the acidic environment of the gut and into the GI tract. Many people find spore-forming probiotics more convenient as they do not require refrigeration and can be traveled with safely. Both non-spore forming and spore-forming probiotics are beneficial to our gut and overall health, each playing a different role in the body. Multi-strain probiotics are also available containing several types of bacteria for a broad-spectrum of benefits.
Myth No. 10 – Probiotics with higher CFU numbers are better for you
Will a higher CFU number on probiotics work better?
Fact – CFU on probiotics stands for colony forming units. With so many probiotics available, you will notice that each of them describe the CFU count on the label. Many of them market themselves as better because of a higher CFU count, but that’s not necessarily true… Imagine walking home with lots of food in a bag, and the bag had a hole in it. Some or all of the food would likely be lost along the way. Probiotics are similar in that, even if you start with a very high CFU count in the pack, they may not actually make it to where they need to be in the GI tract. Or they may not last at all of they are not refrigerated.
This is particularly true with non spore-forming probiotics as they are often not resistant to unfavorable conditions in the gut. In other words, they need to have a high CFU count because much of them don’t survive. So when choosing a probiotic, remember that it is not just about the number of CFU’s stated on the pack, more is not always better. It’s about finding the right strain of bacteria to make it through travel, storage and ultimately reaching the right place in the gut to balance your microbiota.
There are many types of probiotics, but the most important thing is finding the right types for you. When choosing your probiotic, always check the ingredients list, reviews and company history before purchasing to ensure a high quality product.