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Probiotics are the “good” live microorganisms that live inside your body naturally and help boost your health. You may either get them by taking probiotic supplements or from food sources. But have you wondered what happens when you stop taking probiotics?

How Do Probiotics Work?

probiotics

Probiotic supplements aim to restore the healthy composition of the gut microbiome and introduce important functions to gut microbial communities to prevent gut inflammation and other intestinal or systemic diseases. The supplements contain live organisms, with one dose possibly containing high doses of a single probiotic strain or multiple probiotic strains.

Probiotics help improve the intestinal environment, balance immune responses, and regulate metabolic activity. During bodily infections, when more bad bacteria are present in the body, the good bacteria help by eliminating the bad bacteria to restore the gut balance to its normal state. 

Aside from keeping the bad bacteria at bay, good bacteria keep you healthy by sustaining your immune function and preventing inflammation. Certain types of good bacteria can also:

  • Help the body digest food properly
  • Supply vitamins and minerals 
  • Support immune function.
  • Prevents microorganisms like bad bacteria, yeasts, and even parasites from entering the bloodstream.
  • Help breakdown and absorb medications.
  • Manage cholesterol levels
  • Improve skin health
  • Manage weight
  • Help manage stress-related health conditions.

What Happens When You Stop Taking Probiotics

If you’ve been taking probiotics for a while now, you may wonder what could happen if you discontinue them. If you stop taking your probiotic supplements, your gut bacteria will likely return to their pre-supplementation condition within a few weeks. 

According to gut & thyroid researcher Dr. Michael Ruscio, the makeup of a person’s gut microbiome a month after going off probiotics would not make any noticeable physical impact. Some people could continue to feel healthy and see no difference, while others may start to feel some changes a few months after.

You may be able to get longer-lasting changes by “feeding the healthy bacteria.” Like all living organisms, bacteria need food to survive. Foods high in dietary fiber, such as fruit and vegetables, can be used as energy sources (or so-called “prebiotics”) for these bacteria.

However, some experts have suggested that hastily discontinuing probiotics could make one easily susceptible to infections. In one animal study done in China, tilapias were fed a probiotic supplement that included a strain of Lactobacillus Plantarum over 14 days. Once the supplementation ended, the tilapias were found to have become more vulnerable to the harmful A. hydrophila bacteria, which causes a broad spectrum of infections like septicemia, meningitis, and endocarditis in humans.

Possible Reasons For Discontinuing Probiotic Use

Some people might be recommended by their doctors to limit or even stop their probiotic usage altogether for the following reasons: 

  • Prolonged probiotic use – Excessive intake of probiotic supplements may yield certain risks and potential dangers. If you experience ongoing side effects from probiotics, such as bloating and gas, it may be a good idea to take a break from probiotics and ensure you take the correct strain and dose.
  • Allergic reactions – Probiotic supplements could also trigger an allergic reaction, especially within the first few days of taking them. One might experience stomach troubles, gas, diarrhea, or bloating — these symptoms usually go away after the body gets used to them.
  • Having a weakened immune system – Another possible reason for discontinuing probiotics is if someone with a compromised immune system (weakened by illness or medications)  could react negatively to the new bacteria in their body, making it harder for the body to heal and even making them sicker. 
  • Interference with medications – In some cases, certain probiotics may also interfere with other medications and cancel each other’s efficacy. Doctors often recommend that clients should take probiotics hours after taking antibiotics.
  • Increase histamine levels – Almost all probiotics contain strains of bacteria that produce histamine and, therefore, could pose a problem to people with histamine intolerance. When histamine levels rise, the blood vessels dilate to bring more blood to the affected area. The vessels also become more permeable, so immune cells can easily get into the relevant tissue to combat pathogens — this process can trigger allergies.
  • Increase the risk of infections – In rare cases, the bacteria or yeasts found in probiotics can enter the bloodstream and cause infections in vulnerable individuals. 

Are Probiotics Completely Safe? 

For most healthy people, probiotics don’t usually cause any harm. They are generally considered safe and are often “given a try” to see if they could help with various medical conditions.

But as beneficial probiotics are, they’re not a long-term solution on their own and should be used alongside other gut management measures like increasing one’s dietary fiber intake and taking less red meat and alcohol to yield better optimal results.

Since probiotics are considered and sold as dietary supplements, they aren’t closely regulated by the FDA. Certain brands may contain ingredients and bacterial strains that differ from those mentioned on their labels. If probiotics are contaminated, it could pose other health risks.

So it’s important to purchase probiotic supplements exclusively from reputable sources like certified pharmacies or health food stores. You can also get probiotics directly from trusted supplement manufacturers.

Alternatives To Probiotic Supplements

Probiotic Rich Foods

Suppose you’ve decided to steer clear of probiotic supplements. In that case, you can still get probiotics from various food sources: While they are both efficient probiotic carriers, most healthcare professionals recommend getting probiotics and nutrients directly from various food sources rather than in supplement form. 

The following foods are rich in probiotics:

  • Yogurt – Yogurt is considered one of the best sources of probiotics. Greek yogurt, in particular, has less lactose than regular yogurt, milk, and even ice cream because of the straining and fermentation process it goes through. Its live and active cultures also help break down the lactose, making it easier for people, especially lactose-intolerants, to digest.
  • Sauerkraut – Sauerkraut is shredded cabbage fermented by lactic acid and is often added as a side dish to meals. During fermentation, cabbage is thinly sliced, salted, and sealed. Lactobacillus, a beneficial probiotic, grows and thrives in its brine environment.
  • Kimchi – Kimchi is a traditional Korean food made by fermenting vegetables with probiotic lactic acid bacteria found in yogurt and other fermented dairy products. These healthy microorganisms may give kimchi several health benefits like regulating your immune system, promoting weight loss, fighting inflammation, and even slowing the aging process.
  • Miso – Miso is a fermented soybean paste with a slightly salty flavor and a good protein and fiber source. Miso soup is full of probiotics, which contribute to improved gut health. Miso contains the probiotic A. oryzae, which reduces the risk of problems with the digestive system, such as inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Kefir – Kefir is a fermented milk drink cultured from kefir grains and is a rich source of calcium, protein, B vitamins, and bioactive compounds that contribute to its health benefits. It may contain up to 61 different microorganisms, making it a richer source of probiotics than most fermented dairy products.
  • Kombucha – Kombucha is a fermented black or green tea drink made by adding specific strains of bacteria, yeast, and sugar. It’s also rich in B vitamins, essential to the human body in helping maintain overall health. 
  • Pickles – Pickled cucumbers are high in particular types of fiber that feed beneficial gut bacteria, acting as prebiotics. They are also low in calories and a good source of vitamin K, which is an important nutrient for blood clotting.
  • Natto – While some people find the taste of this popular Japanese dish a bit appalling at first, natto is rich in probiotics, vitamin C and several minerals, all of which contribute to a healthy immune system, and stronger bones, a healthier heart, and an enhanced immune system.
  • Tempeh – Tempeh is a soy-based food similar to tofu but involves the fermentation of soybeans and has a distinct nutty flavor. The fermentation process makes it rich in probiotics and protein, which can help to enhance gut hygiene and digestion. Its firm texture also makes it suitable as a side dish for various dishes.
  • Traditional buttermilk – Traditional buttermilk is a fermented dairy drink mainly consumed in India, Nepal, and Pakistan. The healthy bacteria and lactic acid in traditional buttermilk help digestion and improve metabolism, help maintain regular bowel movements, and relieve constipation. 
  • Certain types of cheese – Cheeses are excellent carriers for probiotics since they are low in acid and high in fat, which helps nurture the bacteria while they move through the digestive system. Cottage cheese, cheddar, mozzarella, and gouda are rich in probiotics. 

Takeaway

Probiotics are live microorganisms that help keep your gut microbiome healthy when taken in adequate quantities. It can even yield many health benefits that can treat various health conditions and boost the immune system. 

For the most part, discontinuing your intake of probiotics is safe and will not likely cause any significant impact on your health. In some cases, it may cause some mild effects, but these should only be temporary. 

If you’re having problems with your probiotic supplement intake, consult with your doctor immediately.

Disclaimer: this article does not constitute or replace medical advice. If you have an emergency or a serious medical question, please contact a medical professional or call 911 immediately. To see our full medical disclaimer, visit our Terms of Use page.

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