We are now living in the era of probiotics. Nobody paid much attention to the benefits of yogurt and fermented foods until now. More and more research studies are paying attention to the role of probiotics in health, and not only in gastrointestinal issues. Probiotics are not considered an alternative treatment to boost the immune system and reduce the onset of allergies. Studies also suggest they can be useful to improve mental health and reduce obesity rates.
In any case, the majority of studies about probiotics do not report any particular side effect. When they do, it is usually intestinal gas, bloating, and similar symptoms that usually go away after a few days or weeks. But, can we have more severe side effects after consuming probiotics? Can you actually get palpitations and heart problems?
Probiotics and their side effects
We usually say probiotics do not have side effects. That is true in most cases, but some people may report a few adverse events we should also consider.
These are the most common side effects of probiotics:
- Bloating and gas production: As we will address further in this article, probiotics colonize your gut and may increase gas production as a part of their cellular processes.
- Low appetite: It is a common side effect of probiotics, triggered by chemical changes in the gastrointestinal system. This can be actually good news if you’re trying to lose weight because it reduces food cravings and increases satiety.
- Nausea and taste changes: This side effect is listed as a common side effect, but it is the least common of all three. We know that probiotics modulate the nervous system, and this may explain a mild change in taste and nausea episodes probiotics users report during the first weeks.
Surely, other side effects have been reported in the scientific literature, and some of them may be severe. But the average user is not severely immunocompromised to experience bacteremia or sepsis. We usually don’t have users with a central venous catheter that may be contaminated with probiotics. Thus, the majority of severe side effects are easily ruled out.
How probiotics increase gas production
Gas production in the gut has to do with the intestinal bacteria we have. The majority of cases of constipation, indigestion, bloating, and intestinal gas has to do with the gut microbiota. According to a research, we can create up to one liter of gas every day. This is up to 20 gas discharges every single day in healthy people. It is quite embarrassing, but not an alarming symptom or a chronic condition. It usually has to do with the interaction between gut microbiota and the food we eat.
Healthy food can be a significant source of gas production, including cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and many other cruciferous vegetables. Other gas-producing foods include garlic, onion, leeks, prunes, lentils, and beans. Additionally, we can simply swallow air, adding up to the problem.
What happens is that gas-producing foods contain a type of carbohydrates we can’t absorb. Instead, they are digested by our gut microbiota, which ferment these nutrients and produce carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and methane. You can actually absorb a few of these gases and eliminate them in your breathing, but others stay in the gut and need to be eliminated as a flatulence.
By modulating your gut microbiota with probiotics, you are actually changing what happens in your gut and the interaction between microbes. This may temporarily give you more gas production and bloating, but these symptoms should be relieved after a few days.
Are palpitations and heart attacks likely side effects of probiotics?
Some people have reported palpitations and gas production after using probiotics. But if that is happening to you, are probiotics to blame? What we experience personally after using a new product or drug can become altered by many different factors, including what we eat, our emotional state, and whether we are taking other drugs or supplements simultaneously. That’s why instead of considering one single case, researchers need to run test in a large number of users to make sure a side effect is caused by probiotics or not.
This type of research is a safety measure required before a given product or substance is released to the general public. Many studies have been made to evaluate the safety and effectivity of probiotics in different applications, both in the short-term and the long-term. And if you take enough time to evaluate all of the side effects attributed to probiotics, you will never find a mention of palpitations and heart attack.
Quite the contrary, there is enough evidence that probiotics can benefit cardiovascular health by different means:
- Probiotics can lower the blood pressure in addition to prescribed medications
- Eating probiotic foods can improve your levels of cholesterol and triglycerides
- In a study about heart failure, patients improved their heart function after being treated with probiotics.
- Probiotics may increase your vitamin D absorption, which has a positive effect on heart health.
- Patients with diabetes mellitus may achieve a better control of their glucose
- Inflammation is reduced after consuming certain types of probiotics, which can be beneficial to reduce atherosclerosis
- Anxiety is a source of heart health problems, and probiotics may improve your mood and positively impact your mental health.
- Some studies suggest that probiotics may be beneficial for obese people to achieve a healthier weight.
Together, all of these findings suggest that, instead of being dangerous for your heart, probiotics can actually improve your cardiovascular function and significantly reduce your risk.
Therefore, if you’re experiencing heart palpitations and other cardiovascular problems, probiotics are a very unlikely cause. Try not to be overly anxious about it and talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
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Lerner, A., Shoenfeld, Y., & Matthias, T. (2019). Probiotics: If It Does Not Help It Does Not Do Any Harm. Really?. Microorganisms, 7(4), 104.
Shahrokhi, M., & Nagalli, S. (2020). Probiotics. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.