Probiotic science is one of the most recent developments in modern medicine. We are only now starting to fully understand how our gut microbiota works and how it relates to the rest of the body. Modulating our microbiota by using probiotics is a promising therapeutic tool, and it is a standard preventative treatment in patients using multiple antibiotics or for a prolonged time.
Benefits of probiotics
The reason why people take probiotics varies from one person to the other. The most common benefits are as follows:
- Probiotics reduce the symptoms of diarrhea: This is especially the case after antibiotic treatment. These drugs destroy our healthy gut microbiota, which protected us from colonization by pathogenic bacteria. Probiotics work by replacing our gut microbiota and preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea.
- Probiotic foods help to regulate your intestinal transit: Even if you have not taken antibiotics recently, you may experience irregular bowel movements (either diarrhea or constipation) due to microbiota alterations or gastrointestinal inflammation. In these cases, probiotics foods can regulate your intestinal transit and relieve your symptoms.
- They prevent infections and various gastrointestinal diseases: Inflammatory diseases and certain infections can be prevented by using probiotic supplements and foods. For example, they are useful in Crohn’s disease and Clostridium difficile infections.
- Probiotics contribute to reducing systemic inflammation: Probiotics work in the rest of the body by modulating the immune system and reducing inflammation. Our gut is directly related to a large portion of immune tissue called gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). That’s how probiotics may sometimes reduce the symptoms of asthma, allergies, joint pain, and other symptoms associated with systemic inflammation.
- They are associated with mental health benefits: There’s also a gut-brain axis that comes into play if you’re consuming probiotics. Certain strains may reduce inflammation in your brain tissue, regulate brain function, and may even reduce the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Thus, the most rational approach is saying that if you stop taking probiotics, you will stop having all of these benefits. Probiotics can be used therapeutically to treat cases of antibiotic-associated diarrhea, but in other cases, it plays a preventative role.
In antibiotic-associated diarrhea, you may not have consequences by stopping probiotics as long as you do it when your physician tells you. But if you’re consuming probiotics to prevent disease, you need to keep on taking them in order to maintain their multiple health benefits.
Is there any consequence if you stop taking probiotics?
The best thing about probiotics and its benefits is that you won’t experience two common side effects of drugs: tolerance and dependence.
Tolerance is a constant need for increasing the dose of the drug in order to maintain the effect you’re looking for. Dependence is the necessity of the medication and worsening of your physical health when you’re not taking it anymore. In other words, probiotics are not addictive, and you won’t have any side effects if you decide to stop. There are also potential complications for your immune system by probiotics you will need to consider.
But, stopping your probiotics might not be the best idea in certain clinical situations:
- In cases of diarrhea: Probiotics are usually prescribed to relieve symptoms of diarrhea. If you stop taking probiotics, every bowel movement will move a massive amount of liquid and sweep your gut from its gut microbiota. Not replacing lost microbiota with probiotics may lead to prolonged diarrhea.
- During Clostridium difficile infections: This type of infection is very difficult to treat, and most therapeutic approaches include probiotic use. These supplements are useful to favor colonization by healthy bacteria to replace Clostridium difficile. Thus, it is not a good idea to discontinue probiotics use until your doctor says otherwise.
- If you’re taking or about to take antibiotics: In some cases, probiotics are prescribed before you start taking antibiotics and during antibiotic use to reduce the incidence of antibiotic-associated diarrhea. If you do not complete or discontinue your probiotic supplements, you may not be protected against this common side effect of antibiotics.
- If you suffer from certain gastrointestinal diseases: If you suffer from chronic diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, your doctor may prescribe probiotics supplements or increase your intake of probiotic foods. If you quit probiotics in these cases, there’s a possibility you will have severe symptoms once again.
Cut your consumption or quit Probiotics altogether?
In the circumstances listed above, probiotic use is recommended, and it is a part of the therapy. Thus, patients should not stop probiotics unless instructed by their doctor. Even when probiotics are discontinued from treatment, a common question is whether dropping down your dose or quitting altogether is the best option.
If you’re insisting on quitting your probiotics during treatment, your doctor might recommend dropping down your dose instead. Probiotic discontinuation will not give you a rebound effect. This recommendation is only meant to evaluate how do you feel as you drop down the dosage and make clinical decisions accordingly. Evidently, if you start having severe symptoms or resume your diarrhea, your doctor might recommend continuing with the previous doses of probiotics.
On the other hand, some patients with Clostridium difficile infections may have an asymptomatic disease. They do not display diarrhea symptoms, so their symptoms do not measure their state of infection. You might need to get a stool culture and thorough clinical evaluation before deciding to drop down your dose further or discontinue probiotic treatment.
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Beena Divya, J., Kulangara Varsha, K., Madhavan Nampoothiri, K., Ismail, B., & Pandey, A. (2012). Probiotic fermented foods for health benefits. Engineering in Life Sciences, 12(4), 377-390.
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