The A to Z of Probiotics – Everything You Need to Know About Probiotics

“Probiotics are the ‘good’ bacteria that live in our guts to promote healthy digestion and also gives the immune system a boost. Although your digestive tract naturally produces probiotics, it is beneficial to consume more foods naturally rich in probiotics to increase your levels and variety of strains of good bacteria,” states Rebecca Ditkoff, a registered New Yorker dietitian and founder of Nutrition by RD.

Main Differences Between Probiotics and Prebiotics

While they both sound similar, these supplements play very different roles in our digestive system.

What is Probiotics?

Probiotics is the bacteria that is naturally created by the process of fermentation. They can be found in foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, miso soup, kimchi and others. Probiotics are also available in a powder supplement or capsule form. While there are numerous types of bacteria classified as probiotics, the main 2 groups are listed as follows.


The most common type of probiotic bacteria which is found in yogurt and other fermented foods. It is known to help with diarrhea and for people who are lactose intolerant.


Bifidobacterium is present in certain dairy products. Consumption of this type of bacteria is known to ease irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other digestive conditions.

Consuming bifidobacteria can ease constipation and gives the immune system a boost. Furthermore, studies have shown that bifidobacteria can reduce intestinal concentrations of carcinogenic enzymes.

What is Prebiotics?

Prebiotics is present in foods such as bananas, onions, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory roots, beans, etc. Prebiotic fiber passes through the small intestine and is fermented when it reaches the large intestine.

This fermentation process is highly beneficial to bacteria already present in the intestine. By doing this, it replenishes and grows stronger good bacteria and maintains a healthy balance.

Probiotics is the live bacteria that is found in yogurt and other fermented foods. Prebiotics are a special form of dietary fiber that acts as a fertilizer for the good bacteria in your digestive system.
Probiotic bacteria has to be kept alive to be active. They can easily die if exposed to heat or stomach acid. Prebiotic supplements are immune to heat, cold, acid or time.
Probiotic bacteria has to compete with over 1000 bacteria species already in the digestive system. Prebiotics aid and nourish the good bacteria that is already present in the digestive system.
Certain probiotic species contain bacteria strains that have been helpful to cure childhood diarrhea and irritable bowel disease. Using oligofructose enriched inulin-based (OEI) prebiotic fiber can help with a wide range disorders including obesity, bone loss and digestive disorders.

Foods that are Rich in Probiotics

  • Fermented soybean products such as miso, tempeh and tofu.
  • Sauerkraut and kimchi, made from fermented cabbage and other vegetables.
  • Plain live organic yogurt.
  • Kefir (fermented milk drink similar to yogurt).
  • Kombucha (fizzy drink made by fermenting black or green tea).

Foods that are Rich in Prebiotics

  • Chicory root.
  • Apples.
  • Asparagus.
  • Dandelion greens.
  • Slightly under-ripe bananas.
  • Alliums such as leeks, onions and garlic.
  • Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes).

Are There Any Side Effects of Consuming Probiotics?

While many health benefits have been associated with taking probiotics everyday, there can also be certain side effects for people who suffer from a serious illness or a compromised immune system.

Can Cause Uneasiness Digestive Symptoms

The most common side effect when you consume probiotics is a temporary increase in gas and stomach bloating. If you are consuming yeast-based probiotics, you could experience an increased level of thirst and constipation.

To reduce these side effects, it is recommended to start with a small dose of probiotics and slowly increase the quantity over time. By doing so, you are allowing your body sufficient time to adjust to them.

Amines in Probiotic Foods Trigger Headaches

There are certain probiotic-rich foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt and kimchi which contain biogenic amines. These amines are substances that form when protein-based foods age or get fermented. The most common biogenic amines found are tyramine, histamine, phenylethylamine and tryptamine.

Amines play an important role as they increase or decrease the blood flow and could trigger

headaches in people who are less sensitive to the biogenic amines. If you have a problem with  consuming rich probiotic-based foods, trying a probiotic supplement may help.

Certain Ingredients Cause Allergic Reactions

People with intolerances or allergies must check the labels behind probiotic food products and supplements to see if any allergy causing ingredients have been used in its production. In the same way, people who have yeast allergies, should not consume yeast-based probiotics. Instead, substitute them with bacteria-based probiotics such as milk, sugar or lactose, etc.

In addition certain food products containing powerful probiotics, some supplements contain prebiotics which are the plant fibers that bacteria in our digestive tract consumes as food. Most common types being lactulose, inulin and other oligosaccharides.

When a supplement contains probiotic microorganisms and prebiotic fibers together, it is known as a synbiotic. People have reported to experience bloating when consuming synbiotics. When selecting a supplement, be sure to choose one that does not contain prebiotics.

Can Increase the Risk of Infection

For the vast majority of the population, probiotics are safe and beneficial. However, there have been rare cases where the bacteria found in probiotics has entered the bloodstream. Once entered, it is a high probability of infection for individuals with weak immune systems. People who have undergone surgery recently, prolonged periods of hospitalization, venous catheters and suppressed immune systems are the ones who are most prone to probiotic infections.

The world health report on probiotic infections list that only 1 in 1 million people will develop an infection if they consume probiotics containing Lactobacilli. For yeast based probiotic products, their chances of getting infected are even smaller, 1 in 5.6 million users. Do not be deterred though as when an infection does occur, it can be cured with antibiotics and antifungals. However, in extremely rare cases death has occurred for people suffering from severe acute pancreatitis.

Certain Strains Increase Histamine Levels

There are certain types of bacterial strains that are used in probiotic supplements. These can produce histamine inside the digestive tract. Now, Histamine is normally produced by your immune system when a threat is detected. When Histamine levels in your body rise, blood vessels collect more around the affected area. This process tends to create swelling and redness, it can also lead to triggering allergy symptoms such as tearing of eyes, running nose, skin irritation and itching or trouble breathing.

For people who suffer from histamine intolerance, their bodies have trouble breaking down the histamine properly which leads to the excess histamine getting absorbed through the inner lining of the intestinal tract into the bloodstream. Once this occurs, the person will start to feel symptoms that are similar to an allergic reaction.

The main histamine-producing probiotic strains are Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus helveticus, Lactobacillus buchneri and Lactobacillus hilgardii.

If you would like to know more on probiotic supplements, check out Health Trends. They have the best content on health tips and all kinds of workout and weight loss know-hows. Make sure to consult a probiotic medical specialist before you take probiotic supplements and check the adequate quantity to consume in order to avoid any side effects that may occur.