Let’s talk probiotics.
What are probiotics? Do they improve your health? And, can they help with food sensitivities such as tyramine intolerance?
The first article in my “Tyramine Intolerance and The Gut” series talked about the gut, or microbiome: how it works, and how it likely plays a significant role in food sensitivity.
Today, I’ll move on to probiotics.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms that are healthy and beneficial for the gut. They’re typically bacteria but they can include fungi too.
If you purchase a probiotic at a grocery or health food store and peek on the back of the bottle, you will find a list of the specific microorganism species in that probiotic. Common ones include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species.
Probiotics come most commonly in capsule form, but some places sell powders as well. Some probiotics require refrigeration, while others are shelf-stable.
You can also get probiotics from fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and fermented soy products such as tempeh.
Why Take Probiotics?
In my last article, I mentioned that your gut (microbiome) is loaded with these organisms, sometimes called “microbiota.” By “loaded” I mean we have ~40 trillion of these microorganisms lining our gut, and they’re absolutely crucial to health.
However, the number and balance of these microbiota can go haywire. Antibiotic medications (which kill off bacteria), poor eating habits, stress, and other vagaries of modern life can reduce the diversity of your microbiota, leading to disease.
One way to counteract these health insults is to take probiotics, which provide bacteria (and fungi) species shown to be beneficial to health.
Debate exists on whether we need probiotics. However, research indicates that probiotics can help with many kinds of health issues, especially digestive problems, and can benefit those who have taken antibiotics recently.
They can also improve immunity. Remember, 70% of your immune system resides in your gut, so a healthy gut means a strong immune system.
The best advice I’ve seen on whether to take probiotics:
If you take them and see improvements, keep going. If you don’t improve, and certainly if you feel worse, quit taking them. This assumes you abide by a few rules for taking probiotics, which I cover below.
The Rogue Scientist Experiments with Probiotics
The probiotic you take matters, especially if you’re tyramine or histamine intolerant. I have experimented with a few. Here’s what I tried first:
Experiment #1: Gut Pro (now Smidge)
The first probiotic I ever tried had the following strains:
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Lactobacillus gasseri
- Lactobacillus salvarius
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Bifidobacterium lactis
- Bifidobacterium breve
- Bifidobacterium infantis
You’ll find many of these strains in other probiotic products, and this blend caused me no problems. Which I expected, since this particular brand (formerly GutPro, now Smidge), was designed for those who are sensitive to histamine (I’ll talk more about this below).
This was back when I avoided all “amines” and didn’t yet realize I’m more sensitive to tyramine than histamine.
I did as they instructed: ordered the powder (not the capsules), started small with a tiny measuring spoon set they sold for a few bucks, and built up slowly.
Over time, I noticed my immunity had improved (I got sick less often) and had a slight energy boost. Overall, I felt better on this probiotic.
Experiment #2: Spore-Based Probiotic
After GutPro went bye-bye (before Smidge emerged), I needed a new probiotic. I decided to try a spore-based product, supposedly better because the soil-based “spore” means the strains are far more resistant to stomach acid compared to regular probiotics.
It included these strains:
- Bacillus clausii
- Bacillus subtilis
- Bacillus coagulans
I lasted four days. All four days I got a headache, which went away when I discontinued use.
The product had good reviews on Amazon, and even the bad reviews didn’t mention headache. I concluded “not for me” and threw them away.
Why These Differences?
Strains matter. Every species of microorganism in a probiotic product plays a different role in the body. For example, some produce histamine, while others break it down.
The GutPro product I took was designed to reduce histamine production, which meant that I didn’t feel crappy on it. Those species, along with slowly increasing the dose, worked well for my body.
The Bacillus species did not, and I had no way to explain it until I listened to a podcast explaining that our microbiota can make neurotransmitters, and different species make specific neurotransmitters.
I’ll talk more about this in Part III.
Should Those with Food Sensitivities Take Probiotics?
In my opinion, probiotics are worth a try… IF you follow the guidelines in the next section.
Why try them?
Food sensitivities result from your body’s inability to break down food properly. The breakdown of food occurs in the gut… with the help of your gut microbiota. Therefore, it’s reasonable to hypothesize that when you react to foods, something in your gut isn’t working properly.
More and more, science points to food sensitivities and intolerances originating in the gut. If you don’t have enough of the proper microbiota species to break down those foods, things go haywire.
Anecdotally, I’ve seen many people report that their tyramine or histamine intolerance developed after taking a few rounds of antibiotics. These people may no longer have enough of the necessary microbiota species to break down histamine and/or tyramine.
And… why wouldn’t the same idea apply to other food sensitivities, like sensitivity to gluten, dairy, salicylates, oxalates, FODMAPS, etc?
It’s unlikely that probiotics will solve the gut problems that lead to food sensitivity. However, if they can help at all, it’s worth a try.
I took probiotics for many years, and they did help me. I took them after I had to take antibiotics a while ago. But overall I’ve stopped taking probiotics in favor of following other healthy-gut advice I’ve learned from experts, like eating more fiber, more plants, and a wide variety of both.
I’ll cover this in another article.
Probiotics in Food: Great for Most, But Not If You’re Amine Intolerant
Research shows that probiotics found in foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and fermented soy products (e.g. tempeh, miso) can prove very beneficial to your health because of their impact on your gut. Eat them regularly for the most benefit.
However, as I discuss in The Tyramine Intolerance Handbook, these foods are on the NO list for those with tyramine or histamine intolerance because they can cause bad reactions.
If you’re tyramine or histamine intolerant, you’ll need to test them for yourself. Personally, I can eat yogurt, including Greek yogurt, with no problems. I eat it every 2-3 days. I haven’t yet tested the others.
Tips for Taking Probiotics
If you do take the probiotic plunge, here are some tips to follow:
I’ve had many people tell me they took a probiotic (or started eating probiotic foods) and got “stomach problems,” i.e. gas and/or diarrhea. That’s often a sign they tried too much too soon.
You need to start small. If you buy capsules, begin with a lower dose, such as a 10 billion count. If you tolerate it well, you can take more.
If you purchase a brand that offers a powder, start with a small amount per day. Same with probiotic foods.
Starting small is also good if you find that a brand (or food) doesn’t sit well with you. A smaller amount means a smaller reaction.
If You Have Tyramine or Histamine Intolerance, Try a Brand Designed for You:
Or, you can try other brands that don’t have problematic strains in them. I’ll cover this in later articles in this series.
Refrigerated vs. Shelf-Stable:
In my experience, the refrigerated brands worked better for me. However, they cost more and aren’t as convenient for travel.
Others have done fine with shelf-stable brands, so feel free to experiment.
That’s all. In the next article, I’ll talk about how your gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters, and why that’s important.
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The Tyramine Intolerance Handbook by Dr. Christie Hartman
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