Can Probiotics Cause Diarrhea? An Expert Weighs In

Written by Krista Bugden
Medically Reviewed by Felicia Newell, M.S., RDN

October 17, 2023

In some cases, probiotics may trigger diarrhea. This is particularly true if you’re taking a high dose, a new strain, or are new to taking probiotics. Continue reading to learn how long it takes to go away, plus how to manage it.

Probiotics, commonly referred to as "good" bacteria, are living microorganisms that naturally inhabit your gut (you have trillions of them living in there at this very moment (1)!).

These live cultures play a crucial role in bodily processes—namely digestion (2). But some people experience the complete opposite…instead of healthy “regular” bowel movements, they have an upset stomach and loose stools. Which begs the question: Do probiotics cause diarrhea? And if so, what can you do?

Can Probiotics Cause Diarrhea?

Yes, in some cases, probiotics can lead to diarrhea. This is particularly true if you’re taking a high dose, a new strain, or you’re new to taking probiotic supplements.

Probiotics are often talked about for their beneficial gut effects. But when starting supplementation, diarrhea may occur as the body strives to flush “bad” bacteria out of its system.

Sheri Berger, RDN, CDCES, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant says, “When introducing a new strain of probiotics or taking a high dose, the digestive tract needs time to adjust to the introduction of new bacteria. The body may react with diarrhea in order to drain out the bad bacteria as quickly as possible.”

Usually, this eases off after a few days. Staying properly hydrated during this time is especially important—as having diarrhea can quickly dehydrate you.

On the flip side, if you’re experiencing diarrhea from antibiotic use, research indicates that probiotic supplements containing the strains L. acidophilus (LA-5) and B. bacteria (BB-12) can help alleviate it (3).

Another study indicated that fermented milk products enriched with lactobacilli and bifidobacteria can also alleviate diarrhea linked to antibiotic usage (4).

Typically, acute diarrhea lasts no longer than a day or two. If you suspect it’s due to probiotic consumption, this isn’t usually a cause for concern. If you have severe diarrhea that lasts longer than a day or two, you may need to book a visit with your doctor, as there may be other underlying health issues that need to be addressed.

Factors Contributing to Probiotic-Induced Diarrhea

In most cases, probiotics won’t cause diarrhea. But there are certain factors that may increase the likelihood of diarrhea occurring after taking probiotics.

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The Probiotic Dosage

Technically, there’s no set recommended probiotic intake amount. This is often because probiotic supplements come in many different strains and doses.

Usually the dosages range from 1 to 10 billion CFU (colony forming units) and all the way up to 50 billion CFU. But experts indicate that often 10 to 20 billion CFU is suitable for most adults (5).

The Laxative Effect of Some Strains

While many probiotic strains aim to balance the gut's microbial environment, certain strains can lead to changes in bowel habits. 

Specifically, the probiotic strains Lactobacillus acidophilus LA11-Onlly, Lacticaseibacillus rhamnosus LR22, Limosilactobacillus reuteri LE16, Lactiplantibacillus plantarum LP-Onlly, and Bifidobacterium animalis are known for their potential to exert a mild laxative effect. 

Individuals introducing these strains into their regimen, especially in large quantities or for the first time, may notice changes in their bowel movements—such as improvements in constipation symptoms (6).

Understanding this effect is crucial for individuals seeking specific gut health outcomes or those sensitive to shifts in their digestive patterns. It's always recommended to start with a lower dose and gradually increase, monitoring your body's response.

The Individual Differences

Although specific strains of probiotics may offer benefits to some, they could lead to side effects like diarrhea in others. This variation primarily results from individual differences, including:

  • One’s own unique gut microbiome
  • Age
  • Diet
  • Stress levels
  • Pre-existing gut or autoimmune conditions
  • Other lifestyle choices

It's essential to recognize this variability when considering probiotic supplements. Consulting with a healthcare professional or a dietitian and closely monitoring your body’s responses can help identify the most suitable probiotic strain and dose for each individual.

Managing Probiotic-Induced Diarrhea

If you’re experiencing probiotic-induced diarrhea, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Reduce the Dosage: If you suspect your probiotics are causing diarrhea, consider reducing the amount you're taking. A lower dose might alleviate the symptoms while still providing beneficial bacteria to the gut.
  • Switching Strains or Products: Not all probiotics are created equal. Yet, the wide variety of strains available means that if one doesn't suit your system, another might. If you experience unwanted side effects from one probiotic, consider trying a different strain or a different product altogether.
  • Consult a Healthcare Provider: Always remember that individual responses can vary. If you're uncertain about the effects you're experiencing or if symptoms persist, it's essential to consult with a healthcare professional. They can offer personalized advice and might recommend specific strains or products that are suitable for you and your situation.
  • Stay Hydrated: If you’re experiencing diarrhea, one of the key things for optimal health is to stay hydrated. This means drinking plenty of water.
A bottle of NativePath probiotics with three capsules next to it

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Registered dietitian, Sheri Berger, adds, “Starting with a low dose of probiotics and then gradually increasing that dose may help to decrease the chance of diarrhea. Fueling your body with plenty of fiber, which is food (prebiotics) for the good bacteria (probiotics), helps the "good guys" to thrive and transition in the gut more easily. Foods that are rich in fiber include fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds.”

At the end of the day, it’s important to choose reputable probiotic supplements with scientifically validated strains. As always, talk to your healthcare provider to help you determine the best probiotic regimen for you.

Krista Bugden
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Krista Bugden

Krista Bugden is a freelance writer with a BS in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa. She spent 5 years working as a kinesiologist, giving her the first-hand experience she needed to write well-researched, scientific, and informative blogs.

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    Medical Disclaimer

    This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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