Can you actually eat too much probiotics?

As you may have noticed, there's been a huge surge of awareness in the last couple years at the importance of consuming enough probiotics (friendly bacteria) in your diet, whether those probiotics come from fermented (cultured) foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi, and other fermented veggies, or whether they come from supplements too.

We've already talked extensively in this newsletter about how probiotics have dramatic beneficial benefits to your health, most importantly, your digestive system and your immune system.  Balancing your gut flora and crowding out the "bad bugs" with more of the good bugs (aka, probiotics) is vastly important to over 150 different health conditions in your body, going above and beyond just your digestive system and immune system.

However, one of my friends recently asked me this:

"Mike, I just realized that I'm taking a probiotics supplement daily, and also drinking kefir, eating fermented veggies (kimchi or kraut), and also drinking a greens drink that also contains probiotics.  I feel GREAT, but how do I know if I'm getting TOO MUCH probiotics?"

This is a great question!  Here's my take on this, compiling information that I've researched and also other experts on the topic...

First of all, there's actually pretty much zero studies on whether you can take "too much" probiotics, because the average person doesn't get nearly enough in today's modern world with an overly processed and sterilized food supply, so "too much" is almost never a problem.

The fact is, nobody really knows if "too much" even exists when it comes to probiotics.  And I've seen some authors and others question that maybe we shouldn't take "too much" since we don't know what too much is.

However, I disagree with them, and here's where you have to use some standard logic about science, so here's my conclusion...

Throughout all of human history (up until the last 60-100 years or so), humans always ate VERY LARGE amounts of live bacteria in pretty much everything we ate.  I'd estimate that our ancestors consumed at least 10x the amount of live bacteria than even avid probiotics consumers do today.

 We just simply didn't have a "sterilized" food supply in the past that's been canned, processed, pasteurized, packaged, and with added chemicals like we do in today's industrialized food supply. 

Quite simply, everything our ancestors ate contained a LOT of bacteria, and this wasn't just the purposely fermented foods that are rich in probiotics.

Our ancestors also ate a certain amount of dirt on a lot of our foods throughout human history simply because good methods of thoroughly cleaning foods (other than rinsing with water) weren't always available like today.  Even just getting a tiny amount of fresh dirt on your root vegetables that you pulled out of the ground can give you billions of live bacteria.  This was beneficial to our ancestors.

And since refrigeration was pretty much impossible throughout most of human history in parts of the world, fermented foods have a LONG history as a method of preservation, which means humans ate large amounts of fermented foods (WAY more than most modern humans), especially in certain times of year when fresh foods weren't available.  Fermented dairy and fermented veggies have a long history of being staples in so many parts of the world throughout history.  In fact, you can read my article on kefir vs yogurt here and how natives of the Caucasus mountains in eastern Europe routinely live to over 100 years old drinking fermented dairy regularly throughout their lives.

So, the way I see it is even for those of us that might end up getting 100 Billion probiotics or more per day from a combination of a glass of kefir, a bottle of kombucha tea, a greens drink, or a probiotic supplement all combined together, I'd be willing to bet that ancient humans probably got well over 1 Trillion probiotics per day in everything that they ate, since the food supply back then wasn't sterilized like it is today.

In that case, even the most prudent probiotic eaters who take supplements and also eat fermented foods probably still don't come close to the amount of probiotics eaten by our ancestors.

We live in a germophobic culture these days where we're taught from childhood to fear bacteria, despite the fact that 99% of bacteria is beneficial for our health... and yet there's 100 Trillion estimated microbes in our guts (10x the number of cells in our body) that are linked to almost every aspect of our health. 

That's why I personally will NEVER take antibiotics unless I were to end up having some sort of life threatening infection in the future from an accident of some sort.  Antibiotics can permanently disrupt the balance of your gut flora, and permanent disruption to your gut flora balance doesn't sound like a good idea to me.  You can even read this article which shows that antibiotics use can increase your belly fat, among other problems.

And remember one of the most important things about your gut bacteria...

It's those friendly gut bacteria (probiotics) that help to crowd out pathogenic strains that could get you sick.  This is one way that probiotics help keep you from getting sick. 

The other way is simply that good gut bacteria also form a barrier in your intestinal lining to prevent pathogens from escaping into your bloodstream.  It's when pathogens escape into your bloodstream that you're more likely to get sick.  This is why some people are more likely to get food poisoning than others despite eating the same food as others that might have contained some pathogens.  This is also why some people never get sick at all from exposure to harmful germs whereas others get sick from every little thing that they're exposed too. 

The people that have good gut flora balance (from eating large amount of probiotics) have that "microbial barrier" in their gut that doesn't allow pathogens to get from your digestive system into your bloodstream.

There's a great new documentary that I watched recently called Microwarriors: The Power of Probiotics that I think is a great thing to watch for every family.  I think seeing things in a movie format is a lot more powerful for some people than just reading articles and will make some people take probiotics more seriously.

So to summarize about whether consuming "too much" probiotics is possible...  I think we've established that our ancestors consumed a MUCH higher quantity of probiotics naturally than even the most avid fermented foods consumers eating a modern diet and/or supplementing with probiotics ever could.

Make sure to read this article below... I show you my exact daily plan I've come up with in order to get a huge variety of probiotics from different sources... remember that VARIETY of strains is just as important, if not more important, than just sheer quantity of probiotics. 

Daily example plan to PROTECT your gut from pathogens, get perfect digestion, and more.

Also, keep in mind that although I eat a good daily ration of fermented foods in the form of grass-fed kefir, fermented veggies such as kimchi or kraut, as well as yogurt a couple times a week and kombucha on occasion too, I also personally "top off" my probiotics intake with what I feel is the most powerful probiotics supplement I've found to date here.

I strongly feel that it's my close attention to probiotic intake (as well as close attention to levels of vitamin D) that create the immune system such that I never get sick, and never have digestion issues either.  Even this past winter, I can remember quite a few flights where sick people right behind me were coughing and sneezing all over the back of my head, and I never got sick from it.  I also visited several friends on trips that had sick kids or the whole family was sick, and almost everybody got sick except for me. 

Coincidence?  Maybe.  But I think it's those little "microwarriors" in my gut protecting me!

Make sure to start focusing DAILY on your probiotic intake of both fermented foods and probiotic supplements, and it's quite possible that you find that you stop ever getting sick, and that any digestion issues you have start to go away fully.

Here's to letting those little "microwarriors" protect your health!

Mike Geary
Certified Nutrition Specialist
Certified Personal Trainer