Probiotics should be classified as a DRUG, warn researchers

Probiotic supplements should be classified as a DRUG as they can trigger brain fogginess and have caused some people to QUIT their jobs, warn researchers

  • Fears are growing over supplements which are abundant in the ‘good bacteria’
  • Now an investigation of 30 people has found they can interfere with the brain
  • University of Augusta experts said probiotics can be good in some scenarios
  • However, they advised some caution of their use, based on the new findings 

Probiotics should be classified as a drug – not just as a harmless food supplement, scientists have warned.

Fears are growing over supplements abundant in ‘good bacteria’, which have been hailed for their health benefits in recent years.

However a new investigation has now found they can interfere with the brain and affect the ability to think, as well as cause bloating and gas.

Some volunteers quizzed about the side effects they suffered from probiotics even said they were forced to quit their job because of how severe they were. 

Taking probiotic supplements can be beneficial for some, however, the University of Augusta researchers advised some caution. 

Dr Satish Rao, study author, said: ‘Probiotics should be treated as a drug, not as a food supplement.’

Yoghurt, sauerkraut, kefir and dark chocolate, which all contain small amounts of good bacteria, are unlikely to pose any threats, according to the researchers.

Fears are growing over supplements abundant in the ‘good bacteria’, which have hailed for their health benefits in recent years

Thirty volunteers were analysed for the study, of which 22 had confessed to taking at least one probiotic supplement at the time.

The live bacteria, mostly lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, are strong enough to survive the acid environment of the stomach.

All those who had been consuming the live micro-organisms reported confusion and difficulty concentrating, as well as gas and bloating. 

Tests revealed large colonies of bacteria breeding in the patients’ small intestines – where they aren’t supposed to work.

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Researchers said the bacterial fermentation of sugars in food can result in hydrogen gas and methane, which can lead to bloating.

But the same process in the stomach was also producing high levels of D-lactic acid – temporarily toxic to brain cells.

Some patients had two to three times the normal blood amount of D-lactic acid, which can affect cognition and thinking.


Probiotics are scientifically defined as ‘live micro-organisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host’.

In simple terms, they’re ‘good’ bacteria that are beneficial to the body. Lactobacillus species and bifidobacterium are the most common bacteria in probiotic formulations.

Probiotics exist naturally in some foods (such as some types of yoghurt and fermented vegetables such as pickles and sauerkraut), but can also be taken in dietary supplement form, via products such as Yakult and Inner Health Plus.

While our digestive system ordinarily contains trillions of microbes, including both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria, sometimes the balance between these can get out of whack.

Diseases, poor lifestyle behaviours (such as not eating enough fruit and vegetables, heavy drinking, smoking, and physical inactivity) and ageing can all disrupt this balance.

Four patients said their brain fogginess, which lasted many hours after eating, was so severe that they had to quit their jobs.

One patient even revealed they suffered brain fogginess and bloating within minutes of eating.

However, when the volunteers stopped taking probiotics and took a course of antibiotics, their brain fogginess resolved.

Following treatment, nearly three quarters of the patients revealed their symptoms had improved.

Dr Rao said: ‘What we now know is that probiotic bacteria have the unique capacity to break down sugar and produce D-lactic acid.

‘So if you inadvertently colonise your small bowel with probiotic bacteria, then you have set the stage for potentially developing lactic acidosis and brain fogginess.’

The study is believed to be the first time a connection has been made between probiotics and brain fogginess.

Dr Rao and his team, who published their findings in Clinical and Translational Gastroenterology, said more trials are needed to confirm the effects.

All patients received examinations of their gastrointestinal tract, including a motility test to rule out other potential causes of their symptoms.

They were quizzed about symptoms and answered questions about antibiotic and probiotic use, as well as yogurt consumption.

All were given carbohydrates followed by extensive metabolic testing looking at the impact on things like blood glucose and insulin levels.

Levels of D-lactic acid and L-lactate acid, which results from muscles’ use of glucose as energy and can cause muscle cramps, also were measured.

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