Probiotics are well-known for their benefits to your tummy, but is it really true that they can cause heart palpitations?
Although there had been anecdotal accounts about people experiencing heart palpitations after taking probiotics, this isn’t a side effect that’s often associated or listed with probiotic use.
Some studies even show that probiotics can reduce your risk of developing heart disease and may be used as therapy for heart failure.
Researchers theorize that the rare occasions of heart palpitations from probiotic use might be due to an allergic reaction or anxiety.
But why can probiotics trigger anxiety and an allergic reaction? Let’s discuss each rare but potential side effect below.
Probiotics & Heart Palpitations
Most of the time, probiotics are considered safe for most people, with serious reactions like heart palpitations being extremely unlikely or very rare.
Surprisingly, although there have also been reports that probiotics can lead to anxiety, a recent study showed that these supplements can actually alleviate depressive symptoms in patients with a depression or anxiety disorder diagnosis.
However, you might notice changes in your heart rate after taking this healthy drink for your gut health.
If that happens, it’s always a good idea to consult your doctor because it might be a sign of a serious underlying medical issue such as a heart problem.
Reasons For Heart Palpitations After Taking Probiotics
Studies show that probiotics aren’t likely to cause heart palpitations because they can actually help prevent and alleviate cardiovascular diseases.
Still, although the possibility is rare, the following might be the possible reasons why you experienced palpitations:
1. Allergic Reaction
Probiotics or “good gut bacteria” are very unlikely to trigger an allergic reaction.
However, probiotic supplements are usually made with different ingredients, even including added sugars.
Some of the ingredients in your probiotic supplements could trigger an allergic reaction.
But because probiotic supplements are created with different ingredients and people have varied allergic triggers, we can’t say for certain which ones can affect you.
So, if you notice feeling chest tightness, heart palpitations, and any of the symptoms below, make sure to stop taking the probiotic supplement and call your doctor:
- Watery eyes
- Itchy or runny nose
- Throat tightening
- Shortness of breath
- Feelings of anxiety or impending doom
2. Anxiety & Probiotics
Many people also have heart palpitations along with anxiety. That’s usually because anxiety can trigger your body’s “fight or flight” response, leading to a faster heart rate with the adrenaline rush.
For most people, however, probiotics can actually be good for helping alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Researchers even recommend using probiotics as part of the adjunct therapies for patients with depression or anxiety in the future. However, the evidence remains insufficient and still requires further studies because this can be formally accepted as a treatment option.
If probiotics are good for possibly treating anxiety, then why are some people reporting this symptom after taking supplements containing good gut bacteria?
Anxiety due to probiotics is rare but might be due to an allergic reaction to the other components in the supplement.
Certain gut bacteria strains can increase or modulate histamine production, which can provoke an immune response:
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus reuteri
- Lactobacillus helveticus
3. Perceived Reaction To Probiotics
Your brain is the most powerful part of your body.
It can actually make you feel things that aren’t actually there – such as feeling anxious (which can lead to palpitations) even if there isn’t anything to worry about.
If you’ve been reading up a lot about probiotics causing anxiety and heart palpitations, your brain might trick you into thinking that you’re also experiencing similar symptoms.
Another possibility is that you’re thinking too much about what might happen to you after taking probiotics that you’re causing yourself to feel anxious over something that is very unlikely to actually cause anxiety to most people.
4. Gut Health & Imbalances Affect The Heart
Probiotics can change the production and uptake of certain chemicals in your tummy called neuroactive peptides.
Changes in their levels in your tummy could activate the sympathetic nervous system, change vagal nerve activity, and/or generate more neuroactive peptides that can stimulate receptors in the PNS (peripheral nervous system) and CNS (central nervous system).
Adding good bacteria in your tummy can also lead to the displacement of the bad, pathogenic bacteria (those that can cause disease).
Surprisingly, these changes in your tummy can make you feel agitated or nervous. In turn, that could lead to anxious feelings and heart palpitations.
Did Someone Have Heart Palpitations After Taking Probiotics?
Yes. Some people actually experienced heart palpitations after taking probiotics but one of the reported cases was due to a possible overdose instead of a regular side effect of taking the supplement.
A case study posted by Dr. Lori Calabrese, MD for innovative psychiatry, detailed how a 64-year-old woman experienced heart palpitations and anxiety, possibly due to probiotics.
Dr. Lori was surprised by the old lady’s case, especially because it was the first time they had encountered such an experience.
The patient was described as robust and energetic, although she experienced issues with prolonged diarrhea after taking ibuprofen to relieve pain due to a knee injury.
This patient consulted a nutritionist who recommended a potent probiotic which she had to take as much as 400 billion CFUs (colony forming units) a day.
The probiotic actually worked like magic and solved her chronic diarrhea.
Now, the nutritionist recommended that she take half her previous dose after she consumed a bottle of the potent probiotic. But because it made her feel better and she didn’t experience any side effects, she decided to continue with the original dose.
Just four days later, she experienced a sudden anxiety attack, waking up in the middle of the night with her heart racing. She also felt lightheaded and her left arm was numb, making it feel like a heart attack.
Although this subsided after a few hours, she had another similar attack three days later. This repeated for several days she would turn to the internet to research her condition, but couldn’t find the culprit because she had felt good before this happened.
She eventually found an article that stated that taking 20 billion CFUs of probiotics could lead to side effects, including anxiety and palpitations – and this patient was taking 400 billion CFUs!
However, she didn’t stop taking the probiotics at the same dose. After experiencing symptoms similar to a heart attack, she finally went to the hospital. As expected, however, she was told that “probiotics never hurt anyone.”
When the doctors couldn’t find what was wrong with her, she stopped taking the probiotics. Her symptoms quickly improved. In three days, she was cleared and discharged from the hospital.
Treatment For Heart Palpitations After Probiotic Use
Like many other conditions, treatment for heart palpitations due to probiotic use could start with identifying and treating the underlying cause.
If your heart palpitations were due to an allergic reaction, your doctor might give you an epinephrine shot (such as an EpiPen). It consists of synthetic adrenalin, which can help your muscles relax and restore your heart rate to normal.
If your heart palpitations were due to an anxiety attack, your doctor is more likely to recommend stopping probiotic use than immediately prescribing the usual medications for the condition.
However, if your doctor determines that you might have an underlying mental health condition that was triggered or amplified by probiotics, they might prescribe certain medications, including tranquilizers or antidepressants such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors).
Prevention Of Possible Heart Palpitations Due To Probiotic Use
Like the treatment options, preventing possible heart palpitations (and related side effects) involve addressing why they happen.
For example, if thinking about probiotics possibly causing anxiety can actually make you anxious, stop worrying too much. You can consult your doctor if you’re really worried that something might happen to you, but the chances of that are quite low.
It’s important to check the label or packaging of the probiotic supplement for possible allergens that could trigger an allergic attack.
For example, it’s best to steer clear of probiotics made with or from milk because that’s among the top 8 most common allergens.
Also, since the case study mentioned above showed that the patient who actually experienced anxiety directly linked to probiotics had taken massive doses, you can prevent a similar thing from happening to you by sticking to the recommended dose.
That means you definitely shouldn’t do 400 billion CFUs as she did!
Evidence Of Probiotics Promoting Heart Health
More often than not, the benefits of probiotics far outweigh the risks.
There is also more evidence of probiotics actually promote heart health than causing heart-related symptoms such as palpitations.
A 2017 literature review concluded that probiotics could help reduce the risks of developing cardiovascular diseases.
Another study using myocardial (heart muscle) injury models showed that probiotics might prevent a heart attack by suppressing oxidative stress (damage caused by reactive oxygen species).
It’s also possible that probiotics might help as a potential therapy option after heart failure.
Lastly, because researchers even recommend using probiotics as a therapy option for patients with depression or anxiety in the future, these supplements can also help prevent anxiety-triggered heart palpitations.
So, what does this mean for people who take probiotics? Probiotics are generally safe and effective for most people. However, if you experience any adverse effects after taking them, stop taking them and talk to your doctor.
Keep in mind that just because two things occur together doesn’t mean one caused the other – there may be another explanation for why you’re experiencing heart palpitations. Because there’s no direct link between probiotics and heart palpitations.
For example, it could be possible that you have an underlying health condition that is causing both heart palpitations and probiotic use. In any case, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional before making changes to your diet or supplement routine.
Have you ever experienced heart palpitations after taking probiotics?