3 Signs Your Probiotics Are Not Working and What to Do About It

If you have been taking a probiotic for 2-3 weeks and your symptoms are not improving, you’re getting sick more often, or you're experiencing side effects, then your probiotics are not doing what they should.

signs your probiotics are not working

Last Updated: May 31, 2019

Probiotics are one of the most useful supplements on the planet – but what are the signs your probiotics are not working?  And what can you do about it?

There are really three key signs that should give you a pretty clear indication that your probiotics aren’t working. 

What Are the Signs Your Probiotics Aren’t Working?

  1. Your Symptoms Are Not Improving
  2. You Are Getting Sick More Often
  3. You are Experiencing Side Effects

How Do Probiotics Work?

It may be hard to believe, but your body is covered in trillions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi.  

These microorganisms are collectively referred to as your “microbiota”, and they aren’t simply harmless little stowaways on the hunt for some free eats.  Rather, they seriously affect how your body works (as in, you need them to function effectively on a daily basis).

And this is exactly where probiotics enter the discussion.

Probiotics are any food or supplement that contain live microorganisms you find in the human microbiota.  (You can learn more about probiotics benefits here.) Most of these typically contain just a single species of bacteria, but a select few contain multiple strains of bacteria or fungi.

Don’t Forget to Read: The Benefits of Probiotics

In short, these products work to bring healthy bacteria or fungi right to the places in your body where they naturally live.  Once there, these amazing creatures settle in and start keeping your body healthy.

But how do you know that the probiotics you have been using for a while are giving you the results you need?

The Top 3 Signs Your Probiotics Aren’t Working

Your Symptoms Are Not Improving

It’s commonly accepted that probiotics can take 2-3 weeks to start working. This is because they need time to populate the area and “settle in” (so to speak).

A surefire indication that the specific probiotic your taking isn’t working is if your symptoms have not started to improve (or have even continued getting worse). 

So, if after around 4 weeks of consistent supplementation you haven’t seen any improvements, it might be time to make a change.

I appreciate that this pretty simple, but it’s true!

You Are Getting Sick More Often

Probiotics are truly amazing in that they can help treat a variety of diseases and dysfunctions within the body.  These can include gastrointestinal issues, cardiovascular and metabolic issues, and even mental health issues!

Among their most important benefits, though, is their ability to enhance immune system function.

Taking this into consideration, if you have been taking a probiotic for a couple of months and find that you have been getting sick often (either as often as before you started your probiotic, or even more often), you can safely assume that your probiotic probably isn’t colonizing your body effectively.

You are Experiencing Side Effects

And finally, while it is unquestionably uncommon, some people do experience side effects when they start supplementing with probiotics.  

The most common negative side effect associated with the majority of bacteria-based probiotic supplements is an increase in gas and bloating.  

If your probiotic contains yeast, though, you may also experience constipation and increased thirst.


And if you’ve been supplementing with probiotic-containing foods, such as yogurt or sauerkraut, you may find yourself experiencing headaches as a side effect.  This is because these foods contain unique compounds known as biogenic amines.  

These little compounds form when certain molecules in food are fermented by bacteria. Once in the body, these biogenic amines can stimulate your nervous system and alter blood flow.  This can lead to headaches!

If you’re experiencing any of these side effects then you can be sure that your probiotic isn’t working great for you.

What Can You Do If Your Probiotics Are Not Working Properly?

Luckily, if you have side effects or your supplement isn’t working, you aren’t helpless! There are a number of steps you can take make your probiotic the health-boosting powerhouse you were after!

These steps are:

  1. Make sure your probiotics have not expired.
  2. Double check your dosages.
  3. Change your probiotic strain.
  4. Change the brand of your probiotics.
  5. Increase your dosage.
  6. Start taking your probiotic with food.

Let’s check out how and why these steps may help make your probiotic more effective!

Make Sure Your Probiotics Have Not Expired

As obvious as it may sound, it’s important to note that probiotics do have expiration dates. Remember, these supplements consist of real living organisms.  As a result, if they are left too long they can die, rendering them completely useless.

So, if your probiotics aren’t doing what they should, take a quick look at the back of the packet!  

If they’re past their expiration date, pick up a new batch and see if that gets your symptoms moving in the right direction!

Double Check Your Dosages

Again, maybe a little obvious, but this still requires attention.  

I would suggest that one of the key reasons people experience side effects, or don’t get the desired result from their probiotic supplement, is because they are taking them incorrectly.

The probiotic dosage recommended by the manufacturer should be based on those found to be effective in human studies.  

Although the minimum effective dosage is yet to be confirmed through research (for all probiotic strains), it is commonly accepted that probiotic products should contain at least 100,000,000 colony forming units (CFUs) per gram.

That means that you need to consume this amount daily for the probiotic to have a positive effect.  

Compare the dosage you’ve been taking to the recommended serving size and make sure both are over the 100 million CFUs mark!  

If you’ve been taking less than you should be, and the recommended dosage would allow you to get 100 million CFUs, up your dose!  If the recommended dose on the product offers less than 100 million CFUs, consider switching to a more potent product!

Increase Your Dosage (Safely)

You know that probiotic products should offer at least 100,000,000 CFUs per gram. However, some research has shown that dosages of up to 1,000,000,000 are also effective are safe.

This means that you actually have quite a bit of room to increase your dosage without increasing your risk of side effects.  

So, if you find that you’re not getting the results you want, you may find that increasing your dose slightly and incrementally can allow you to eventually start seeing symptom relief.

Start Taking Your Probiotic with Food

Your stomach is an incredibly acidic environment.  As a result, it can actually harm some of the probiotics entering the stomach, killing them off and reducing the number that make it to your body.

But taking your probiotic with food neutralizes some of the stomach acid and has been shown to seriously help the bacteria survive.  

This ultimately makes the supplement more effective than if you took it without food because more of the probiotic actually makes it into your system, unharmed.

This simple trick could actually make all the difference when it comes to increasing the effectiveness of your probiotic supplement.

Change the Probiotic Strain

There are a number of different probiotic strains that have been shown to help treat the same issues.  

With this in mind, when it comes to probiotic supplements you actually have many different ways of achieving the same goal.

If you’re having issues with your probiotic supplement, it may be in your best interest to move to a different strain. 

You can still expect the desired results, as many strains affect the body in a similar way. There is a chance that your body is more compatible with your new strain, and you will, therefore, see much better results.

Read: Benefits, Dangers and Best Sources of Probiotics

Change the Brand of Your Probiotics

As frustrating as it is, the supplement industry can be a bit of a shady place.  Though it shouldn’t be the case, some supplements are much better than others — despite claiming to contain very similar (or even identical) ingredients.

And this holds true for probiotics, as well.

So, if you find that your probiotic supplement is causing some issues or not giving you the results you want, it could be worth changing brands.  

If you do decide to switch, make sure you do your research and take a look at some product reviews before picking your new product.  By making sure other people have actually had good experiences with a given probiotic, you set yourself up for success!

Take Home Message

If you have been taking a probiotic for 2-3 weeks and your symptoms are not improving, you’re getting sick more often, or you’re experiencing side effects, then your probiotics are not doing what they should.

There are a number of steps you can take to remedy this.  

Start by making sure your probiotics have not expired and double-checking that you’re taking the right dosages.  If those are in check then you should increase your dosages and start taking your probiotic with food.  

And, finally, if all these strategies fail, try changing the strain or brand of probiotic you are using.

If you are interested in giving some kids’ probiotics a go, then I recommend the options listed in this article: The Best Probiotics for Kids: An Expert’s Guide for Moms.

Read Next: What are the Best Probiotic Supplements for Leaky Gut? [Based on Research and Reviews]


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