Probiotics — Taking It Slowly

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Mindy from Too Many Jars In My Kitchen! is back, talking about the importance of introducing probiotics watchfully and slowly. She shares excellent advice for anyone new to probiotic foods or supplements, and especially those on the GAPS diet. Please feel free to ask questions or share your own experiences in the comments. Mindy is so helpful, warm, and encouraging; I’ve enjoyed sharing this space with her! –Wardee

Sometimes we have to learn things the hard way. Sometimes it takes us more than one time. At least that’s how it was for me when adding in probiotics while on the GAPS diet!

Probiotics are an essential part of the GAPS diet (a gut-healing protocol). This is how we repopulate our guts with all of the good stuff that we’ve been missing. However, as we introduce them, our bodies can experience difficulty. I hope that by sharing my story, you’ll avoid making the same mistakes I did!

Making Up for Lost Time

Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride recommends getting to a therapeutic dose of probiotics (15 to 20 billion bacterial cells/day for an adult) and then holding there for about 6 months. With this in mind, I slowly started adding probiotic supplements after a first round of the Intro diet. I started with a quarter of a capsule and increased up to 2 capsules per day without too much of an issue.

After that, I forgot about continuing to increase the amount I was taking. A few months later, it dawned on me that I should have been increasing this whole time. I realized I needed to make up for lost time, and I was determined to do it quickly!

Within a few weeks I was up to 3-1/2 capsules per day. That would not have been so bad if my body wasn’t so sensitive to increases and I hadn’t also been increasing the probiotics in my food at the same time.

Probiotics in Food

It seems obvious to mention that there are probiotics in food! I actually knew this at the time. What I didn’t think about is how the quick increase in probiotic supplements, combined with the highly probiotic foods I was beginning to eat, would cause such strong die-off reactions.

Take kefir, for instance. Kefir is highly detoxifying, especially if you let your rapidly growing kefir grains stay in your milk. Ask me how I know!

I had never made kefir before starting GAPS and didn’t know that I should get rid of my extra kefir grains. I just let them keep growing and growing, which made the kefir even stronger, which caused even more die-off symptoms.

Gradually, throughout the month or so that I was increasing my probiotic supplements while also consuming my super strong kefir, I felt worse and worse. I started getting severe headaches every day, I felt extremely exhausted, and had a rash that was spreading all over.

That’s when the dots were all connected and I realized I was going much too fast for my body and needed to slow down.

My Tips for Introducing Probiotics

After my experiences with increasing too quickly, I put together these tips for introducing probiotics. Please remember that I’m not a doctor and these are just my personal opinions.

Increase Slowly: It can be tempting to hurry up the process. I’ve found that a quarter capsule increase per week is a very manageable amount. If you aren’t as sensitive, you may be able to increase by a half capsule at a time.

Take Breaks: I found that my body did better if I didn’t continually increase. If you’re now at one capsule per day, take a few days to a week before starting to work up to 2 per day.

Watch Your Food Sources: Make sure you’re not increasing the amount of probiotics from your food too quickly, if you’re also increasing your supplements at the same time.

Pay Attention: Look for signals that you are going too quickly for your body. You might have headaches, rashes, exhaustion, or other signs. These will be unique to your own body.

So Slowly?

Not everyone is going to react the same way to increases in probiotics. Some of you are going to be able to increase much faster than I can, and will get up to your therapeutic dose in no time.

I would caution you, though, to start slow and pay attention to your body’s signals. I ignored mine and ended up feeling miserable. Oh, and I did mention at the beginning of this post that it took me two times to learn this. After a break, I started increasing my probiotics again. Even though I went slower that time, it still wasn’t slow enough for my body. Paying attention really is important!

I wanted to quickly get to my therapeutic dose, but it took some painful lessons to realize that this healing journey isn’t a sprint, but a marathon. I’ll still get there eventually, but my body will be happier and better able to handle it if I take my time.

Thanks, Mindy! Great advice. Everyone — please leave comments with your questions or to share your own experiences!

New to our GAPS series? Get up to speed by browsing past posts in this series or reading what the GAPS diet is.

This post may contain affiliate links. We only recommend products and services we wholeheartedly endorse. Thank you for supporting Traditional Cooking School by GNOWFGLINS with your purchases. Our family thanks you!


  1. says

    We only use probiotics to help stabilize upset G.I. symptoms, as a replacement for pepto. If someone gets an upset stomach, one pill a day for two to three days usually controls symptoms and clears everything up. Usually use full strength Culturelle, even for the kids. We found that the children’s strength was ineffective and after consulting with the doctor we switched to the adult strength and they respond well to that dose with no side effects.

      • Daniela Roth says

        Hi Mindy,

        Here is my story. I am trying to find the right info/help. Any advice you can provide would be greatly appreciated. I have had too many antibiotics over the years and here is where I am at currently: My tonsils are scarred. They have holes in them as well. Sometimes pockets of puss are just hanging out back there. I often feel as though I have crohn’s disease. I feel sick a lot and lately, more digestive issues than ever. In the last two and half years, my gut has caused some major issues in my life. When I am not working, I stay home cause I generally don’t feel well. I am very interested in kombucha and kefir but honestly, I am scared about the die off effects I will have. The probiotic I am currently taking has caused some hard core side effects. I am also concerned about how to prepare both correctly without poisoning myself! Any guidance would be appreciated. Thank you, Mindy!

        • Marcus Kool says

          Hi Daniela,
          of course you need probiotics to get better. I suggest to take chorella with the probitics, since chlorella detoxifies.
          And for those who used lots of antibiotics I also recommend to read and where you can find amazing information about what soil-based probiotics can do for a body. The second link is to a story where a person with chronic salmonella tried to resolve it with antibiotics – which did not work – and then took soil-based probiotics. After 10 weeks the salmonella was gone, and as a “side-effect”, also the gluten intolerance and high blood sugar were gone.
          Good luck!

    • says

      Die-off symptoms are when the body is strongly reacting to all of the good probiotics eliminating the bad bacteria in your gut. I had severe headaches most days, extreme exhaustion, and a rash that was spreading all over my body.

      I think it took place because of the combination of my very strong kefir while also increasing my probiotic supplements.

  2. Loren says

    You say you started adding probiotic supplements after a first round of the intro diet. I thought probiotics are started right from the beginning of gaps. Are you supposed to wait or something?

    • says

      Loren, I’m not completely sure whether they’re supposed to be started right away or not. I chose to not take any supplements at all when first starting GAPS intro so that I had as little possibilities for die-off as possible. Once I was done with intro, then I started adding them in. Now when I did intro a second time this past spring, I just stayed at my current level of probiotics and waited until I finished intro the second time to begin increasing again.

  3. says

    I made the mistake of forgetting to stop my probiotics during the Intro diet (I believe they are re-introduced slowly in stage 3 or 4? can’t remember). I’m convinced that’s what caused my “GAPS flu,” where I had chills, fever, nausea, and a horrible headache for about 48 hours about 2 days into the Intro diet. It was awful!

    I had been using Garden of Life Primal Defense Ultra, but then read conflicting info on whether the HSO (soil organisms) that Dr. C-M recommends are good for you, or horrible for you! I panicked, and stopped taking them altogether. Have you done any research on the pos/neg of HSOs?

    • says

      How miserable, Katy!

      I haven’t looked into the HSO and conflicting info at all. I’ve just been sticking with the Bio-Kult brand that she recommends. It would be interesting to find out more about what’s been said in relation to HSOs.

    • RG says

      I have tried both the Primal Defense Ultra and the Bio-kult.

      My experience on the Bio-Kult has been easy, smooth and soothing.

      I was on Primal Defense Ultra for six weeks. I experienced die-off that never really subsided. It was not a comfortable experience. My sense is that is is not the right probiotic for me and my system.

      When I went back onto the Biol-Kult after being on the PD Ultra, it was a relief. My emotional peace returned.

    • Jonathan says

      That sounds more like Atkins flu. If you weren’t eating carbs like you were supposed to your body was just switching to far burning.

  4. SteveandPaula Runyan via Facebook says

    We have tried them, and like the previous commenter, are great for urgent needs. We otherwise use fermented veges, no whey added, for daily use. Adding whey just makes for a lactose (read dairy) fermented food, and they have a very minimal affect on the gut.

    • Emma says

      Are you suggesting that because of the whey included in fermented veggies, the veggies are not as effective as a probiotic?

    • says

      Actually, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride recommends adding whey as an option for fermented veggies (see p. 197 in Gut & Psychology Syndrome). Now if you have a sensitivity to whey, you’re not going to want to add that in.

      I’ve found that even with my dairy issues, I was able to add in whey fairly early on. I also like to add it to slightly cooled soups for additional probiotics.

  5. Cindy Tilbe Karas via Facebook says

    I use my homemade raw kefir internally (protien shakes, ice cream…)and externally (cuts, inflamation, soars, open wounds…). I give 2 tablespoons to each of my dogs daily and they LOVE it!

    • says

      I never thought of using externally, but what a great idea! It makes sense that it would help our bodies heal on the outside too.

      I bet my dogs would love it if I shared some with them, too. :-)

  6. Angela says

    My daughter started some probiotics due to her stomach not feeling well after she was sick a little while back. After a few days she started to break out in a rash on her stomach and on her hand. I thought it may be related, and after reading your experience I think she took too many to quick.

    I was wondering how fast the rash went away for you and if there was anything that helped it. I am not big on prescription meds so I have been trying to take care of it at home instead of taking her to the Drs.

    Thanks, Angela

    • says

      I bet you’re right, Angela. My rash took a few weeks to go away completely. However, it had been there for several weeks before I figured out what was happening.

      I took a break from kefir, and decreased the amount of probiotics I was taking. I also tried to do detox baths fairly regularly. It was much better, but not completely gone About a month later, I did intro again and that is finally what cleared it completely.

      Has she had it for very long?

  7. SteveandPaula Runyan via Facebook says

    I think my comment was not all that clear. Dairy ferments are very good, but inoculating veges with lactose, allows the basics of the dairy to take over, but there is much lost in translation, so to speak.

    • says

      Mel, it’s when you reach 15-20 bacterial cells per day for an adult. The number of capsules will depend on the brand you’re using and how many bacterial cells are in each capsule. If you’re using Bio-Kult, that should be 8-10 capsules per day.

      After working my GAPS practitioner, Monica Corrado, we’ve decided my goal is to get to 6 per day since I seem to react so strongly to them. Once I hit that, I will hold it for approximately 6 months before slowly decreasing to a maintenance dose.

      Hope that helps!

  8. says

    My son is on antibiotics long term for acne. I am concerned about this. I had a chiropractor once that says it doesn’t do any good to be on probiotics until after a person is off of the meds. Is this true?

    • Tammy says

      Hi, My son had a raging case of acne and now it’s almost gone! He’s been taking Pantothen for a month and it dissolves oil before it gets to your skin. It’s an over-the-ounter supplement. He has one shrinking zit left and some fading red blotches. These blotches can take up to 2 months to fade away. So I’m thinking he’ll be acne-free with no sign of redness within the next month.

      I ordered a three month supply with no shipping and a coupon it came to $60. Well worth it! Google Pantothen if you are interested!

      hope this helps,

    • says

      I would think it would still be beneficial to at least include lots of probiotic foods while he’s on the antibiotics. Whether it’s worth paying for probiotics, your chiropractor may be right. I’m not really completely clear on that point.

      I’d also recommend looking into natural ways to heal acne rather than with antibiotics. I think being on so many antibiotics as a child, both for sickness and then as a teen for acne, contributed to a lot of my gut issues that I’m working to heal now.

      I hope you’re able to figure out a good solution, Fay!

  9. Cece says

    Thanks for the die-off warning. I gave my 3 year old son Soil Based (SBO) probiotics for the last 3-4 weeks hoping to resolve his IBS symptom and behavioral issues due to bad bacteria and candida. I started on 1 capsule per day, he practically acted as if he had alcohol and were very active. Needless to say, I was so scared to see the reactions from SBO. I backed down the dose to only 1/2 capsule per day for a few weeks but his bowel movement has been loose and runny. I’ve been maintaining 1/2 capsule for a while and am afraid to increase his dose. How do you know when you are ready to increase the dose? should I maintain at 1/2 capsule until his loose/diarrhea stop or continue to increase after a period of time?

    Have you ever heard of SBO probiotics by Bodybiotics? Both my son and I are extremely sensitive to this probiotics. Not sure if it means that the probiotics are actually working or that I am not tolerating the probiotics. For me I developed depression, brain fog, and extreme fatigue while on the Bodybiotics SBO. I ended up stopping the probiotics all together due to my sensitivity to SBO.

    • says

      Hi Cece,

      It’s amazing how quickly we can react to probiotics! It can be hard to know when it’s time to move on with the probiotics. For me, I’ve found it’s better for me to wait until my die-off symptoms have gone away before increasing again. That’s a hard one as far as knowing when to increase with your son. My guess (and I’m not a doctor!) would be to hold off until his die-off symptoms have disappeared. When I tried to push through my symptoms at first, they ened up much worse. I found that increasing by a 1/4 capsule was the best for me.

      I haven’t heard of those probiotics. Have you tried any others and still have the same reactions? I’ve only used Bio-Kult so far. I have similar die-off reactions if I increase my probiotic foods too quickly.

      I hope you have success with this!

  10. says

    Thanks so much for this article! I just started GAPS yesterday. I bought a great ebook on how to do the intro part, but I haven’t seen anything on the probiotics yet so I am happy to find some good info here. I am a homeschooling, stay at home mamma, so I can’t afford to be out of commission. Trying to do this as carefully as possible! Thanks again:)

  11. Gina Love 17 says

    I have been taking the Lady Soma Probiotics for about 1 year now and I can’t belive the difference it makes in my digestive health! My OB/GYM reccomended Lady Soma. I have had stomach/instestinal problems my whole life and I have diagnosed with IBS. since taking the probiotics I have seen alot of improvement.

  12. Pmudge says

    I have found that using an ionic detox footbath in conjunction with the right probiotics (SYNTOL) helps enormously to rid the body of toxic die off which is the reason for brain fog. SYNTOL have ingredients ,digestive enzymes , vitamin C and prebiotics to help rid the body of toxins from die off.It is counter productive to not use methods cleanse the body of toxins from die off while on a probiotic supplements and diet program.There are many probiotics and some (most) blends are ineffective for candida sufferers.Only specific probiotic strains work against candida. You need to drop all sources of sugar from your diet. This includes all fruit. Also no foods with vinegar and yeast extracts.Note that even veggies like potatoes and carrots have significant sugar content.With the ionic detox footbath take 10 sessions of 30 minutes in 20 days.Then take a break. You will see the dead candida floating in the footbath as well as a yellow- orange colour which is cellular debris.You should take a broad range multi vitamin tablet with significant levels of for each appropriate vitamins and minerals.
    Hope this helps. Candida disease is very debilitating and can ruin someone’s life for decades if not diagnosed and treated. Unfortunately the mainstream medical profession is generally ignorant, missing the connection between yeast disease and leaky gut syndrome, dysbiosis, fibromyalgia,hemorrhoids, diverticulitus, and many other side effects as a result of candida disease.
    Good Luck
    Phil Mudge

  13. mack chapman says

    what should i do if I am lactose intolerant? Also, if I use a wholefood processor like Blentec should I still cut back on vegatables as suggested in the GAPS program?

  14. linda says

    I started making non-dairy kefir and didn’t know how powerful it was. I was pouring it on food etc, probably 1/2 cup a day. Terrible headache, rash, arthritis etc. Researched and found it was the kefir so I backed off to 1 tsp day, then 1tsp every other day. But then I started adding sauerkraut, ha, thinking it would be okay being different probiotics…terrible headache, arthritis again. I think I am going to stay off the kefir. My daughter and husband have a shot glass a day without problem.

  15. Kadel Scott via Facebook says

    Wow, I had no idea probiotics could have a negative impact like that. I have been trying to figure out why Malachi is having such a hard time. I chalked it up to teething (which I’m sure is not helping). Now I know it could be the probiotics! Thank you for posting all this great info you find.

  16. Gary Sellars says

    I think that you guys with all the reactions to probiotics need to consume a high quality aloe vera product and/or Manuka Honey.

    Both will give you much healing relief. The aloe is cheaper than the Manuka but Manuka has standards and there are no standards in the aloe industry and it’s a crap shoot. Verapol® I know is good and George’s Aloe has a good reputation.

    I sell the Verapol®

  17. Sarah says

    I am so happy I’ve read this. I have been feeling like I have one to many ailments of late and a few years back I went to a nutritionist who took me off of lots of different foods and then put me on pre and pro biotics. As this helped me significantly back then, I thought I would try to go on probiotics again with a less extreme diet. However, I’ve overdone it. I started on 20,000 particles a day (1 in the morning and 1 in the evening). I thought that die off was normal and that getting headaches, sore throats, aches and pains as a result of it was normal, but apparently, according to what some of you have written, this is not necessary. If I start in small doses and work my way up, I won’t feel unwell from it. So my question now is – should I come off of them completely, wait until I feel well again and then start on 5000 and work my way up? Any advice would be appreciated.

  18. Dan says

    Over three years now I’ve been slowly increasing – not consciously just kind of following my taste buds – intake of pro. B. Now one any given day I eat a half a litre of milk kefir and a handful or two of sourkraut. My appetite has over that period dropped dramatically – presumably as my body could better assimilate foods – and so did my waist – there doesn’t seem to be much at all sitting in my digestion tract. My skin cleared up dramatically. And I’ve lost all taste for sugar and very sweet fruits.

  19. Tina says

    I experienced some nausea when I started Prescript Assist probiotic/prebiotic after being on IV antibiotics for two days. It went away within a couple days and I was fine after that.

    My son, on the other hand, had some heavy duty probiotics his brothers were taking for gut healing and he was violently ill. It didn’t strike me as die-off at all. He also eats and drinks enough probiotics regularly that die-off would be somewhat surprising to me. I suspect he had some other sort of reaction to some ingredient in the probiotics. He had less than his younger siblings usually get.

  20. Melissa Carson Cooper via Facebook says

    How do these tips apply to someone with Ulcerative colitis? I take the raw garden of life probiotics that are 100 billion with 34 different strains. I notice when I take breaks I have flare ups.

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