Probiotic supplements
Adding probiotics to your diet may help to relieve symptoms of IBS and improve your quality of life.

Do Probiotics Help IBS?

If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you know just how disruptive the symptoms can be to your daily life. The good news is that consuming probiotics may help to relieve symptoms of IBS and improve your quality of life.

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that have a positive effect on your health, particularly your gut health. You might be thinking isn’t bacteria bad? While we usually associate bacteria with sickness, your body is full of a mix of good and bad bacteria, and the key is to maintain a balance. When there is a balance between good and bad bacteria, the bad weaken whereas the good nurture us and make us healthy.

The balance of bacteria is determined by a number of factors including genetics, age and lifestyle choices. Emotional stress, frequent antibiotic use, environmental factors, and poor food choices can shift the balance in favor of the bad bacteria. When bacteria are not balanced, various diseases of the intestinal tract can result, including IBS.

When it comes to probiotics, they are classified as “good” bacteria. The root of the word probiotic is actually derived from the Greek words ’pro’, standing for "promoting," and ’biotic,’ meaning "life."

Probiotics can be found in certain foods and in supplements. They have been found to prevent and treat diseases, such as IBS. Additionally, they help to strengthen the immune system, prevent allergies, and colds, and also improve urinary health and skin conditions.

How do Probiotics Help People With IBS?

IBS is a chronic disease that causes discomfort and pain. Probiotics help in shipping the food you consume through your stomach by affecting nerves that control gut movement, and this is how they ease IBS symptoms. Although research on this subject is complex due to many different bacteria types, the results support their positive impact in relieving IBS symptoms.

When taken by IBS sufferers, probiotics have shown the ability to:

  1. Decrease bloating.
  2. Reduce gas by balancing the intestinal flora.
  3. Ease abdominal pain.
  4. Ease overall symptoms of IBS.

Probiotics manage to make such a positive impact due to increasing the quantity of friendly bacteria within the intestinal flora, more specifically, the large intestine.

  1. Probiotics eliminate small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), which is assumed to be one of the causes of IBS as it causes pain, diarrhea, gas and bloating since the small intestine should normally have low amounts of gut bacteria.
  2. Probiotics decrease the amount of unhealthy bacteria.
  3. Probiotics strengthen the lining of the intestines.
  4. Probiotics reduce abdominal pain due to the nurturing effects that massage the nerve receptors, which are found in the intestinal lining.
  5. Probiotics alleviate the condition known as the leaky gut, a condition characterized by the damaged small intestine lining, which results in toxic waste being ‘leaked’ to intestines and bloodstream.
  6. Probiotics reduce visceral hypersensitivity, which is an altered sensation in response to physiological stimuli, causing discomfort and even pain when such pathological conditions take place.

Which Probiotics are Best for IBS?

Probiotics are present within the body after natural birth, as a newborn gets Lactobacillus, Bacteroides, Bifidobacterium and even Escherichia coli while passing through the birth canal. Not surprisingly, those whose first breath took place after a C-section are often found to have weaker immune systems and poorer gut health, as they were not exposed to these bacteria at birth.

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1. Lactobacillus

Not surprisingly, Lactobacillus strains, more specifically L. acidophilus, L. plantarum and L. rhamnosus from more than 50 different types of these bacteria are found to help against IBS. Treatment containing all of these strains has been found to result in more frequent bowel movements. More specifically, L. plantarum has been found particularly helpful with bloating and gas.

2. Bifidobacteria

This type of bacteria is found in the gut only days after birth. There are around 30 strains of Bifidobacterium, and they make up the most of the good bacteria in the colon. Conclusively, they are thought to be the strongest indicator of gut health. Studies have shown that B. infantis, B. longum, and B. bifidum alleviate the discomfort caused by IBS symptoms and improve the condition. Furthermore, Bifidobacterium infantis is shown to reduce pain associated with IBS significantly.

3. Enterococcus Faecium

A healthy gut contains this type of bacteria, while it is not found in individuals that suffer from IBS.

4. Leuconostoc Mesenteroides

Leuconostoc mesenteroides is a potent strain that boosts the immune system as it protects the mucosal barrier that is found throughout the intestinal system.

5. Streptococcus

Streptococcus thermophilus is a less studied probiotic yet one of the earliest isolated and widely used in dairy products that have been found to improve acute colitis and therefore may possibly alleviate IBS symptoms.

Interestingly, it is often found in combination with Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, and Bifidobacterium lactis. Also, clinical studies have shown that the Streptococcus salivarius strain is also effective for IBS sufferers.

A Note on Choosing a Probiotic for IBS

Most importantly, when choosing probiotics, make sure the supplement contains live bacteria and always store it according to manufacturer’s guidelines. For example, most manufacturer guidelines may suggest refrigerating because most probiotics are sensitive to heat and moisture making the probiotic's dosage weaker and almost ineffective. Again, it is important to read the labels and if you're not sure which probiotic you should buy, always ask a pharmacist or your doctor.

IBS and Probiotics: The Takeaway

It has been recommended that a probiotic supplement should be used for a month to see if there is any improvement. If it’s ineffective, a different bacteria type should be used. Science will surely make further progress in this area and make new formulas since as much as 60 percent of gut bacteria remains unknown.

Clinical studies have shown that the effect of probiotics can be fortified by taking them along with prebiotics, as these nourish the existing good bacteria and allow them to proliferate in the intestines. Although there is a need for further research in this area, the existing research suggests that probiotics have a potential role to play in treating individuals with IBS.