Probiotics and IBS- Are They Beneficial?

What’s the deal with probiotics? 

You might ask, should I take them to help manage IBS symptoms??

In fact, a lot of people take them to help improve gut health and manage IBS side effects like diarrhea and constipation. 

Let’s find out more about probiotics and what the current evidence suggests. 

WHAT ARE PROBIOTICS?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines probiotics as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host”-

Basically, these are live bacteria that you ingest that can be helpful to our bodies (aka good bacteria). 

FUN FACT: 

Probiotics were first suggested in the early 20th century by Elie Metchinkoff. He theorized that lactic acid could prolong life and consumed sour milk daily (yogurt). He observed that eating foods containing lactic acid bacteria had a beneficial effect on health. 

Since this discovery, research on probiotics continues.

Currently, probiotics have been suggested to help in the following ways:

  • Prevent growth of pathogenic bacteria (bad gut bacteria- e.coli, c.diff)
  • Boost immune function by protecting the gut barrier function and providing anti-inflammatory effects (makes your gut nice and strong)
  • Improves interactions between the gut and brain 

A systematic-review from 2019 summarized findings from current research on probiotics and irritable bowel syndrome. Presently, there is not sufficient research or evidence to determine exactly which probiotic strains are most beneficial in helping with IBS symptoms

There are mixed reviews in regards to taking a single-strain probiotic vs multi-strain probiotics. Optimal dosage of probiotics has also not been determined nor has it been determined the duration of probiotic use needed to see a positive impact. 

Current research has suggested that long-term use of probiotics may be more beneficial than short-term and that a multi-strain probiotic may provide the best symptom relief when it comes to IBS. Most studies completed have looked at lactobacillaceae and bifidobacteriaceae. Several other strains are being identified to investigate further to see the potential effect on IBS and symptom improvement: 

-Akkermansia
-Bacteroides
-Faecalibacterium

    Overall, a majority of studies have found positive impacts on taking probiotics to potentially help alleviate IBS symptoms and I don’t see any hurt in giving it a try (especially if it could help you!). 

    When selecting a probiotic make sure to look for the following: 

    • Language that indicates there are live and active bacterial cultures
    • CFUs (colony forming units) - this tells you how many live and active microorganisms are in one serving of the probiotic
    • A probiotic with multiple strains-  if you have questions about which strains might be best for you, make sure to talk with your provider and/or a registered dietitian nutritionist (RD/RDN). Keep in mind- new research is emerging!!
    • Third-party testing- choose a reputable brand that gets testing to evaluate for purity, potency and composition. Keep in mind- most OTC supplements are not regulated by the FDA

    You can also get probiotics in foods like yogurt and kefir. If these are foods you can tolerate, give them a try! 

    Dale HF, Rasmussen SH, Asiller ÖÖ, Lied GA. Probiotics in Irritable bowel syndrome: An up-to-date systematic review. Nutrients. 2019;11(9):2048. doi:10.3390/nu11092048 

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