This post is the second in the ‘Best for IBS’ series of posts. Be sure to also check out the first post, Best Diet for IBS .
You’ve heard about the benefits of probiotics for IBS, but you aren’t quite sure where to start.
It’s a good idea to do a little research first as not all strains of probiotics work well for treating IBS.
Read on to determine the specific bacteria strains you should use for your symptoms.
Bacteria and your gut
Did you know that there are ten times more bacteria in your gut than cells in your body? You could say that we are more bacteria than we are human.
With more than 100 trillion bacteria making your gut their home, it should come as no surprise that the health of your gut influences so much of your overall well-being. Your gut is a complex ecosystem that is the basis of your immune system. If not for the good bacteria in your digestive tract, you would be open to infection from bad bacteria on a regular basis. I’ve written more about how the gut works here.
When you take a probiotic supplement, it contains types of specific bacteria that are known to benefit our digestive tract.
However not all types of bacteria are good for all conditions. In fact, many conditions respond better to specific strains, while others can make a condition worse. If you have IBS that results in constipation, the recommended bacteria strain is very different than if you have IBS that gives you diarrhea.
A healthy community of gut bacteria is a diverse community. Too much of any one strain can cause an imbalance. With that in mind you should choose your probiotic supplement wisely. (1)
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live microorganisms with health benefits. Microorganisms are tiny organisms that can only be seen under a microscope.
In order for a product to be labeled as a probiotic, two factors must be present:
- They are a live microorganism.
- They must provide a health benefit.
Although people often think of bacteria and other microorganisms as harmful “germs,” many microorganisms help our bodies function properly. For example, bacteria in our intestines help digest food, destroy disease-causing microorganisms, and produce vitamins. Many of the microorganisms in probiotic products are the same as or similar to microorganisms that naturally live in our bodies. (2)
The idea of probiotics was introduced in the early 20th century when Nobel laureate Elie Metchnikoff, known as the “father of probiotics,” came up with the theory that ingesting beneficial microorganisms could improve people’s health. (3)
Where are probiotics found?
In the past, probiotics could be easily found in dirt and in the food that grew in the ground. When we ate food raised in healthy soil, we would benefit from these healthy bacteria. Even playing and working in the dirt would provide a health benefit. (4)
However, the regular use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides have killed off the good bacteria in the soil. As a result, unless we actively search out foods that have been grown in organic soil we do not naturally receive these healthy bacteria.
Another source of natural probiotics is fermented food. In the past many cultures would ferment food to naturally create a longer shelf life, not even realizing the healthy bacteria they were also making.
Examples of fermented foods include:
- Beet Kvas
Today, we no longer eat many of these traditional food sources of probiotics.
When was the last time you ate sauerkraut?
Eating fewer fermented foods as well as chemicals killing good bacteria in our soil has resulted in a culture that is severely lacking in beneficial gut bacteria.
How do you know you have enough beneficial bacteria?
Often a bad strain of bacteria in the gut is blamed for IBS. While this may be the cause for some people, another possibility is that there aren’t enough good bacteria present. This is called deficiency dysbiosis.
Not having enough good bacteria can cause the same symptoms as having too many bad bacteria.
In order to figure out how diverse your bacteria are you need to be tested. These tests include:
- This is the most common way to figure out what type and how many bacterial cultures are in your colon.
- Only the bacteria that survive outside the body can be identified.
- Although it is not perfect, this is the best way to identify the bacteria found in your gut.
- Metabolites occur after bacteria has digested (metabolized) specific fibers.
- Urine metabolites can not be used to confirm if there are certain bacteria present. Instead, they point us in the correct direction.
- At the time of this writing, genetic testing is still a work in progress.
- With genetic testing, the amount of good and bad bacteria in your gut would be compared to an average. Hopefully a pattern would emerge of the bacteria present in or missing from certain illnesses.
- Once the research on this testing is complete, genetic testing may become the best way to diagnose digestive system disorders.
Where do probiotic supplements come from?
As natural sources of probiotics are becoming less available, more supplemental forms of probiotics are appearing on pharmacy shelves. These pills and powders are the new way to get beneficial bacteria into our guts.
Supplemental probiotics come from:
- Fermented foods
- Breast milk
- The human digestive tract
Popular strains of probiotics for IBS
The following supplements have been shown to help reduce the symptoms of IBS – however not all of them are suitable for everyone. Read on to find out which you should try and which you may want to avoid.
Good for: relieving abdominal pain
Does not: help with diarrhea or constipation
- As far as probiotics go, this is the celebrity bacteria. You will it in most of the probiotic supplements available.
- It can help alleviate abdominal pain in IBS. (5)
- It does not help with diarrhea or constipation. (6)
- People who are suffering from inflammation or are intolerant to histamines should avoid it as it will worsen your symptoms.
Bifidobacterium Infantis (B. Infantus 35624)
Good for: relieving abdominal pain, gas and bloating
- This probiotic is marketed under the brand name Align.
- When mixed with other probiotics it relieves and manages symptoms such as abdominal discomfort, gas, and bloating. (7)(8)
- It can also help children with IBS. (9)
Saccharomyces cerevisiae (S. cerevisiae)
Good for: relieving constipation
- Technically, this is not a probiotic (or bacteria) species. Instead, it is a beneficial strain of yeast. It is believed to have been originally isolated from the skin of grapes. Historically, it has been used for winemaking, brewing, and baking.
- It can be helpful treating irritable bowel syndrome where constipation is the predominant symptom (IBS-C). (10)
Good for: Children with IBS
- Lactobacillus reuteri is a normal resident of our digestive tract although not everyone has it.
- Children who were given strains of lactobacillus reuteri were found to get sick less often and have a stronger immune system. (11)
- It helps reduce abdominal pain in children suffering from IBS. (12)
Check out this post for more information on probiotics.
Who should take probiotics?
While all of us would benefit from a regular dose of beneficial bacteria, people who have GI problems will find their health will improve when they take a probiotic supplement.
However, if you have been diagnosed with IBS, probiotics alone will not be enough to fix your health.
Make sure you check out the first article in our series ‘Best for IBS’:
The Best Diet for IBS.
Find other blog posts on IBS here.
If dietary changes not change your symptoms, I recommend working with a knowledgeable practitioner who is able to run and interpret stool samples.
Now, I want to hear from you.
What types of probiotics have you found to help alleviate your IBS symptoms?
Also published on Medium.