Why use probiotics in IBS? One of the key factors on digestive health is the balance between the ‘good’ or ‘friendly’ bacteria and the ‘bad’, disease causing kind in your gut. The ‘good’ bacteria are thought to help digest your food and generally promote good intestinal health by a variety of mechanisms, such as competing for food and space with ‘bad’ bacteria and regulating the immune system’s actions within the intestines to reduce inflammation.
There are two main ways in which you can boost the levels of these ‘good’ bacteria. The first option is to take prebiotics, which are non-digestible ingredients that help to encourage the growth of the ‘good’ bacteria already present in your gut.
Alternatively, you can take probiotics, which are food or supplements containing high doses of ‘good’ bacteria to increase the numbers by adding to the bacteria already in your gut. The latter, option, using probiotics for IBS, has shown real promise.
Although there is still some debate around the issue, many studies have shown the effectiveness of probiotics in IBS to relieve the abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation.
The most effective probiotics for IBS seem to be those containing Bifidobacterium infantis and other strains of bifida bacteria. Other common probiotic strains such as acidophilus and lactobilli have shown to be less effective in the treatment of symptoms, although they may still help in some cases.
Probiotics for IBS come in many forms making it easy to take. There are yoghurts containing probiotics, as well as concentrated probiotic supplements such as small drinks like Actimel or Yakult or specific tablets/capsules. It is important that you consult your doctor before beginning to take these supplements to ensure that they won’t interfere with any other medications.
It is also important that you choose a supplement containing the right kind of probiotics, so make sure you look out for those containing bifida bacteria, or a mixture of strains as they are the most likely to relieve your symptoms. When trying a supplement or probiotic-containing food it is best to take it regularly for 3-4 weeks to best judge if it helps your symptoms; if you see no change it may be worth trying a product containing a different strain before discounting probiotics for IBS completely. If your symptoms worsen or new symptoms develop it is probably best to stop taking them to ensure that they aren’t triggering your IBS further.
Two probiotic preparations currently have a reasonable body of medical evidence to support their use. Many others have come on to the market but have no evidence of benefit. Given the enormous variety of bacteria to choose from, it is not surprising that even slight differences in the strains or numbers of bacteria in the preparation used may lead to major differences in effect.
Probiotics in IBS is a new field and new research is being done all the time. An expert who keeps up to date with this growing field can help you. Please call us on 020 7183 7965 for a private consultation.