Probiotic Options for IBS Sufferers


Unfortunately, Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is an all too common intestinal health issue. This is a long-term (chronic) disorder that affects the human digestive system. IBS can be painful, uncomfortable and unpredictable. It can also cause severe and spontaneous bouts of stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation. Some people suffer greatly with IBS whereas others have lesser, milder symptoms.

How Probiotics Help

Bifidobacterium infantis is one of the probiotic supplements that can help to ease IBS symptoms. Those who have tried it have reported a lessening of abdominal pain, bloating, and irregular bowel movement. IBS can occur when there's an imbalance in gut bacteria, and probiotics help to redress that imbalance. What happens is that probiotics restock the gut with good “friendly” bacteria which replace the “bad” microbes. The idea is that once you restore the natural balance, your health improves accordingly.

Forms of Probiotics

There are two ways to get probiotics into your system. Food is one and supplements are the other. Food seems the best, most natural way on the face of it, but it's perhaps not the ideal choice. The problem with probiotic food is that you can't know for sure of the exact strains and amounts. The other issue with food is that there's a lot of mistrust on the manufacturers packaging [1].

Here's why there's mistrust with supermarket foods containing probiotics:

  • Product may not contain all the bacteria stated on the label
  • Product may not contain any of the bacteria stated on the label
  • Product may not contain enough bacteria to have the desired effect
  • Bacteria may not be able to survive long enough to reach your gut

The general advice is to take supplements rather than foods containing probiotics. It seems that food is just too unpredictable for treating an unpleasant condition like IBS.

Clinical Trials for Probiotics and IBS

Clinical studies into the treatment of IBS with probiotics have been small scale and few in number. Furthermore, the results between these trials are mixed. One of these studies showed some promising results. In the trial, researchers gave IBS patients a combination of probiotics and prebiotics (food for probiotics). The patients experienced a significant improvement in areas of abdominal pain, bloating, and constipation. A different study showed that prebiotics had no significant effect. You can see why the scientific community at large doesn't give too much weight to small scale studies.

Not All Probiotics Are Effective for IBS

The first thing to note is that probiotics are not all the same. Science refers to the different types as “strains.” Whatever the science says about the effect or ineffectiveness of probiotics on IBS, those who suffer will want to form their own conclusions. Anyone with IBS has nothing to lose by trying probiotics, especially if all other treatments have failed them.

OK, let's look at some of the probiotic products that claim to help treat the various symptoms of IBS.

IBS-D (D for Diarrhoea)

Frequent bouts of diarrhea can be a huge problem for sufferers of IBS. This is a condition called IBS-D. One probiotic product that claims to help with IBS-D is Saccharomyces boulardii. This is a distinct type of probiotic microorganism because it's a tropical yeast (type of fungus). It's the only yeast that is “friendly” enough to be deemed a probiotic. The reason it's unique is because it’s the only probiotic that isn’t a type of bacteria.

People have used saccharomyces boulardii to treat and prevent diarrhea for a long time. This includes various infectious types as well [2]:

  • Rotaviral diarrhea in children
  • Diarrhea caused by gastrointestinal (GI) take-over (overgrowth) by “bad” bacteria
  • Traveler's diarrhea
  • Diarrhea associated with tube feedings
  • Diarrhea caused by the use of antibiotics

As pointed out earlier, saccharomyces boulardii is effective for general digestion problems. This includes irritable bowel syndrome too. It can also help with inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBD), Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and Lyme disease. Other conditions it's used for include a bowel disorder called Relapsing Clostridium Difficile Colitis, and bacterial overgrowth in short bowel syndrome.

So far the science says that there is insufficient evidence to rate the effectiveness of saccharomyces for IBS. That doesn't mean it's not effective, it just means that the science hasn't done enough testing to prove it. Anyone who has IBS and has treated it effectively with Saccharomyces boulardii won't care what the science says.

Identify Your Symptoms

Irritable bowel syndrome comes with numerous symptoms and not all people experience them all. One person might only have issues with diarrhea whereas for someone else it may be constipation or chronic bloating.  Remember to seek the probiotic supplements that pertain to your symptoms. So for Diarrhea your first stop will be Saccharomyces boulardii. Let's take look at the other options.

IBS-C (C for Constipation)

If your IBS causes you issues with constipation, then you have something called IBS-C. In this case you will want to look at ‘bifidobacteria & fibre' (formerly known as OptiBac Probiotics). Some sufferers find that this strain of probiotic is of particular help in relieving their constipation. There are also reports that it promotes more regular bowel movements [3].

IBS and Bloating

Anyone who suffers will tell you that bloating is a common symptom of IBS. This is particularly the case in women. One of the main causes of bloating is dietary bulking agents such as fibre. It's thought that it causes gas which then worsens the symptom [4].

The probiotic product you will want to look at for bloating is called ‘One Week Flat' (formerly ‘For a Flat Stomach'). This is a seven day supplement that comes in sachet form. Although it has a focus on treating symptoms of bloating, it also supports gut health more generally.

IBS-A (A for Alternating Digestive Symptoms)

Irritable bowel syndrome – alternating type (IBS-A) is a sub-type of IBS. Sufferers of IBS-A experience all the usual symptoms of IBS but without a constant bowel habit. In other words, someone with IBS-A can find themselves dealing with both incidents of diarrhoea and constipation. This ever-changing nature of bowel symptoms makes it difficult to find approaches that bring about symptom relief [5].

All the symptoms of IBS are problematic, but there's nothing worse than the unpredictable nature of IBS-A. You can sometimes see the condition referred to as IBS-M (M for mixed type), but it's the same thing. IBS-A means you could have constipation for a few days and then switch to diarrhoea once the bowels get moving again. The probiotic supplements you might want to try for this is ‘Bifidobacteria & Fibre' (formerly OptiBac Probiotics ‘For maintaining regularity'). The other is ‘Saccharomyces boulardii' (formerly ‘For Bowel Calm'). You just take each of these as the symptoms warrant.

Although many doctors use antibiotics as a way to treat IBS, antibiotics can sometimes cause more issues than they cure. It all depends on the patient and their specific condition of course. It's becoming clearer than ever that the best way to treat any imbalance in the human gut is the natural way, with probiotics. Since 2012, science has linked IBS to an overgrowth of bacteria in the gut [6].

Summing Up

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a huge problem in modern society. Just in the UK alone up to 20 percent of the population suffer with the condition. It's a familiar story in other parts of the developed world too. In general, women are twice as likely to suffer with IBS as their male counterparts are. Ongoing abdominal pain and discomfort can be pretty debilitating and sometimes embarrassing. IBS is not something anyone wants to put up with any longer than necessary.

It's important that you identify your symptoms before you seek a probiotic solution. If in doubt, seek the advice of a medical professional. This way you will not waste time and money by investing in the wrong product(s).

Resources

  1. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/probiotics/Pages/Introduction.aspx
  2. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/332.html#Description
  3. http://www.optibacprobiotics.co.uk/faq/which-probiotics-are-for-ibs
  4. http://www.aboutibs.org/site/signs-symptoms/bloating
  5. http://ibs.about.com/od/glossary/g/IBSA.htm
  6. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120525103354.htm

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