Probiotics are currently all over the internet, and the topic is especially hot amongst people with irritable bowel syndrome.
We already know what probiotics are, since everyone is talking, and everyone says you should be taking them, and guess what? Everyone is right. Having the right bacteria is key to having numerous health benefits. Such good little fella bacterias are linked to weight loss, improved digestive system, better skin, enhanced immune system to name just a few.
One of the most important roles that probiotics a.k.a good bacteria, play in our bodies is lining the parts of the gastrointestinal tract, where they help digest the food we consume, produce vitamins and fight off bad bacteria that bring us diseases. Furthermore, scientists now suggest that our gut flora actually determines the body fatness among others. But to understand the connection between probiotics and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), let’s first explain what IBS really is.
What is irritable bowel syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic disease that is characterized by abdominal pain or discomfort that is usually followed by bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea. It is more common in women than men, however, 9-23% of people worldwide are affected by IBS. What causes this disorder is yet to be discovered, however, some suggest that changes in the digestive system, infections, bacterial overgrowth, and food sensitivities play a part. IBS is diagnosed when you have abdominal pain at least one day per week for three months, followed by symptoms such as a change in stool frequency, stool appearance, or pain related to the bowel movement. Apparently, there are four subtypes of IBS, and they are divided as follows:
IBS – D: Predominant diarrhea
IBS – C: Predominant constipation
IBS – M: Alternating between diarrhea and constipation
IBS – U: Unspecified, for people that do not fall under the above categories
How do probiotics work with irritable bowel syndrome?
Recently, a lot of research was conducted to explain the way probiotics might help to treat and manage irritable bowel syndrome. Remember when we said that our gut has both good and bad bacteria? The levels of the good bacteria present in our body keep our gut healthy. A number of symptoms of the IBS can be linked to a change in the gut flora. In fact, people with IBS showed lower levels of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria (the good guys) and higher levels of E.Coli and Streptococcus a.k.a the bad guys. Moreover, 84% of people with IBS, experienced bacterial overgrowth in their small intestines, which can be attributed to many of their symptoms. In the case of people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, probiotics were suggested to improve the symptoms as follows:
1.Stopping the growth of disease-causing bacteria
2.Slowing down bowel movements
3.Reducing gas production by balancing the gut flora
4.Helping fight inflammation
5.Enhancing the immune system’s barrier functions
In a study conducted in 2007, one group of IBS patients were given a probiotic solution consisting of B. bifidum, B, lactis, L, acidophilus, and L. casei while the other group was given placebos for 8 weeks. After the study, the abdominal pain of people who were given the probiotics reduced by 64% while the group who was given placebos had pain reduced by 38%. However, it is not surprising that 50% of people with IBS get better with either probiotics or placebo, because there is a strong connection between the gut and the brain.
So, do probiotics work or are they just a myth?
More research conducted in 2013 shows that the benefits of probiotics when it comes to irritable bowel syndrome lean more towards the side of the myth than reality. Another group consisting of 76 people was divided in half, with one half eating dairy products with probiotics twice a day, while the other half consumed one without probiotics twice a day. After four weeks, the symptoms of the IBS had improved by 57% for the probiotics group and 53% for the non-probiotic group. When it comes to irritable bowel syndrome, no one can really say if probiotics are a myth or a medicine by now. However, given that probiotics are beneficial for a lot of other things, you might want to give them a try, if your doctor gives you the nod. A good start would be by adding yogurt with active cultures to your diet or taking probiotic supplements in pill or powder form. Until there is more research on the topic, you should always consult your healthcare provider first to check if probiotics work for you.
* This information is meant to supplement, not replace advice from your doctor or healthcare provider and is not meant to cover all possible uses, precautions, interactions or adverse effects. This information may not fit your specific health circumstances.
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