Best Probiotics for IBS


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There are trillions of bacteria inside the human body. For the most part, these bacteria are harmless. But within those numbers there are some bacteria that are helpful, and some that cause illness.

We consider these bacteria to be “good” or “bad.”

Having the right balance of bacteria in the gut is vital for a healthy body. When the gut flora falls out of balance, bad bacteria can multiply, leading to illness.

For people with IBS, when bad bacteria flourish, it can cause a serious flare-up of symptoms.

Probiotics, a form of friendly bacteria, are believed to keep the balance of bacteria in check, and help maintain a healthy gut.

Keeping your gut flora in order is a part of managing IBS. Probiotics could potentially be a way to maintain that balance. This article will cover the best probiotics for IBS.

If you’re in a hurry, these are the recommended probiotics for IBS:

Last update on 2021-11-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

But before you add probiotics to your treatment, it’s important to understand what they are, how they work, and what probiotics might be right for you.

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics consist of live bacteria.  They are intended to protect the gut against harmful bacteria, either by working as an antibiotic, or strengthening the support of the digestive tract.

When taking a probiotic, the number of “good” bacteria in the gut increases.

However, there are many types of bacteria in the human gut, and we haven’t identified what all of them are, nor what all of them do.

This can make introducing new (good) bacteria tricky, because it’s hard to be sure exactly what it needs to target.

What Research is there Supporting Probiotics for IBS?

Research into treating IBS with probiotics is ongoing. Although there are some positive initial results, plenty of work is still needed.

IBS is a complicated illness, with many causes and symptoms. This makes it difficult to determine which probiotics are best used, and when.

However, there are definitely signs that probiotics can help to provide an effective treatment for IBS. 

A 2015 study used a randomized, placebo controlled method to monitor the effect of probiotics on those suffering with IBS. The results showed that use of a probiotic reduced pain and other symptoms, compared to those who had taken the placebo.

In 2021, further studies into the use of multi-strain probiotics for those suffering from diarrhea-predominant IBS also showed promising results. Those using probiotics showed significant improvement compared to patients given the placebo.

However, at this stage there are still questions as to how these probiotics work, and how great a benefit they can actually provide. A 2018 review agreed that while the early data was promising, there’s still much that we need to learn, comparable to a 2014 review with similar results.

While this may seem like a mixed result, many are hopeful. In some instances, probiotics do appear to alleviate symptoms of IBS when compared to a placebo. It just isn’t always quite so clear.

Because of this, it’s important to ensure that if you intend to add probiotics to your treatment plan, you choose the right ones. Sometimes this takes trial and error to find the right probiotic for you.

Are There Any Side Effects to Taking Probiotics?

Current research indicates that probiotics are largely safe to consume, with limited potential side effects. 

However, there are a few things to keep in mind before using probiotics.

Tests have shown that probiotics can contain hidden allergens, which could cause a reaction in those with a food intolerance.

Probiotics are adding bacteria to the gut. This can, potentially, cause a worsening of IBS symptoms, or induce a flare-up. Gas and bloating are both potential side effects for those first using probiotics. These symptoms may ease as the gut gets used to the probiotic.

Probiotics in the U.S. are classed as dietary supplements, rather than medication. That means the manufacturing and marketing of them is less closely regulated. Always buy probiotics from trusted manufacturers, and be sure to research the brand before using.

Largely, probiotics are safe to use, even if they aren’t always effective. However, if you’re on other medication, suffer from allergies, or use a low FODMAP diet to handle IBS symptoms, speak to a medical professional before trying probiotics.

Choosing the Best Probiotics for IBS

There are two things that have to be considered when choosing a probiotic to treat IBS. 

First, you must consider the type of probiotic, and how well researched it is. There are various probiotics available, and although some are well-researched, others have little supporting evidence.

Second, it’s vital to consider the type of IBS being treated. Probiotics which have shown impressive results in easing certain symptoms will be no use against other forms of IBS.

Probiotics, as with most IBS treatments, are not “one size fits all.”

Probiotics for Diarrhea

IBS associated with frequent diarrhea is known as IBS-D. Probiotics for IBS-D may help to regulate bowel movements, and alleviate abdominal pain. Research into probiotics to treat IBS-D and diarrhea has shown some positive results.

Saccharomyces Boulardii is a friendly yeast which has been identified as a good probiotic for those suffering from diarrhea. This is a transient probiotic, which passes through the gut rather than colonizing it.

A 2014 trial found that combining Saccharomyces boulardii with the fiber ispaghula husk improved quality of life in patients struggling with IBS-D.

Probiotics For Constipation

When IBS is primarily related to constipation, this is known as IBS-C. Painful and distressing to live with, those suffering from IBS-C may consider a probiotic as a form of treatment.

Bifidobacterium lactis was shown, in a 2015 study, to support gut health, and promote regular bowel movement. 

A 2016 study tested multi-strain probiotics and their effects on IBS-C. The results of the study were positive, with more patients responding to the probiotic than the placebo. This study tested strains of the Lactobacillus species, including L.acidophilus, L.reuteri, L.plantarum, and L.rhamnosus.

Based on these studies, if you’re suffering from IBS-C, a probiotic containing stains of the Lactobacillus family could provide relief. 

Best Probiotics

The majority of research has shown two families to consider strains from: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. 

When it comes to brands, there are a few worth considering:

  • VSL#3 – VSL#3 has been shown as safe and effective at treating IBS in some studies. It contains multiple strains of the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium family.
  • Alflorex – A single strain probiotic containing only bifidobacterium infantis 35624, Alflorex is a popular probiotic choice. This strain has been shown to be superior in placebo trials, causing a reduction in symptoms.

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Probiotics and a low FODMAP diet

A low FODMAP diet is often recommended to IBS patients learning how to manage the condition. FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates, found in common foods, that the body struggles to digest.

A low FODMAP diet will remove foods that are high in these carbohydrates, before slowly reintroducing them. The aim is to determine which FODMAPs cause an individual reaction, and should be avoided.

If you’re starting a low FODMAP diet, then avoid using probiotics for the first time. As they alter the flora of the gut, it’s difficult to get a clear picture of which FODMAPs may be causing a reaction.

Probiotics can also cause an increase in symptoms, particularly through the first few weeks of use.

Those already using probiotics prior to starting a low FODMAP diet don’t need to stop. 

Conclusion

Research indicates that probiotics may help alleviate symptoms of IBS.

However, it’s important to use the right ones for your IBS. Consider your own symptoms, and what you’re hoping to achieve with a probiotic.

Remember, everyone has a different balance of bacteria in their body. No probiotic is guaranteed to work with your unique microbiome.

There’s still much to learn about probiotics and how they affect our gut. If you do intend to add probiotics to your treatment plan, speak with a medical professional to find out what’s best for you.

Check out these related articles on probiotics and IBS: