Gas, bloating and constipation are a pain in the butt to deal with. Literally. And if you’re one of the 25 to 45 million Americans who deal with IBS on a daily basis, you know exactly what we’re talking about.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome, known as IBS, is fairly common. In fact, it’s the most common functional gastrointestinal disorder in the world, affecting around 10% to 15% of the worldwide population. If you have it, you know that it can really make day to day life miserable. In Canada, for example, which has one of the highest rates of IBS in the world, IBS has become one of the most common causes for work and school absenteeism.
But despite the millions of people who suffer from its effects, we’re still no closer to finding a permanent cure for IBS. That being said, there has been a lot of research on potential causes and treatments for IBS. What we know so far is that there are two main potential causes of IBS: food allergies and an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut.
The first, food allergies, can be discovered with testing and alleviated by eliminating problematic foods. As for the second, an overgrowth of bad bacteria, the easiest way to treat this is by adding probiotics to your diet.
Probiotics are simply living microorganisms, usually bacteria, which are very different from those bacteria that cause illness. By repopulating the gut with good intestinal bacteria, certain probiotics can be helpful in improving the symptoms of IBS – like reducing gas, bloating and abdominal pain – and helping to maintain normal, healthy GI function – like regular bowel movements.
Curious how? Read on to find out how probiotics help with IBS!
How Probiotics Help IBS
Taking probiotics increases the number of “good” bacteria in the intestine, and it is believed to reduce IBS symptoms through some of these effects, or all of them:
- Reducing unfriendly bacteria in the gut. The good bacteria go to work warding off the bad bacteria and act as antibiotics against other bacteria, which helps eradicate bacterial overgrowth.
- Reducing intestinal permeability and strengthening the intestines’ lining. Probiotics line the surface of the gastrointestinal tract and stop harmful organisms from reaching it…sort of like when Gandalf stood in front of the Balrog and proclaimed, “You shall not pass!“
- Normalizing motility. The result? More regular, less painful bowel movements.
- Reducing abdominal pain. Probiotics have a positive, helpful effect on nerve receptors found in the intestinal lining.
What are the Best Probiotics for IBS?
Once you start looking into probiotic strains, you’ll soon find that there are a whole lot of them! And each of these probiotics strains vary in their effects on different health conditions with some being great for oral health, some being ideal for candida overgrowth and some uniquely beneficial for IBS.
Obviously, you want to choose the best types of probiotic strains for your particular needs. So which probiotics strains are best for IBS? Here’s a roundup of bacteria to look for when choosing the most effective probiotics for IBS.
Bifidobacterium infantis 35624
The bifidobacteria species in general have a very beneficial effect for people who suffer from IBS but this particular strain of B. infantis is well-researched specifically for IBS, and it has consistently shown itself to be particularly helpful in the treatment of IBS symptoms, most notably reducing bloating and gas and increasingly regularity.
Lactobacillus plantarum 299v
Another probiotic strain that’s proven effective for IBS is L.plantarum 299v. This strain of L. plantarum has been shown in clinical trials to reduce symptoms of IBS. After the four-week trial period, the patients who received 299v had a decrease in abdominal pain, bloating and the frequency of stools.
It’s interesting to note that other strains of L. plantarum were not beneficial for people with IBS, but were primarily helpful for reducing patients’ cholesterol levels – more evidence that choosing the most suitable probiotics strains is vital.
Bifidobacterium lactis BB-12
This is likely the most studied probiotic strain in the Bifidobacteria family. In one of the most well-documented trials, this strain has shown itself to be especially helpful in promoting well-formed, regular bowel movements and in the relief of constipation. It also supported gut health overall.
Another randomized, double-blind study involved more than 100 women with IBS who frequently experienced constipation. They were given a supplement that included Bifidobacterium lactis BB-12®. As a result, the time it took food to travel through their gut to become a bowel movement was shortened. These patients no longer experienced regular constipation, and their bowel movements were more normal.
Maybe constipation isn’t as much of a concern to you as the other extreme: diarrhea. If you’re prone to chronic and frequent diarrhea, you’ll want to get to know a particular bacteria strain known as b.coagulans.
This is one of the most powerful strains of probiotics and it has been shown to decrease the symptoms of IBS by promoting gastric juices, stimulating gastric motility, and alleviating bloating and abdominal pain. A specific strain of b.coagulans known as b. coagulans MTCC 5856 was found in a study to significant decrease IBS symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, bloating and abdominal pain.
Other Probiotics for IBS
The above are our top picks for probiotics for IBS but there are also other strains that are worth mentioning.
Bifidobacterium bifidum MIMBb75
This strain of B. bifidum was isolated initially from the feces of healthy humans. This doesn’t sound very appetizing, but it doesn’t need to be. There are few studies, but one specific clinical trial had such robust results that it gave researchers a reason for hope that more IBS symptoms can eventually be controlled with this strain.
In this trial of 120 patients, the results showed that the number of IBS symptoms experienced after the treatment period was lowered significantly in the group that received this strain. The symptoms showing the most improvement were feelings of urgency, bloating, as well as pain and discomfort. More than 50% of the patients who received probiotics in this trial showed improvement.
Bifidobacterium lactis DN-173-010
This is another B.lactis strain that helps relieve particularly the constipation symptom of IBS. A large double-blind study saw increased frequency of stool in patients who had previously had constipation.
Interestingly, this strain appears to work well in adults, but not particularly so in children. This is a good example of how strains can differ, and that not every strain will help everyone. You need to use the strain that will benefit you the most.
LGG Max & VSL#3
These similar multi-strain supplements have been extremely well-tested. Each of them has been observed in three clinical trials. Their results have not been as robust as those in studies of other strains, but they do show promise.
VSL#3 has shown good trial results in lessening gas and abdominal bloating. Abdominal distention and the duration of abdominal pain significantly decreased in the probiotic group. They also showed increases in pain thresholds for rectal distention. Bowel habits were improved, as well.
LGG MAX has consistently lowered global IBS scores overall, meaning that it helps fight symptoms across the board. However, it was not able to improve significantly single parameters like cramps, bloating or gas. So it does have positive effects, but they are not robust.
This is a probiotic consisting of several strains. They are Bifidobacterium bifidum CUL20, Bifidobacterium lactis CUL34 and Lactobacillus acidophilus CUL60 & CUL21.
In a clinical study over eight weeks of treatment, patients who received the strain and not the placebo had an improved global score, indicating that is was of help to the patients. It found significant improvements, specifically in bowel movement and pain.