Managing irritable bowel syndrome is often a case of trial and error as there is no simple, effective medication or definitive treatment. However, there is increasing evidence to support the use of probiotics for IBS sufferers. Probiotics are widely available as yoghurts, supplements or fermented milk drinks but can these tiny microorganisms really re-balance your gut bacteria and treat debilitating IBS symptoms? Let’s find out…
Are all probiotics the same?
No, there are lots of different types of bacteria and different products will provide varying doses, strains and quality. To have a beneficial effect the ‘friendly bacteria’ need to survive all the way to the lower bowel and any worthwhile probiotic should contain at least 1 billion bacteria per dose.
What types of symptoms can probiotics help with?
Scientific studies over the last few years have shown positive results for certain probiotics and IBS, including reductions in pain, bloating, flatulence and bowel habits.
How much, how often and for how long should I take probiotics?
Always follow the advice on the product label regarding refrigeration and storage to ensure that sufficient amounts of the probiotic bacteria survive long enough to be beneficial to the gut.
A probiotic should be taken for at least a month whilst monitoring the effect on symptoms. If you don’t see any improvement after this time consider trying a different product.
What is the most effective probiotic product?
A recent review* of all the available research into probiotics for IBSconcluded that Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 is currently the most effective strain. It was shown to reduce abdominal bloating, pain and improve bowel habits after four weeks. Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 is marketed as Bifantis and produced by Procter and Gamble in a supplement called Align. Align is not yet available in the UK but you can buy it from the US – free shipping and $50 (about £30) for 49 capsules on www.quick2you.com
Other products that have been researched and shown positive results include:
- Activia yoghurts (bifidobacteria and lactobacillus strains) – several well-conducted studies have shown benefits in IBS, including reflief of bloating and constipation
- VSL#3 powder supplement (combination of several bifidobacteria and lactobacillus strains) – shown to reduce wind, bloating and diarrhoea
What if I am lactose / dairy intolerant?
You would need to choose a suitable capsule or other supplement rather than a yoghurt or fermented milk drink. Align is lactose, soy and gluten free. VSL#3 (www.vsl3.co.uk) contains traces of gluten, soy, lactose and skimmed dehydrated milk.
*Brenner DM, Moeller MJ, Chey WD, Schoenfeld PS. The utility of probiotics in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review. Am J Gastroenterol. 2009 Apr;104(4):1033-49.