Studies suggest that many people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome feel that symptoms such as diarrhoea and bloating are improved after a course of probiotic supplements. In my experience, probiotics are a helpful remedy for IBS in some cases, but not in others.  Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a hard and fast rule on this.  However, if your Irritable Bowel Syndrome has followed a bout of gastroenteritis or a severe stomach upset or you have recently taken a course of antibiotics, then probiotics are more likely to be beneficial.

If you have bloating, then the best probiotic to choose is one which does not contain a prebiotic such as fructooligosaccharide (FOS) or lactulose.  This is because prebiotics feed your bacteria.  This is great news if you are taking a probiotic to build up your gut flora population but it can also become food for the methane-producing bacteria that are already happily living in your gut.  The more comfy the environment and plentiful the food supply, the more your gut flora will increase.

What Is the Best Probiotic for IBS?

Your gut flora is unique.  Research estimates that we have up to 100 trillion microorganisms in our gut, with between 300 and 1,000 different species – and that’s just the bacteria we know about.

Now, don’t freak out, you need these guys to break down carbohydrates and short-chain fatty acids.  They also are closely involved with our immune system, allergic responses and they maintain our gut wall so we don’t leak partly digested foods into our system.  Personally, I believe the best probiotic for Irritable Bowel Syndrome is one which is a multi-strain.

The reason I recommend this is because of the uniqueness of our individual flora – we just don’t know which species we have in our gut or how many.  So it’s more helpful to copy that diversity by introducing multiple strains.  Although you can take a probiotic in tablet form, you can also include probiotics in your diet.  Consider adding kifir, natural yogurt (without the sugar added) and fermented foods.  And don’t forget, you can make your own yogurt and kifir.

Choosing a Probiotic Supplement

When it comes to choosing a probiotic, there are a number of things to look out for.

  1. Good, general-purpose probiotics contain the Lactobacillus and bifidobacteria types of probiotic. Some studies suggest single-strain products may be preferable to multiple-strain products because storage can affect the way probiotics interact, and one strain may become less effective when combined with another. Other studies, suggest that multiple strains are preferable because of the uniqueness of our individual gut flora. My recommendation is to take a multiple-strain probiotic but ensure the product is backed by research so you know the strains work and store well together.
  2. Check the strain and number of live microorganisms included in the supplement on the product’s label – some probiotic supplements are better quality than others. The recommended concentration of probiotics is at least 1 billion; this may be described as the CFU or colony-forming units on the label. If the concentration isn’t high enough, you may not experience any improvements to your symptoms or any of the health benefits that probiotics are thought to provide. Be aware when comparing product information, as CFU at manufacture may be different to the number of viable organisms 6-months after manufacture (for example). Responsible manufacturers are now starting to include this product information. The decline is due to variables such as heat and moisture which degrade probiotics, making them less effective over time.  Refrigerating your probiotic will minimise this decline.
  3. Also, check whether your preferred supplement contains prebiotics.  Although prebiotics and probiotics work together to maintain healthy gut flora, the prebiotic can cause bloating in some people. Look for the ingredients inulin, lactulose or FOS.
  4. Avoid probiotics that have been processed using a centrifugal method. The process of centrifuging can damage the probiotic, check the label for this information or consult the manufacturer of the product.
  5. Check the label for storage information.  Keeping them cool, out of light, and in a container that is tightly sealed, will protect the longevity of the product.

How Long Should You Take Probiotics For?

The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends that if you do choose to take probiotics, then take them for at least 4 weeks and according to the manufacturers instructions.

Your body knows exactly what it needs to heal itself, so be aware.  If after taking your probiotic consistently for 4-weeks you don’t notice any change, consider changing to a different brand with different bacteria strains or stop taking it.

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