- A study on the effectiveness of homemade yogurt for treating IBS found that eating 24 ounces (3 cups) of homemade yogurt daily leads to significant improvements in IBS symptoms.
- Yogurt contains probiotics (health-promoting bacteria). It’s thought that its high content of probiotics is responsible for its positive effects on IBS symptoms.
- Yogurt contains a moderate amount of lactose. If you’re lactose intolerant, choose yogurt that is labeled “lactose-free.”
If you’re living with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you’ve likely tried several different strategies to manage your symptoms. For many people with IBS, changes to their diet can lead to significant symptom relief. One such change is increasing the amount of probiotics in the diet.
Probiotics are good bacteria that, when eaten in the right amounts, can have benefits for human health. Since it’s thought that a disrupted gut microbiome (the community of microorganisms living in your gut) could contribute to the development of IBS, probiotics could help with IBS management.
Yogurt naturally contains live microorganisms thanks to how it’s made, and many yogurts on the shelf now have added probiotics. But is yogurt good for IBS? Read on to learn about the research behind probiotics and IBS and which yogurt is best for IBS.
Is Yogurt Good for IBS?
One of the reasons yogurt is thought to be effective for improving IBS symptoms is because it contains live microorganisms. Yogurt is made by combining heated milk with two types of bacteria, Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus.
The bacteria convert the lactose found in milk to lactic acid, which helps it develop its tart flavor. If the yogurt has a “live and active” cultures seal on the label, it’s considered a source of probiotics (good bacteria).
A pilot study published in 2020 looked at whether homemade yogurt could effectively treat IBS. The study included 339 people with IBS who ate 24 ounces (3 cups) of homemade yogurt for 400 days. The study found that 91% of people in the study achieved remission (i.e., got control of their symptoms) within about 180 days. 96.4% of people got complete relief from their IBS within 300 days. However, this study only included 17 people as a control group (people who did not change their dietary habits). It’s unclear whether including more people in the control group would have led to different results.
Another study looked at the effects of Activia yogurt on people with constipation-predominant IBS (IBS-C). The yogurt used in the study contained the bacteria Bifidobacterium animalis DN-173 010. They found that people who ate two containers of Activia yogurt daily for six weeks had significant improvement in overall discomfort, reduced bloating, and increased bowel movement frequency (i.e., constipation improved).
While the results of these studies are promising, larger and more well-controlled studies need to be done to definitively say whether yogurt is good for IBS.
Probiotics and IBS
Probiotics are live microorganisms that when taken in the right amounts, provide benefits to human health. Since research shows that changes in the gut microbiome (the community of microorganisms living in your gut) might be a contributing factor to IBS, it’s thought that taking probiotics could be a way to relieve IBS symptoms.
A systematic review and meta-analysis of 33 randomized controlled trials involving 4,321 people found that probiotics containing multiple types of bacteria and Bifidobacterium species effectively improved IBS symptoms. They also found that probiotics containing Lactobacillus species effectively reduced abdominal pain and gas while improving the overall quality of life for IBS patients.
In addition to studies looking at the effects of probiotics on all types of IBS combined, there are also studies looking at the effects of probiotics on the different subsets of IBS.
Probiotics and IBS-C
A systematic review and meta-analysis of 17 randomized controlled trials involving 1,469 people with IBS-C found that people taking probiotics had more frequent bowel movements, improved stool consistency (which meant that the stools were softer and easier to pass), shorter gut transit time (i.e., the amount of time it took for waste to move through the gastrointestinal tract) and no serious negative effects.
Probiotics and IBS-D
A randomized controlled trial published in 2021 looked at the effectiveness and safety of a probiotic containing several different types of bacteria in 51 people with diarrhea-predominant IBS (IBS-D). The patients in the study took either a mixture of Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Streptococcus thermophilus or a placebo (something with no therapeutic effect) for eight weeks.
The study found that the people taking the probiotic mixture had significantly improved IBS symptom severity, reduced pain, and increased quality of life. There was no difference in negative side effects between the probiotic and placebo groups. Overall, the study showed that a probiotic containing Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Streptococcus thermophilus was well-tolerated and effective for treating IBS-D symptoms.
What’s the Best Yogurt for IBS?
To determine if yogurt is good for IBS, it’s important to look at its probiotic content. Not all yogurt contains probiotics. This is because, to be a probiotic, the microorganisms must have been shown in research to benefit human health and must be consumed in the right amounts. While most yogurt contains live microorganisms, they may not contain enough of them to be effective at relieving IBS symptoms.
Since the probiotics in yogurt are thought to be beneficial to people with IBS, the best yogurt for IBS is yogurt with a label that says “live and active cultures.” This means that the yogurt contains at least 100 colony-forming units (a measurement of how many bacteria there are) per gram.
Yogurt and FODMAPs
Some people with IBS find relief by following a low FODMAP diet. FODMAP stands for “Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols.” FODMAPs are types of carbohydrates that are not fully digested. This means they move into the large intestine undigested, where gut bacteria rapidly ferment them. For people with IBS and extra-sensitive guts, this can cause abdominal pain, gas and bloating. It can also cause diarrhea or constipation for some people with IBS.
If you’re following the low FODMAP diet to manage your IBS symptoms, you’ll need to be careful about which types of yogurt you include in your diet. Regular cows-milk yogurt contains moderate amounts of lactose. Lactose is the sugar found in dairy products and is considered a FODMAP. While yogurt contains less lactose than milk due to the fermentation process used to make it, some people may still be sensitive to the moderate amount of lactose in yogurt. This is called lactose intolerance.
Not everyone with IBS has lactose intolerance. If you’re not sure whether you can tolerate regular yogurt, try eating a small serving size to see how you react. If you don’t get IBS symptoms, you may be able to tolerate larger portion sizes of yogurt. Because it’s strained before packaging, Greek yogurt has less lactose and may be better tolerated.
If you get symptoms even with a small amount of yogurt, choose yogurt labeled “lactose-free” to ensure it doesn’t worsen your IBS symptoms.
It’s also important to pay attention to the ingredient list to ensure the yogurt doesn’t contain high FODMAP ingredients like honey, high FODMAP fruits, or other high FODMAP ingredients. In many cases, it’s best to stick to plain yogurt that does not have added ingredients. That way, you can add your own low FODMAP fruits and sweeteners.
So, is yogurt good for IBS? While the research is still emerging, some small studies show that yogurt can help with the management of IBS symptoms. It’s thought that this is due to the probiotic content of certain yogurts.
Since yogurt contains moderate amounts of lactose, some people with IBS may not be able to tolerate regular yogurt. If that’s the case, choose Greek yogurt (which is lower in lactose) or yogurt that is labeled “lactose-free.”
If you’re choosing a yogurt to help with IBS, be sure to choose yogurt with the “live and active cultures” seal. This seal enables you to identify yogurt products that contain high enough amounts of probiotic bacteria, which can help your IBS.
Managing IBS With a Dietitian
If you’re living with IBS and need help figuring out your dietary triggers, consider working with an IBS registered dietitian. Nourish offers personalized nutrition counseling and accepts the most popular insurance carriers. If you’re interested in taking the next step in your health journey, consider booking a virtual appointment with a registered dietitian.
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