Probiotics are living bacterial strains that promote health in the digestive tract. A probiotic supplement can help decrease painful symptoms commonly linked with irritable bowel syndrome.
There are millions of different bacteria strains, and they all play a specific role in your digestive health. Taking the wrong probiotic strain won’t harm your health, but it probably won’t help achieve symptom relief.
This article will teach you what a probiotic is, which strains of probiotics are recommended for IBS, and what you can do in your diet to maintain a happy gut!
What is IBS?
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a health condition that refers to altered digestive health. Most people experience a change in bathroom habits, which causes constipation or diarrhea and urgency after eating. It also paired with bouts of gas, bloating, and cramping.
Researchers are still trying to understand better how IBS impacts health. In the last decade, they discovered a link between IBS and the gut-bain axis (a communication channel between your digestive tract and brain). They confirmed the brain would process gut signals differently than someone who doesn’t have IBS.1
Difficulty interpreting signals can lead to mood disorders, and people with IBS and chronic constipation are more likely to suffer symptoms of depression and decreased quality of life. Fortunately, there are changes that you can make that can improve your symptoms. These include stress management, following an IBS-friendly diet, and using probiotics as needed.1
How Do I Know if I Have IBS?
There is no medical test to confirm IBS. You should still get examined to rule out other more serious conditions with similar symptoms. This can include ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, and microscopic colitis.2,3
If all these conditions get ruled out, but symptoms persist, it can indicate a positive IBS diagnosis.
What Is a Probiotic?
Probiotics refer to live bacteria strains scientifically proven to improve health outcomes.3 They have been linked to helping improve symptoms of IBS, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, mastitis in breastfeeding women and may help with migraine prevention.4
These powerful health agents have naturally been found in fermented foods across history, and now they are conveniently packaged and sold as oral or drinkable supplements.
To benefit from probiotics, you must consume massive amounts of healthy bacteria to ensure some survive stomach acid. Probiotic supplements can have 1 to 50 billion colony-forming units (CFUs). CFUs are the number of live bacteria or colonies in the product.4 Naturally fermented foods have some available probiotics, but not nearly as many as a concentrated supplement.
- Activia drinkable yogurt has 1 billion live probiotics that can improve IBS symptoms.
- Bio K IBS Probiotic supplement has 50 billion.4
Do Probiotics Help Relieve IBS Symptoms?
Probiotics contain unique strains of live bacteria that serve different roles in your gut. You should take a scientifically proven product that is targeted to help alleviate your symptoms. Every year the Probiotic Chart is updated (for Americans and Canadians) and can help you learn which proven product can help you manage your health.
Here are eight brand-name probiotics proven to help IBS. This data is pulled from the 2023 Probiotic Chart:4
- ActiviaⓇ drinkable yogurt.
- AlignⓇ chewable tablets, including extra strength.
- Bio KⓇ IBS Pro capsules.
- Bio KultⓇ capsules.
- FloradaptⓇ Gut Comfort capsules.
- Good BellyⓇ capsules and drinkable products.
- Ideal BowelSupportⓇ capsules.
- Nature's Lab intensive GI.
Follow the dosage instructions on the product. Some brands recommend one capsule per day, while others suggest four. If you need help figuring out which product is best for you, follow up with a registered dietitian or a pharmacist.
How Long Do I Take A Probiotic?
You should not rely on a probiotic to manage your IBS indefinitely. Most products should be consumed for a minimum of 10 days and can be used for up to 30 days. After this point, you should start to feel better and prioritize other lifestyle strategies to maintain a healthy gut.4
If you see no improvements after thirty days, that strain may not be your best option. You can try a different product or take some time to reassess your current habits. A probiotic supplement may not do much if you are not managing other areas of your health.
To improve IBS symptoms, you should also manage stress levels, add more fiber to your diet, get high-quality sleep, and include regular exercise.
Are There Any Risks Of Probiotics?
Probiotics are not recommended for anybody who is immunocompromised. If you have any doubts, ask your doctor if probiotics are safe.5
Are Food Sources Of Probiotics Good?
Fermented foods contain trace amounts of several different bacteria strains. They can help you maintain a healthy gut, but they are not potent enough to improve IBS symptoms or pull you out of a flare-up. You should still include them, but recognize that a probiotic supplement can be a better option when your symptoms are very bad. Popular options of fermented foods include:
- Kombucha: fermented tea beverages that come in various flavors. They are slightly fizzy. (Read more on beverages that can help with IBS!)
- Sauerkraut: fermented cabbage which can be high in salt. Consider rinsing thoroughly in water to remove any excess.
- Kimchi: a Korean blend of fermented cabbage and other vegetables. Again, it can be high in salt, which may or may align with your other nutrition goals.
- Yogurts: choose an animal-based or plant-based product that says “contains live probiotic cultures” on the label.
- Kefir: a drinkable yogurt that is a by-product from animal-based dairy.
- Tempeh: a fermented soybean product popular in plant-based eating.
Some of these foods, especially the cabbage options, are very high in fiber. They can cause bloating and gas in people who are sensitive to these symptoms. With repeated exposure, these symptoms should be less frequent and severe.
Work With A Registered Dietitian
Gut issues can be uncomfortable and persistent. Some days you can feel in control and on top of your IBS, but that can flip overnight. Working with a registered dietitian specializing in gut health can help you regain control over your health.
Nourish has a team of remote dietitians who can help; they are all covered by insurance. Click here to learn more and start working with a dietitian today!
- Raskov, H., Burcharth, J., Pommergaard, H. C., & Rosenberg, J. (2016). Irritable bowel syndrome, the microbiota, and the gut-brain axis.
- Camilleri M. (2021). Diagnosis and Treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Review.
- Harper, A., Naghibi, M. M., & Garcha, D. (2018). The Role of Bacteria, Probiotics and Diet in Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
- Probiotics: What You Need To Know. (n.d.). NCCIH
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