Saturday, January 22, 2011

Before You Take Probiotics for IBS

Although probiotics are certainly the current darlings of the food marketing and vitamin supplement industries, it is important to be an educated consumer before you try probiotics for IBS. Because probiotics are generally considered safe, ads are popping up everywhere and probiotics are being added to foods ranging from baby formula to yogurt. Given today’s climate of media-fed fear regarding super-bugs and staph infections that kill, what’s not to like about something labeled “friendly bacteria”? Well, buyer-be-informed. Here are the things you need to know about probiotics for IBS.

What Are Probiotics?

Our intestinal systems contain a large amount of bacteria, and optimal health calls for a balance among the various types. Probiotics are sometimes called “good bacteria” because in large numbers they are thought to boost the immune system and help to balance out so-called “bad bacteria”-- those that are disease-causing or who in large numbers contribute to an inflammatory state that results in physical symptoms. The thought behind the current marketing frenzy is that ingesting increased numbers of probiotics through the use of supplements or probiotic-enhanced foods will help maintain a favorable balance of bacteria.

Will They Help My IBS?

Don’t be fooled by those clever ads. Most of the health claims regarding probiotics have not yet been supported by research. Although probiotics have been shown to help in the treatment of childhood and travelers' diarrhea, as well as the inflammatory bowel diseases, there is only limited research for the effectiveness of probiotics in treating IBS symptoms. Only one particular strain of probiotic, Bifidobacterium infantis, has been demonstrated to reduce symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, passing of gas, incomplete evacuation and straining, in patients with IBS. There was also evidence that taking the specific probiotic Bifidobacterium infantis helped to normalize the ratio of cytokines (proteins associated with inflammation) within the lining of the gut.

The Bottom Line

Probiotics, particularly in the form of Bifidobacterium infantis, may be worth trying. Before you do, remember to:

Check with your doctor: Probiotics may be harmful to individuals who have weakened immune systems or suffer from serious chronic illness.

Read the label: Make sure the product contains at least 1 billion cells per serving.

By Barbara Bradley Bolen, PhD


O’Mahony, L., McCarthy, J., Kelly, P., Hurley, G., Luo, F., Chen, K., O’Sullivan, G., Kiely, B., Collins, J., Shanahan, F. & Quigley, E. “ Lactobacillus and bifidobacterium in irritable bowel syndrome: Symptom responses and relationship to cytokine profiles” Gastroenterology 2005 128:541-551.

Ringel-Kulka, T. & Ringel, Y. “ Probiotics in irritable bowel syndrome: Has the time arrived?” Gastroenterology 2007 132:813-816.

Whorwell, P., Altringer, B., Morel, J., Bond, Y., Charnonneau, D., O’Mahoney, L., Kiely, B., Shanahan, F. & Quigley, E. “Efficacy of an Encapsulated Probiotic Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 in Women with Irritable Bowel Syndrome” American Journal of Gastroenterology 2006 101:1581–1590.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post! Too few people realize the potential benefits of B. Infantis, especially amongst women and children.

    For more information, check out - I especially recommend the section detailing the impact of B. Infantis supplementation on women and infants