IBS and Probiotics (friendly bacteria)

Your digestive system (sometimes called the digestive tract) contains trillions of the ‘friendly’ or 'good' bacteria (known as gut flora) that contribute to good health.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can knock these bacteria out of balance, causing inflammation and gas, while reducing the immune function.

Probiotics are live ‘good’ bacteria or yeast that live in the digestive tract. There are also prebiotics, which are preparations of complex sugars believed to encourage the growth of probiotics bacteria within the digestive tract. There are also symbiotics which are a combination of prebiotics and probiotics.

In large numbers, probiotics are believed to help boost the immune system and balance out the ‘bad’ bacteria, which are thought to cause negative health symptoms. Therefore, taking probiotics through supplements or within enhanced foods is believed to help maintain a good bacteria balance.

Probiotics are organisms that live in the digestive tract and are often referred to as friendly or good bacteria. In large numbers they are believed to help boost the immune system and balance out the bad bacteria.While there is a limited amount of good quality evidence for the use of probiotics in IBS, research published in 2010 explains how probiotics may have a role in helping reduce inflammation in the intestinal tract.

Probiotics are generally classed as a food rather than a medicine, meaning that they may be less rigorously tested.

As a result, they may not contain the bacteria shown on the label or have sufficient quantities of bacteria to be effective. Some products may also have bacteria that is unable to survive long enough to reach the person’s gut, making them ineffective.

While probiotics might not work for everyone suffering from IBS, they may help reduce bloating and flatulence. If you’re planning on trying them, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) suggests taking the manufacturer’s recommended dose for four weeks to see if there is any noticeable benefit.

Like all supplements, probiotics can improve one IBS symptom while aggravating another. It’s recommended that you keep a diary to help you record any changes to symptoms when introducing or removing probiotics or other foods, drink or supplements from your health regime.

Foods high in insoluble fibre, such as wheat bran, can increase discomfort and should be avoided but soluble fibre may help people who have constipation.

In addition to probiotics, other supplements used to treat IBS include fibre and peppermint oil. Available in capsules on prescription or over-the-counter, peppermint oil can relax the muscles of the bowels, helping to reduce IBS symptoms. It can cause some side effects and you shouldn’t bite or chew the capsules, as this can cause irritation.

Before changing any part of your diet, it is advisable to discuss the use of probiotics and other supplements with your GP/healthcare professional.

More information about treatments for IBS

Sources used in writing this article are available on request

Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. Our evidence-based articles are certified by the Information Standard and our sources are available on request. The content is not, though, written by medical professionals and should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands, or treatments.

Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 2 May 2018

Next review: 2 May 2021