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.

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.

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 accredited by the PIF TICK, the only UK quality mark for trustworthy health information. The content however 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.

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Information written by the talkhealth team

Last revised: 2 May 2018
Next review: 2 May 2021