What are the best probiotic supplements for IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and similar gastrointestinal (GI) disorders are more common than you might think.

However, it is not entirely clear what causes the symptoms. As such, researchers have held an interest in studying normal bacteria in the intestines.

Quick facts at a glance:

  • Over 1,000 kinds of bacteria live in the GI tract. There are plenty of body cells, but there are ten bacteria cells for each one.
  • Most of the bacteria in the intestine are unknown and do not have traditional means of identification.
  • Some of the bacteria in the intestine are important to ensuring our intestines and GI tract act normally; some are also beneficial to our overall health. Other types, however, can cause inflammation, infection or just a general feeling of illness.

What is currently known about intestinal bacteria in irritable bowel syndrome?

Research shows that bacterial communities in IBS patients are different than those without the condition.

However, it is not well defined what "normal" should be. It's not known whether the intestinal microbiota have changed due to intestinal problems or if they cause the condition.

Can changing microbiota affect symptoms?

Evidence shows that bacteria composition in the bowels plays a part in how the intestinal tract develops and functions. It seems that changing the balance of good versus bad bacteria can lead to an improvement of the effects of chronic GI symptoms. The reverse is also true.

For instance, infection in the GI tract (acute gastroenteritis) may lead to chronic IBS symptoms that continue even after recovering from the sickness that prompted the symptoms in the first place. This is a condition known as post-infectious IBS.

What are probiotics?

The word probiotic refers to live microorganisms that provide positive health benefits when given in sufficient amounts; in addition to this, they offer beneficial nutritional value.

As such, they're considered to be food supplements that can be found either in food products or prepared as powders, pills or capsules for over the counter use.

Can probiotics help with a GI disorder like IBS?

For many years, the beneficial effects that probiotics offer have been well known, but the information available on its effects are still not well known. Early studies were not well done. It's only recently that researchers have worked on getting better data.

Such studies have suggested that taking certain probiotics daily can improve intestinal function and reduce symptoms like bloating and general abdominal discomfort.

What are the best probiotic supplements for IBS?

Not all probiotics are the same, and not all supplements will benefit everyone in the same way. Depending on other conditions you have, some could even prove to be dangerous; because of this, you should always speak with your doctor before starting any new supplement regimen.

Though they're rather low-risk, it is possible to develop side effects. This might include additional gas and bloating, looser stools and genital itching.

Regardless of the supplement you take, you should not expect it to work overnight.

Have a doctor observe your symptoms over several weeks; if you don't feel better, or if you are feeling worse, stop immediately and discuss a new plan with your physician.

There's no reason to continue a treatment that is not working; fortunately, there are other probiotics that your body may react better too.

Since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consider probiotics to be safe supplements, they do not require approval prior to marketing.

While this doesn't necessarily mean you'll run into bad products, it does mean that strong claims about its effects are necessarily true. It is up to the consumer to research studies on each of the products prior to taking them.

Here's an interesting video related to IBS:

Because it is hard for consumer to decide what is true and what is marketing, we have decided to put together a list of the 5 best probiotic supplements for irritable bowel syndrome:

Lactobacillus Plantarum 299v

This rather useful subspecies of bacteria was first isolated in 1986 by a scientist in Lund Sweden working with healthy human colon tissue.

Of all the probiotics on this list, this one has had the most trials -- four in total -- with the best end results. However, there was a study that showed minimal effect in its patients.

The Swedish company Probi AB holds the rights to the subspecies, and the French Rosell-Lallemand Institute helped support the most recent study on the probiotic.

For this study, there were 200 patients from India suffering from GI issues. Half of the group was given the supplement over a period of four weeks, and these patients saw an improvement in their abdominal pain, frequency of stools and a reduction in bloating.

Most patients felt improvements rather than the fraction of the half that had the placebo.

Though it's hard to find products from Probi AB without living in Scandinavian countries, it is possible to purchase Lactobacillus Plantarum 299v.

Bifidobacterium bifidum MIMBb75

Initially isolated from a sample of healthy human feces, B. bifidum MIMBb75 is now a part of the Italian University Milan -- specifically its Industrial Microbiology Culture Collection. Only one clinical study met the criteria for this supplement, but it was able to take its place on this list thanks to rather robust results.

There were 120 patients who participated in the treatment trial study over a period of four weeks. There were scores for IBS that were determined based on several symptoms of the illness, and they were significantly lower in the group that had taken the supplement compared to the low rate of success for those in the placebo group.

In general, there was an improvement in 57 percent of probiotic patients compared to the 21 percent who felt improvements from the placebo group.

The most improved symptoms included distension and bloating, the sense of urgency as well as pain and discomfort. The study was funded by the German company Naturwohl Pharma.

While there are not yet any commercial products that exclusively rely on this strain of probiotic in their ingredients, you can still take advantage of the benefits of the genus as a whole with.

Bifidobacterium infantis 35624

In Ireland, this bacterial strain was first removed from a sample of healthy human intestines. Back in 2006, there was a study monitoring the effects of 362 patients taking various doses of this supplement to help improve IBS symptoms in suffering women.

Taking the right dose was found to have a great decrease in discomfort and pain in the abdomen, as well as bloating, gas, straining, insufficient evacuation and general satisfaction.

It also seemed that those who were suffering from diarrhea-related IBS saw greater improvements than those with constipated-related IBS.

Unfortunately, the manufacturer's website shows negative results from an unpublished study, which is why this strain was lowered to the center rank on the list. It is still possible to purchase this supplement.

LAB4

This is a probiotic made up of multiple strains: Bifidobacterium bifidum CUL20, Bifidobacterium lactis CUL34, CUL21 and Lactobacillus acidphilus CUL60. Cultech Ltd of Wales developed the mixture, and you can purchase it from.

An eight-week study in 2009 showed improvements in patients taking the supplement compared to those who were taking the placebo. There were significant improvements in both satisfaction of bowel movements and with general pain.

By eight weeks, quality of life was also much higher in patients taking the supplement. However, there are no other studies, and the results are not well analyzed.

LGG MAX and VSL#3

There are two probiotics equally deserving of the final position on this list. They are both comprised of multiple strains; LGG MAX from Valio Ltd has four strains, and VSL#3 has eight.

Both of these supplements have undergone multiple tests, with each one having three separate trials on their own.

The reason these rank lower than the rest, however, is for the fact that their effects seem limited.

VSL#3 produces fine results, but it seems only to target gas and bloating, which doesn't help with bowel movements or pain.

LGG MAX can lower the global IBS score but cannot fix individual symptoms like cramps, gas and bloating feeling.

They may be effective, but they're not particularly robust. You can purchase as a medical food, and LGG MAX does not yet seem to be commercially available.

Conclusion

Although probiotics can be helpful for your symptoms, these supplements should not be confused as drugs that have been approved by the FDA.

Because of this, it is wise not to raise your expectations. Even in the trials described, not every patient taking the supplement responded to the treatment; most only saw a few symptoms disappear rather than all of them.

It's possible that future medical advancements to improve the market, but it is necessary to have additional research and trials first.

Bonus Graphic: What Causes IBS?

Helen Sanders
 

Chief editor here at Health Ambition, I'm a proud mother of two passionate about nutrition and ways to live healthier with more energy!