Can Probiotics Help With Digestive Problems?

Probiotics have become incredibly popular in the last few years as people realize the benefits they can provide. One of the most well researched benefits of these products involves the digestive system – namely diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and constipation. Here’s some information on how probiotics can help with these problems.

 

Diarrhea

There are a lot of different types of diarrhea, and this problem can strike anyone at any time. While there are several causes, one of the most common is the use of antibiotics. These drugs not only kill harmful bacteria that cause a wide range of diseases, they also kill beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract. Among the more common complications of antibiotic use are cramping, gas, and, yes, diarrhea. Probiotics are designed to replenish the supply of good bacteria so that they can perform their main function, which is to keep bad bacteria from thriving in the gut.

Probiotics have been proven to help reduce the symptoms resulting from antibiotic-associated diarrhea. The Lactobacillus strain of beneficial bacteria is particularly effective.1

Another common form of diarrhea is known as “Montezuma’s revenge,” or traveler’s diarrhea. It typically strikes people who go to another country and get sick after eating a local dish or drinking the local water. While research is somewhat mixed when it comes to how effective probiotics are at limiting the symptoms of traveler’s diarrhea, there are studies that indicate Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum may help.2

In some instances, diarrhea can be so severe that it could actually be fatal. An extremely harmful bacterium known as C. difficile is typically to blame. Studies indicate that Lactobacillus bacteria can keep C. difficile from being able to enter the gastrointestinal tract and doing damage.3

But just because probiotics can help fight diarrhea, that doesn’t mean you can just pop a capsule and assume you’ll be automatically protected from complications. You still have to take the right precautions, such as drinking plenty of fluids to make sure you don’t become dehydrated due to a diarrhea attack.

 

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

IBS is a particularly nasty digestive issue that can make you have to rush to the bathroom – usually at the most embarrassing times, such as when you’re in a business meeting or having a meal with friends or family members. IBS not only leads to diarrhea, but also severe abdominal pain and bloating. These are a few of the beneficial bacteria that may help reduce symptoms.

 

  • Lactobacillus plantarum L. plantarum has been extensively researched specifically for its potential effect on IBS. In one study, over 200 patients suffering from IBS were divided into two groups. One group received L. plantarum for a month, while the other half received a placebo. The treatment group reported substantial reductions in bloating and abdominal pain, as well as frequency of bowel movements.4
  • Bifidobacterium bifidum – Italian researchers studied 120 IBS sufferers who participated in a month-long trial. Again, half of them received a probiotic supplement (in this case, B. bifidum) while the other half received a placebo. Nearly 60 percent of patients in the treatment group reported improvement of several symptoms, including feelings of urgency in having to go to the bathroom. A little more than 20 percent of those in the placebo group reported improvements.5
  • Bifidobacterium infantis – An Irish study focused on the effect that B. infantis may have on women suffering from IBS. Researchers gave different doses of the prebiotic to 362 study participants. Results varied, but doses containing 100,000,000 colony-forming units (CFUs) of B. infantis resulted in a substantial reduction in symptoms.6

 

Constipation

This is one of the most frustrating digestive problems, and it is very common. More than one in 10 adults in the U.S. alone experience this issue each year, and Americans spend about $750 million trying to treat it.7

British researchers set about studying whether or not probiotics can be effective in relieving the symptoms of constipation. They looked at 14 studies that involved clinical trials on people suffering from the condition that included probiotic supplements and placebos.8

The researchers found that probiotics not only helped increase the number of bowel movements, but also helped to soften stools so that they more easily passed through the intestines. It appeared, according to the results, that supplements containing Bifidobacterium bacteria were most effective.9

 

Taking Probiotics for Digestive Issues

It’s important to note that no one has definitively stated that probiotics can be used to treat any sort of digestive issue. The evidence only shows that they may be able to help with certain problems.

If you are thinking of taking probiotics, you need to speak with your doctor first. This is especially the case if you have any type of serious intestinal disease or an illness that has resulted in a compromised immune system. There have been some instances where people have experienced complications. However, if you are in generally good health, probiotics are considered to be safe. Probiotic use can sometimes result in minor side effects, such as a bit of gas or bloating.

Probiotics come in several forms of supplements, including drinks, powders, capsules, and chewable products. They are also found in several types of foods, such as sourdough bread, yogurt, sauerkraut, and others. If you choose to purchase a supplement, you need to make sure that the labeling says something to the effect of “viable until expiration date,” because that means the chances are good that the bacteria contained in each dose will be alive when you take it.

If, on the other hand, the label says, “viable at time of manufacture,” there’s no guarantee the microbes will be active. If they’re not, then you’ll only be wasting money because the bacteria will not be alive. Do a little research before you make your purchase, and the chances are good that you’ll be getting your money’s worth.

 

Sources:

1http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.904.1374&rep=rep1&type=pdf

2http://www.travelmedicinejournal.com/article/S1477-8939(05)00091-8/abstract

3https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23728658

4https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22912552

5http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2036.2011.04633.x/full

6https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16863564

7http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/probiotics-may-ease-constipation-201408217377

8 http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/probiotics-may-ease-constipation-201408217377

9http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2014/08/06/ajcn.114.089151.abstract

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