Why You Should Be Taking a Probiotic for Your IBS

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Note: This article is about probiotics for IBS. Looking to find out how to choose the best probiotic? Click here.

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are "friendly" bacteria, are thought to support our immune systems and enhance our health by keeping the numbers of "unfriendly" bacteria within in our digestive systems in check.

Our large intestine is filled with thousands of strains of bacteria - all a part of our gut flora.

Optimal health calls for a favorable balance among all of these various strains. When unfriendly bacteria predominate - a condition known as intestinal dysbiosis - we may experience an inflammatory state that results in physical symptoms.

Eating foods that contain probiotics or taking a probiotic supplement is thought to help us to maintain a favorable balance of bacteria, which sets the stage for optimal health.

Probiotic Supplements and IBS

Although research on the use of probiotics for IBS is complicated due to the difficulty of making comparisons of the many strains that are tested, for the most part, studies have shown a positive effect of probiotics on the variety of symptoms that make up IBS. Just as promising is the fact that most studies have not shown any negative effect on IBS symptoms from taking probiotics.

The challenge for researchers is in terms of coming to any firm conclusions as to which strains are the most effective for easing IBS symptoms.

Manufacturers have been busy developing various probiotic formulations and assessing their effectiveness. This bodes well for a promising future for more safe and effective product choices.

Which IBS Symptoms Are Helped By Probiotics?

Again, study results on the effects of IBS symptoms are mixed. But in general, probiotic supplements have been found to:

  • Decrease bloating
  • Decrease flatulence
  • Improve overall IBS symptoms
  • Normalize the frequency of bowel movements
  • Reduce abdominal pain

Why Probiotics Help IBS

Taking a probiotic supplement, and thereby increasing the number of friendly bacteria within the large intestine, is thought to reduce the symptoms of IBS through some or all of the following effects:

  • Eradicating small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
  • Reducing the number of unfriendly bacteria
  • Strengthening the lining of the intestines
  • Reducing reduce intestinal permeability (leaky gut)
  • Normalizing motility
  • Reducing visceral hypersensitivity
  • Reducing pain through helpful effects on nerve receptors found in the intestinal lining

Probiotics in Food

Certain foods contain probiotics as a result of how they are prepared. Probiotic-containing foods are foods that have undergone a process of fermentation. The result of this process is a food that contains varied and numerous strains of probiotic bacteria. Yogurt, traditionally prepared sauerkraut, and the Korean dish kimchi, are all examples of fermented, probiotic-containing foods.

 There is very little research on the effectiveness of these foods in terms of reducing IBS symptoms. If you choose to try these foods, start with small doses to assess your ability to tolerate these foods without worsening symptoms.

For more information on probiotics in foods, see:

The Bottom Line

With the hope of a positive benefit, and minimal risk of side effects, probiotics may well be worth trying for your IBS. But as with any over-the-counter product, before you try probiotics, remember to check with your doctor. (Probiotics may be harmful to individuals who have weakened immune systems or suffer from serious chronic illness.)

The British Dietetic Association recommends that you try a probiotic supplement for a period of four weeks to see if it has any effect on your symptoms. If not, they recommend that you try a different product with different strains of probiotic bacteria. 

For more tips on choosing the right probiotic, see:


Clarke, G., et.al. "Review article: probiotics for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome – focus on lactic acid bacteria" Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics 2012 35:403-413.

Dai, C., et. al. "Probiotics and irritable bowel syndrome" World Journal of Gastroenterology 2013 28 19:5973–5980.

Lee, K. & Lee, O. "Intestinal microbiota in pathophysiology and management of irritable bowel syndrome" World Journal of Gastroenterology 2014 20:8886–8897.

McKenzie, Y.A., et.al. "British Dietetic Association evidence-based guidelines for the dietary management of irritable bowel syndrome in adults" Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 2012 25:20-274.

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