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Mix Up the Probiotics for Digestive Health

Mix Up the Probiotics for Digestive Health: Main Image
Adults taking a mixture of six species of intestinal bacteria experienced reductions in abdominal pain, discomfort, and bloating
When things go wrong in the gut, the micro-organisms that live there are usually involved. Repopulating the gut with specific strains of friendly bacteria has been found to help some people with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and there is growing evidence that a taking a mixture of probiotic species may also relieve symptoms.

A bacterial mixture helps IBS sufferers

The latest evidence comes from a study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology in which 49 people with IBS were assigned to take either one 500 mg capsule of a mixed probiotic supplement or placebo twice a day for four weeks. Each capsule of the probiotic supplement had 5 billion bacterial cells and these were a mixture of six species of intestinal bacteria, including three Bifidobacterium species, two Lactobacillus species, and one Streptococcus species.

The participants filled out questionnaires about their IBS symptoms at the beginning and end of the trial. The following findings were drawn from the questionnaire responses:

  • Taking the mixed probiotic was associated with overall improvement in IBS symptoms: 68% of people in the probiotic group and 37.5% of people in the placebo group reported overall improvement at the end of the trial.
  • Specifically, the probiotic users had reductions in abdominal pain, discomfort, and bloating at the end of the study, but the number and consistency of bowel movements did not change.

Which bacteria made the difference?

Stool tests showed that numbers of three of the probiotic species increased after using the probiotic supplement. Those species were Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and Streptococcus thermophilus--all of which are sometimes used to make yogurt. Only the number of Bifidobacterium lactis increased in the placebo group. The researchers surmised that the two species that increased only in the probiotic group were likely to be responsible for the improvements seen.

"Multi-species probiotics given to IBS patients are effective in the global relief of IBS symptoms as well as in alleviating abdominal pain, discomfort and bloating," the study's authors said. "Furthermore, the multi-species probiotic induced alterations of intestinal microbiota."

Support your gut bacteria

If you suffer from IBS, you might be able to reduce your symptoms by taking the following steps to support your beneficial gut bacteria:

  • Add some yogurt. Good quality yogurt is rich in bacteria that can improve gut health. If you're one of those people with IBS who doesn't tolerate dairy products, soy and almond yogurts made with the same gut-friendly bacteria are also available.
  • Avoid simple carbs. Sugars and refined carbohydrates can create an environment in the gut that is unfavorable for healthy bacterial growth. Choose unsweetened yogurt and add some fresh fruit to sweeten it up, and stay away from other sweets and refined grain products.
  • Make space with herbs. Herbal supplements like peppermint, caraway, and wormwood are sometimes helpful to IBS sufferers. They are believed to have a relaxing effect on the gut, but they may also work by clearing out bacteria and yeast that can contribute to IBS symptoms, leaving space for healthy bacteria to thrive.

(J Gastroenterol Hepatol 2013; doi: 10.1111/jgh.12322)

Maureen Williams, ND,completed her doctorate in naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University in Seattle and has been in private practice since 1995. With an abiding commitment to access to care, she has worked in free clinics in the US and Canada, and in rural clinics in Guatemala and Honduras where she has studied traditional herbal medicine. She currently lives and practices in Victoria, BC, and lectures and writes extensively for both professional and community audiences on topics including family nutrition, menopause, anxiety and depression, heart disease, cancer, and easing stress. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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