Are Probiotic Drinks Good For IBS?

Some studies claim yes, but others show no effect at all.

The real deal with IBS

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common, lifelong health condition that affects one in 6 Australians. The most common symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain, acid reflux, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, and gas.

What exactly causes IBS is still unknown, but experts suggest it may involve bacterial overgrowth. A study conducted in 2014 showed that over 80% of IBS patients have bacterial overgrowth in their small intestines, which may be the culprit behind their symptoms.

Probiotics to save the day?

Probiotic drinks, as well as other probiotic foods and supplements, have long been promoted to keep our digestive system healthy. These “good” live bacteria and yeasts work to restore any imbalance in our gut flora, the village of bacteria living in our digestive tract, including our intestines and stomach.

Given their function, it is easy to understand why probiotic drinks have been linked to IBS, and why many people believe they have positive benefits in relieving IBS patients of their symptoms.

Unsettled issue

While there have been numerous studies that sought to prove the benefits of probiotic drinks specifically for IBS patients, the results have been conflicting.

A 2008 study showed that 64% (9 out of the 14 patients) who participated in the study showed a reversal of early rise in breath hydrogen after lactulose (ERBHAL) after 6 weeks of taking 1 x 65 mL dose of Yakult® daily. The study also showed improved IBS symptoms for those patients whose ERBHAL times slowed down. ERBHAL may indicate small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), which is one of the most common signs of IBS. The Japan-made Yakult® probiotic drink contains their exclusive LcS (Lactobacillus casei strain Shirota).

A 2012 clinical trial found promising results as well, after 78% of the 214 patients who participated in the study rated the probiotic Lactobacillus plantarum 299v as satisfactory or excellent in improving their IBS symptoms, notably abdominal pain and bloating.

But a smaller study conducted in 2014 on the same probiotic strain showed no significant improvement in the symptomatic relief of the patients, particularly abdominal pain and bloating.

A British Dietetic Association Review in 2016 also found no conclusive evidence that a “strain or dose specific probiotic was consistently effective to improve any IBS symptoms.”

Should you go pro?

This inconclusive data makes the decision of taking probiotic drinks, or not, slightly more difficult. Following these tips can guide you in making the best decision and increase your chances of having a positive probiotic experience:

  • Consult with an accredited health professional. Because probiotic drinks are not categorised as medicine but as beverage, they are not subjected to the same level of rigorous testing that medicines do. Consulting with an experienced nutritionist before deciding on a particular probiotic drink will give you peace of mind and ensure your safety and well-being.
  • Choose probiotic drinks aligned with your needs. Take your pick from probiotic drinks designed to address your specific IBS symptoms for a higher chance of experiencing relief.
  • Follow the specified dose. The manufacturer of your chosen probiotic drink knows best.
  • Stick to it. Give your body enough time to adjust to the new probiotic drink you are giving it by consuming one probiotic drink for at least a month.
  • Observe your symptoms. Writing down any significant changes you may experience while you’re taking it may help you to arrive at an objective conclusion.