Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a poorly understood condition where you have frequent abdominal pain, discomfort, bloating, and irregular bowel movements. The cause of IBS is unknown. General IBS treatment focuses on controlling the symptoms. This may include identifying and avoiding dietary factors that cause symptoms, changing eating habits, stress management, and medication. The use of probiotics has also sparked interest. Probiotics are a form of healthy bacteria normally found in the intestines. A healthy intestine has a collection of good bacteria that may play a role in intestinal function. This good bacteria may be destroyed or disrupted because of illnesses, medications, or diets. The change in bacteria levels may lead to an irritation of the intestinal walls. Consuming specific type of probiotics may help build the good bacteria colony back up to helpful levels.
Researchers from Italy wanted to examine if a daily Bifidobacterium bifidum MIMBb75 probiotic supplement could successfully reduce IBS symptoms. The study, published in Alimentary pharmacology and Therapeutics, found that patients taking the daily probiotic reported fewer IBS symptoms than those taking placebo.
About the Study
The randomized trial included 122 participants. They were randomly assigned to either probiotic Bifidobacterium bifidum MIMBb75 or placebo capsules once daily for four weeks. Participants recorded their IBS symptoms daily and were evaluated by their physician for symptoms and quality of life at the beginning and end of the study. By the end of the study patients taking probiotic found significant improvement in:
- Overall assessment of IBS symptoms
- Pain or discomfort
- Distension or bloating
- Urgency (urgent need for bowel movements)
- Digestive disorders
Participants using probiotic also reported greater improvements in quality of life and adequate symptom relief than participants using the placebo.
How Does This Affect You?
This trial was a randomized control trial, which is considered a very reliable form of research. The study was also a very high quality trial that followed specific guidelines to try to ensure the results were not due to chance. Treatment guidelines are rarely changed because of the results of one trial, but the results here suggest probiotics may be helpful as part of a program to manage IBS.
Probiotics are generally considered safe and can be found in different types of food such as yogurts or available in pill form. The study here only studied one particular type of probiotic. Other types of probiotic may not have the same benefits found here. There may be many different factors that influence your IBS. Follow your doctor's suggestions to help control the symptoms such as keeping a dietary journal tracker to learn what foods or medications may cause irritation. If your symptoms persist, ask your doctor about other treatment options including probiotic. It may take some trial and error but you and your doctor may be able to pinpoint what your bowels need to be content.
- Reviewer: Brian P. Randall, MD