Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a digestive disorder that is characterized by intense stomach pains and reduced bowel function. It is thought that as much as 15 percent of the population could suffer from IBS, although its cause is not yet known. Common symptoms include stomach pains, diarrhea, constipation and cramps. Probiotics for IBS are a relatively new idea, and tests of their effectiveness have yielded mixed results.
Irritable bowel syndrome is often diagnosed after doctors have ruled out other illnesses, such as Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel diseases and ulcerative colitis. Sufferers show no damage to the bowels, and they usually do not lose weight as a result of the condition. Treatment for IBS usually is a mixture of medications to treat symptoms, including prescription medication to regulate bowel movements, nutritional diet changes, psychotherapy and stress management techniques.
One frequently recommended diet change for IBS sufferers is the introduction of probiotics to the diet. Probiotics are a group of bacteria that in large numbers are thought to boost the immune system and balance out "bad" bacteria that can cause digestive issues, such as inflammation of the stomach. These claims have led to a large amount of products being created that boast increased probiotics, and these have increasingly been marketed as probiotics for IBS sufferers.
Probiotics might ease digestive discomfort, but there has been very limited medical research into these claims. One strain of probiotics, bifidobacterium, has been proved to reduce symptoms such as bloating and stomach pains, and it has been prescribed by doctors as a possible medication for digestive discomfort. Other strands of probiotics for IBS sufferers have had mixed results during testing, with some having no effect on the sufferer and some increasing sensitivity and possibly making symptoms worse.
The effectiveness of probiotics for IBS is relative to each individual person and the severity of his or her IBS. For the best results, sufferers of IBS should discuss their plans with their doctor and ask for his or her medical opinion. A doctor should be able to advise IBS sufferers on the likelihood of probiotics working in a particular case or whether they could make the sufferer's digestive discomfort worse. Doctors also might advise sufferers to consume probiotic foods, which are a much more affordable source of probiotics and might be specially designed for IBS sufferers.
Probiotics should be added to one's diet slowly, and the IBS sufferer should keep a record of how he or she feels after consuming these products. After several weeks of keeping this diary, the sufferer can take the results to his or her doctor. If there has been a noticeable improvement, probiotics might be a helpful way for that person to control his or her IBS symptoms. If he or she notices a decline, however, he or she should stop taking probiotics and discuss the situation with his or her doctor.