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Probiotics claims are difficult to swallow

Probiotics aren't all they're made out to be

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Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts, which are deemed to have a positive effect on the digestive system. They are commonly found in yoghurts and yoghurt drinks such as the brand Activia and Yakult. Probiotic supplements are also available from health food stores. Lactobacillus is the most common type. It also contains the enzyme lactase which helps people to digest lactose. 

What do probiotics do? 

Probiotics are often marketed as "friendly" bacteria. They are supposed to function by restoring the natural balance of good bacteria in your gut which might have been upset after illness or taking medication. This makes them appealing to people living with IBS as they claim to help regulate the digestive system. 

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What is the issue with probiotics? 

The problem with these claims is that probiotics are not technically classed as medications, they are classed as a food substance. This means that they have not been clinically trialed to determine that they deliver the results that they claim to. A study by scientists at University College London put eight popular types of probiotics through three testing phases to test the claims made by the advertising. 

The brands' Align, Bio Balance, Bio-Kult and Probio7 failed the three tests: whether or not the product contained the number of good bacteria printed on the label; if they survived within the stomach and whether they had a positive effect within the digestive system. Yakult and Actimel both held the correct amount of bacteria but failed to survive the stomach. Symprove was the only brand to pass all three of the tests, which is a barley and water-based drink. 

Are probiotics bad for you? 

Despite the evidence gained from the study, probiotics are safe to take and won't harm you. Symprove is likely to be the better choice to help with IBS as it has proven to contain enough live bacteria which survive to have an active effect within the gut. Given that dairy is a common trigger for IBS, probiotic yoghurts might not be the best choice, especially if you are lactose intolerant or have a dairy-free diet. In contrast, Symprove is a barley-based drink and does not contain dairy. 

What other options are there to help IBS? 

There are several different diets or food items that can be avoided to help manage IBS. Which one is best for you will depend on the type of symptoms you experience. For constipation, introducing high fibre foods will help to add bulk to your stools. These include fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. To combat diarrhoea, you should reduce your consumption of high fibre foods and introduce soluble fibre instead such as oatmeal, carrots, berries and apples. A gluten-free diet might help if you have identified wheat or gluten as a trigger for your IBS; the same goes for a dairy-free diet. The FODMAP diet eliminates difficult to digest foods like: 

  • Legumes 
  • Certain types of fruit
  • Certain types of vegetables
  • Lactose
  • Sweeteners
  • Corn syrup 
  • Wheat
  • Cashew and pistachio nuts 

There are types of medicines available that can ease the symptoms of IBS. These include peppermint capsules, Colofac and Fybogel. Peppermint oil capsules can alleviate stomach discomfort, bloating and flatulence. Colofac is used to treat diarrhoea, and Fybogel is a type of laxative. 

Sources:

NHS > Probiotics
Web MD > What are Probiotics?
The Telegraph > Why Claims for Good Bacteria Drinks May be Difficult to Stomach
Healthline > IBS Diet Guide

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