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IBS, irritable bowel syndrome, afflicts an estimated 40 million Americans. They suffer cramps, bloating, diarrhea or constipation as a result of this condition, although gastroenterologists generally can find no disease. The digestive disease specialists sometimes classify IBS as a “functional” digestive problem, aka psychosomatic. Some research suggests that a regular probiotic supplement could make a difference for IBS symptoms (Yoon et al, Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Jan. 2014). Other studies, however, give rise to skepticism about this treatment (Hod et al, Neurogastroenterology and Motility, online March 8, 2017).

Taking a Probiotic Supplement for IBS:

Q. I am 57 and recently began taking a probiotic supplement for IBS symptoms I have had most of my adult life. The probiotic has helped tremendously.

I have also always suffered with generalized anxiety. The probiotic seems to have had a positive effect on my anxiety level. I wish I had discovered it years ago.

What Are Probiotics?

A. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that are taken to improve health. The bacteria themselves may be administered in foods, such as yogurt with live cultures, or in capsules. Most probiotic supplements contain several species of bacteria, with billions of “colony forming units” per dose.

Many investigators have concluded that “probiotics” are not substitutable. Not all bacterial species work equally well for every condition.

Probiotics for Psychological Symptoms:

Scientists have begun to pay attention to important links between the brain and the digestive tract (Dinan & Cryan, Gastroenterology Clinics of North America, March 2017). The gut-microbiome-brain axis creates such links. Probiotics might be able to alter the microbiome. Consequently, studies have examined whether probiotic supplements improve mood or anxiety.

A recent review of seven studies found evidence that probiotics can improve psychological symptoms (McKean et al, Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, online Nov. 14, 2016). Researchers are looking into ways that the microbes in the digestive tract can be altered to help prevent and treat disorders such as anxiety and depression (Rieder et al, Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, online Jan. 25, 2017).

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  1. JBG
    IL
    Reply

    Just a couple editing nitpicks…

    “IBS, irritable bowel syndrome, afflicts an estimated 40 million Americans. They suffer cramps, bloating, diarrhea or constipation as a result of this condition, although gastroenterologists generally can find no disease.”

    Restated: When people suffer cramps, bloating, diarrhea or constipation where gastroenterologists can find no disease, the condition is often referred to as irritable bowel syndrome.

    “Many investigators have concluded that “probiotics” are not substitutable. Not all bacterial species work equally well for every condition.”

    True, but way, way too weak. The variety of such bacteria is enormous, and their properties are all over the map, both individually and as participants in the complex ecosystems that exist in the human gut. Even the effect of a given probiotic can be wildly different from one person to another.

  2. Larry
    Raleigh, NC
    Reply

    Which comes first: the chicken or the egg? Or in this case, digestive problems or anxiety?

    To state the obvious, having digestive disturbances (cramps, flatulence, diarrhea, etc.) in a social situation could certainly lead to anxiety. Conversely, anxiety or other mood swings could lead to digestive issues.

    Accepting either answer is simplistic. More study is needed.

  3. abigail
    Pacific NW
    Reply

    Some probiotics have been shown to make gut problems worse by feeding the problem bacteria in the digestive tract. Links in this article do not specify which probiotics were beneficial for gut health and psychological symptoms such as anxiety. Please give us more information.

  4. Pepi
    Oregon, WI
    Reply

    Your article on probiotics let me with the question, what are the best probiotics in the market?

  5. Joe M
    Buffalo, NY
    Reply

    I’ve been taking probiotics for over 5 yrs at suggestion of two GI MD’s for IBS. I have absolutely had no change in my symptoms, but I still take them hoping for the best.

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