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).