Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is the most common gastrointestinal condition in North America with an estimated 30 to 50 million sufferers. Yet it remains one of the most difficult to treat. The chronic and often debilitating symptoms of IBS include abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and/or diarrhea. Treating IBS can be a difficult process for doctors and a frustrating one for patients. One recent therapy that has gained interest and popularity is the use of probiotics.
The symptoms of IBS vary from person to person. While one may experience frequent bouts of diarrhea, another may have the total opposite problem and be constipated for days. Other symptoms can consist of intestinal spasms, excessive gas, or mucus in the stool. Factors such as stress, diet, or hormone replacement therapy may make symptoms worse.
If you are diagnosed with IBS, you need treatment that is specific to your symptoms. Because multiple symptoms often co-exist, you might need more than one therapy to combat each symptom. It can be frustrating and stressful to say the least.
Although medical treatment helps some people with IBS, others have had more success with natural solutions. Although doctors have been looking at the potential therapeutic benefits of the Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria probiotic species for more than a century, some recent investigations of specific probiotics strains show potential benefit for irritable bowel syndrome.
In probiotic therapy, people ingest living, non-pathogenic, or ‘friendly’ organisms to help restore an appropriate balance of intestinal flora. Probiotics are the microorganisms, or flora, naturally present in the human gut and contain ‘friendly’ bacteria and yeasts that are essential in maintaining normal gastrointestinal function. Probiotics have a particular appeal since the bacterial strains commonly used – Lactobacilli, Bifidobacteria, and Enterococci – are already present in the gut.
Probiotics also help to decrease ‘unfriendly’ bacteria and yeasts that can cause opportunistic infections. According to the latest research, probiotics help strengthen the body’s natural defenses. If the intestinal flora becomes unbalanced, by the use of antibiotics or some other medications, alcohol, stress, or disease, then the intestinal tract may not function normally. This abnormality may cause some gastrointestinal difficulties. Experts have conducted many studies over the years and agree that the benefits of probiotics are strain-specific. The results suggest that certain probiotics are capable of preventing infection by pathogens, either by stimulating the immune system or by other modes of action such as competitive exclusion or by direct killing of pathogens.
Ideally you want a balanced ecosystem in the gut in which the beneficial probiotic bacteria predominate. For general health, a daily dose of 5 billion to 10 billion live bacteria – colony forming units or CFU – is ideal. For those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, higher doses of 20 billion to 50 billion per day are more appropriate.