Chances are that you or someone you know has IBS – irritable bowel syndrome – it’s one of today’s most common GI (gastrointestinal) disorders and can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. It’s estimated that between 10 and 25 percent of adults worldwide and between 5 and 20 percent of kids suffer with IBS. Symptoms can include:
- Lower abdominal cramping/pain
- Frequent diarrhea
- Frequent constipation
- Alternating constipation and diarrhea
- Mucus in stools
- Changes in stool consistency
- Foods that trigger symptoms (intolerances)
- Gas, bloating
- Poor quality of sleep
The cause of a patient’s IBS isn’t typically diagnosed by doctors, and IBS itself is not well understood; causes are considered to include stress, antibiotics, trauma or adverse personal experiences (even dating back to early childhood), and possibly hormonal changes in women. However, the latest findings get to the root of these causes – there is a strong connection between an imbalance in gut microbiota (dysbiosis) and IBS. Stress, antibiotic use, trauma and adverse experiences all have a negative impact on the gut microbiome, as do poor diet, intestinal inflammation, bacterial infection of the gut, and more. The one thing these all have in common is that they create dysbiosis, either by killing off good bacteria or causing bacterial overgrowth.
While it’s claimed that there is “no known cause” of IBS, it seems clear that an underlying cause common to all these health issues is an out-of-balance microbiome. The Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility reports that “Gut microbiota is thought to play important roles in the pathogenesis of IBS. This is evident from the fact that IBS occurs more frequently after intestinal infection or antibiotics treatment. Studies have shown that the alterations of the intestinal microbiota are observed in IBS patients.”
Although genetics are said to be another factor in developing IBS, a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) states “[r]ecent research suggests that environmental factors such as diet, drugs, and lifestyle exert a greater influence on the gut microbiome than genetics.” This is good news, since it indicates that we can take measures to prevent IBS even if it runs in our family line. Another study published by the NIH stresses that “…the intestinal microbiota in some IBS patients was completely different from that in healthy controls, and there does appear to be a consistent theme of Firmicutes enrichment and reduced abundance of Bacteroides” (two types of gut bacteria).
The NIH reports that because certain probiotic bacterial species are typically reduced in people with IBS, giving patients specific probiotics with anti-inflammatory properties improved their IBS symptoms. On the other hand, “[a]ntibiotic use can have potential side effects such as depleting levels of beneficial commensal gut microbiota thus opening niches for nonspecific species to establish themselves.” In addition, “the administration of antibiotics in an attempt to solve the problem has potential side effects by depleting levels of commensal microbiota, thus resulting in an opening for nonbeneficial microbiota to establish themselves.” (Commensal bacteria are those that work together without either helping or harming the other.)
Although there have been successful results in treating IBS with probiotics, it’s not a singular or one-size-fits-all solution – each IBS sufferer needs to find out exactly which type of probiotics they need for their particular situation so that a targeted solution can be implemented. It’s important to have comprehensive lab tests done prior to starting on any prebiotic or probiotic supplementation so that the bacteria you add work to achieve the proper balance in your gut microbiome. It’s equally important that any necessary lifestyle changes – diet in particular – be incorporated to keep your microbiome in balance, reducing or eliminating intestinal inflammation and minimizing or eliminating IBS symptoms.