THE ENEMY (AND FRIENDS) WITHIN
There’s more and more research coming out about the importance of gut bacteria. It seems that they don’t just sit in your gut, minding their own business. They can have a huge impact on your health, as recent studies into obesity and cancer treatments have discovered.
You probably know that we have trillions of bacteria in our gut, some good, some bad. A 2017 study at the University of Copenhagen suggested that gut bacteria may be responsible for how much weight we can lose. Another 2013 study found that slimmer people had more diverse gut bacteria than obese people, and it’s thought that different kinds of gut bacteria affect your metabolism and how you absorb calories and nutrients. One type interferes with the hunger hormone ghrelin, causing you to eat more. Researchers have also made links between gut bacteria and Parkinson’s Disease and in how well people respond to immunotherapy for cancer.
Gut bacteria and IBS
There are some studies* which suggest that IBS symptoms can be helped by rebalancing gut bacteria. You may already be aware that you can boost your good gut bacteria with probiotics, which are live bacteria, and this may help reduce bloating and gas. Probiotics are found in fermented dairy products, such as kefir and some yoghurts, and in fermented vegetables, such as sauerkraut, or you can buy them in supplement form. Bad gut bacteria, on the other hand, thrive on sugar, so it’s helpful to cut down on the sweet stuff.
So far, the research hasn’t pinpointed which probiotics are effective in helping IBS. A bit like the FODMAP diet (please see my blog post on The worst foods for IBS ), everybody is different and what might work really well for one person might be less effective for someone else. A factsheet on probiotics by the British Dietetic Association recommends taking probiotics for 4 weeks and, if they don’t seem to be having any effect, try another brand or stop taking them.
Feed your good gut bacteria
If you do want to try probiotics, it’s important to know that some are killed by acid in the stomach before they can reach the gut. There’s not much point flooding your gut with good bacteria, unless you make sure they can survive. That’s where prebiotics come in. I only recently found out how important prebiotics are, so if you don’t know much about them, basically, prebiotics are food for probiotics and encourage them to multiply. Prebiotics are carbohydrates found in fruit and vegetables. Some of the best sources are onions, garlic, asparagus, artichoke and chicory. The trouble is that these are also high FODMAP foods. If any of them cause you problems, bananas and tomatoes may be a good alternative, or you can get prebiotic supplements.
Are probiotics and prebiotics the answer for IBS?
If you are considering trying probiotics and prebiotics to help your IBS, it’s good to take some advice from a dietitian or nutritional therapist experienced in helping with IBS. As with the food you eat, though, what you put into your gut is only part of the story. You probably know all too well how stress can cause your symptoms to flare up and how anxiety as well as food can upset your digestion. Learning to manage your stress in healthy ways and to deal with anxiety and negative emotions is equally important in keeping your IBS symptoms under control.
When I’m seeing clients to help them with IBS, we always look at how they can reduce and/or manage their stress and at what negative thinking patterns might be contributing to making their symptoms worse. Sometimes there are issues from childhood that need to be cleared. The good news is that once clients have been able reduce their stress levels and change negative thinking to be more positive, it’s had a positive effect on their IBS.
Would you like to transform your IBS?