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Why Taking Probiotics Could Make Your IBS Symptoms Worse

As an IBS dietitian, I understand the constant search for relief from the often unpredictable and uncomfortable symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Many of my clients come to me with high hopes for probiotics, believing they are a one-size-fits-all solution to their digestive woes. However, what might come as a surprise is that for some people, probiotics could actually make IBS symptoms worse. Let’s dive into why this happens and how to approach probiotics cautiously.

The Promise of Probiotics

Probiotics, often marketed as the ultimate gut health booster, are live microorganisms that, when consumed in adequate amounts, can provide health benefits. They are commonly found in supplements and fermented foods like yoghurt, kefir, and sauerkraut. The idea is that these "good" bacteria can balance the gut microbiome, potentially easing digestive issues like bloating, gas, and irregular bowel movements, which are common complaints among those with IBS.

When Probiotics Backfire

While probiotics can be beneficial for some, they are not a magic bullet. Here’s why they might not work, or could even worsen your IBS symptoms:

Strain-Specific Effects: Not all probiotics are created equal. Different strains have different effects, and what works for one person might not work for another. For example, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains are commonly recommended for IBS, but they don’t help everyone. In fact, some strains can increase gas production and bloating, exacerbating symptoms.

Overcrowding the Gut: Introducing a large number of bacteria into the gut through probiotics can sometimes lead to an imbalance. If your gut already has a good mix of bacteria, adding more can disrupt this balance, leading to symptoms like increased gas, bloating, and discomfort.

Fermentation Issues: Some people with IBS have difficulty digesting certain types of carbohydrates (FODMAPs), which are fermented by gut bacteria. Probiotics can increase this fermentation process, leading to more gas and bloating.

Underlying Conditions: If there are underlying gut issues, such as Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) or sensitivity to histamines (found in some probiotic strains), taking probiotics can aggravate these conditions.

A Tailored Approach to Probiotics

Given these potential pitfalls, it’s crucial to approach probiotics thoughtfully and with personalised guidance. Here’s how:

Consult with an IBS Dietitian: Before starting any probiotic, speak with an expert IBS Dietitian, like me. I can help identify whether probiotics are suitable for you and recommend specific strains that might be beneficial.

Start Slowly: If you decide to try probiotics, introduce them gradually. Start with a low dose and monitor your symptoms closely. This cautious approach can help you identify any adverse reactions early on.

Track Your Symptoms: Keep a detailed food and symptom diary. Note any changes in your symptoms after starting probiotics. This record will be invaluable in determining whether they are helping or hindering your progress.

Consider Alternatives: If probiotics aren’t working for you, don’t lose hope. There are other strategies to support your gut health and help you relieve your IBS symptoms. These include dietary modifications (like the low FODMAP diet), stress management techniques, and other supplements that might be more suitable. The key is to try one management strategy at a time so that you can determine is strategy is helping your IBS or if it is worsening your symptoms.

The Bottom Line

Probiotics are not a one-size-fits-all solution, and for some people with IBS, they can actually make symptoms worse. So, they can really hinder you on your IBS journey because taking probiotics is just like putting a band aid over your IBS symptoms without getting to the underlying cause so you will never get sustainable relief.⁠

This is why taking a personalised approach is so important, so you can find the best strategies to manage your IBS and improve your quality of life. Remember, what works for one person might not work for another, so it’s all about finding what works best for you.

If you’re struggling with IBS and unsure about probiotics, I’m here to help. Together, we can create a tailored plan to manage your symptoms once and for all so you can break free from the cycle of discomfort and unpredictability of living with IBS. CLICK HERE to book a Complementary Strategy Call and let's chat about your journey to finding lifelong relief and reclaiming your confidence and control over your IBS with personalised support and guidance!



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