Probiotics have been used and claimed to be a "catch-all treatment" when it comes to gut disorders. I'm willing to bet that if you have ever complained of excessive gas, bloating, abdominal discomfort, diarrhea or constipation, someone has reccomended you try priobiotics. But can a pill full of tiny microbes really both reduce constipation, while also preventing diarrhea?
Probiotics and gut health have been all the rage in the health and wellness world reently, but is there good science to support all of this excitement?
Here are some current research conclusions to date:
Reducing and Preventing Diarrhea:
Numerous studies and reviews have shown that probiotics can reduce the duration of diarrhea, minimize the severity, and potentially prevent traveller's diarrhea if taken days before the trip! No more wasting those valuable vacation days on the toilet! (Hurray!)
Probiotics are effective for children and adults with constipation.. and who likes being constipated? A randomised control trial showed improvement in functional constipation in children by improving stool frequency, pain with defecation, as well as decreasing abdominal pain.
Improving Liver Function (an accessory digestive organ):
Some studies have shown probiotics have the ability to improve liver function in those with liver disease. Although all-cause mortality (read: death from all causes) was not reduced with probiotics, it was shown that quality of life and recovery was improved compared to placebo.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD):
Probiotics have been effective in increasing remission rates in those with Ulcerative Colitis (a type of Irritable Bowel Disease). Furthermore, probiotics are somewhat effective in children and adults with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and in children with functional abdominal pain. Specifically, they have been able to improve overall symptom response and quality of life.
EvoTip: If you have ever tried probiotics for your own complaints, and have found that they actually make your gas, bloating, and discomfort worse, then it could be a sign of bacterial overgrowth or "dysbiosis". Specifically some probiotics contain FOS, a prebiotic fiber which can be fermented in the gut by some bacteria. In this case, look for probiotics that do NOT contain FOS.
The study of probiotics is a relatively new science, and there is a lot left to learn about gut health and microbes and their role in overall health and wellbeing. What we do know is that ancient medicine and modern integrative medicine have this in common: a large focus on digestive function and gut health. As we continue to uncover more about the role of the digestive system we may begin to understand what many of these ancient medicinal practices have intuitively known for years!
Afterall, Hippocrates did coin the term "All disease begins in the gut" over 2,000 years ago now. Maybe we are just now starting to find ways of learning why.
Stay tuned for more on recent gut health discoveries!
Stay moving, Stay healthy,