The power of probiotics

We take a look at some of the latest research into probiotic supplements and gut health

Probiotic supplements containing 14 strains of “gut-friendly” bacteria have been shown to not only dramatically improve abdominal pain in IBS patients – but reduce anxiety too. In the largest-ever double-blind randomised controlled trial (the gold standard for medical research) of probiotic supplements in IBS-diarrhoea type patients ever-conducted, dramatic improvements in symptoms have been reported.

In the study of 360 patients who had IBS with diarrhoea as their predominant symptom (IBS-D); those patients who took a 14-strain probiotic supplement reported a 69 per cent decrease in abdominal pain, compared to 47 per cent in a group who took a placebo.

The four-month study conducted by the University of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University in Dhaka, Bangladesh, also found the number of patients who rated their symptoms as moderate to severe at the beginning of the study was reduced by 86 per cent in the probiotic group, compared to only 52 per cent in those who took a placebo. A total of 33.7 per cent in the probiotic group said all their symptoms had disappeared at the end of the 16 weeks compared to just 12.8 per cent in the placebo group.

Did you know?

“A healthy gut is crucial to toxin elimination,” says Penny Hatzis, a naturopath working with Sun Chlorella (www.sunchlorella.co.uk). “An imbalance in the friendly gut bacteria can lead to constipation and the growth of toxins, increasing the risk of disease. Research has shown that chlorella stimulates the growth of probiotic (friendly) bacteria. At the same time, it absorbs the toxic material and helps to remove it by increasing bowel movements and thus preventing it from being taken into the bloodstream.

A healthy gut microbiome supports healthy digestive function as well as improving immune health.”

Significantly though, as well as relieving IBS-D symptoms, the probiotic was also shown to markedly improve all aspects of Quality of Life (QoL) evaluated using a 34-point IBS-QoL questionnaire. These included psychological issues such as anxiety about health, depression, lack of enjoyment of life, and feelings of having to avoid stressful situations.

Dr Philip Burnet, Associate Professor at Oxford University, a leading UK expert on the gut microbiome/brain axis, says: “The influence of gut bacteria on the brain is a topical area of research in neuroscience and the microbiome-gut-brain-axis is considered a potential therapeutic pathway for brain disorders. Using probiotics that influence brain function, or the so called ‘psychobiotics’, may in the future help alleviate conditions such as depression and anxiety. Indeed, there is a strong link between depression and IBS, and some researchers have suggested that mood disorders themselves may arise from dysbiosis (a microbial imbalance within the body such as within the gut).”

Dr Ashton Harper from Protexin Healthcare, the manufacturers of Bio-Kult, the probiotic featured in the study, said: “A safe and convenient IBS treatment that is capable of reducing pain by nearly 70 per cent, not to mention completely resolving symptoms in more than a third of patients, demonstrates a profound benefit and holds great promise for this major medical concern”.

Choosing the right probiotic

“In the world of nutritional supplements, there’s a lot of hype about which probiotic products are best,” says John Carmichael, assistant customer care and nutritional advisor with OptiBac Probiotics (www.optibacprobiotics.co.uk). “Is it those with lots of different strains, or those with a really high billion count or those with a few strains that have been scientifically shown to be effective? Being an associate registered nutritionist, I like to see science backing up the claims of any supplements. If the strains in a probiotic product have been demonstrated in clinical trials to have a beneficial effect in helping with a particular condition, that for me, makes it far more credible when compared to one that cannot show this type of scientific rigor.

“A really good example of a specific strain that is backed up by scientific research is Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM®. This is the world’s most researched strain of Lactobacillus acidophilus, and there are numerous studies that show this one strain is particularly beneficial for health problems such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Candida overgrowth. My advice if you are thinking of getting a probiotic supplement is look at the science behind the strains, not the hype in the advertising.”

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