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3 Ways Probiotics Can Make Your IBS Worse

Are you concerned that your probiotics are making your IBS or digestive symptoms worse? Are you trying to figure out which probiotics you should be taking and which ones you should be avoiding?  If you have IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and you have concerns about the probiotics you are taking, what you should be doing to improve your digestion, keep reading.  

We are going to address three reasons, and the scenarios associated with those reasons, that probiotics can make your IBS worse.  Now, of course, a lot of times probiotics can help your IBS.  We will discuss the situations that people with IBS might be in that set them up for getting worse from probiotics  like:

  • Specific probiotic strains
  • Different ingredients in the probiotics
  • The role of fermented foods


If this something you're interested in, keep reading.

Prebiotics Can Make Your IBS Worse

The first thing to consider about probiotics making your IBS worse, has to do with the food that might be in the probiotic.  Many probiotics have ingredients in them that is food for the probiotic bacteria and the bacteria in your microbiome.  This ingredient is called a prebiotic and these are good if you have a healthy microbiome.  However, if there's a prebiotic in your probiotic then things could get worse for you, if you have IBS.  Specifically, this problem might arise if you have an imbalance in your microbiome called dysbiosis.

Dysbiosis is basically an imbalance in the bacteria in your microbiome and there are different ways this imbalance can manifest.  If you have a specific type of dysbiosis called SIBO or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, each time you eat your probiotic (containing a prebiotic) you are feeding the bacteria in the small intestine (the ones in the wrong place). This causes those bacteria to grow more, expand, and create a lot of gas.   The gas causes discomfort cramping and a lot of the IBS type symptoms.  


Learn More About SIBO and IBS


So, if you have SIBO and your probiotic has a prebiotic in it, you will likely get worse.  How do you know if you if you have a prebiotic and your probiotic?  It might be labeled right on the front or you can turn it around and look at the back.  On the back label you can look for things like FOS, inulin, artichoke, or any kind of high FODMAP food.  


Here is a video that discusses Prebiotics In More Detail. 


The Role Of Fermented Foods Making Your IBS Worse

You may have heard that fermented foods are good for people with IBS and you should support your microbiome by eating a lot of fermented foods. This is true for some people but it really depends on what's going on with your digestion.  Foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and similar fermented foods already have prebiotics in them.  For instance, the lactose in yogurt and the cabbage in the sauerkraut are high FODMAP foods that feed bacteria.  Since they are fermented most of the fuel for the bacteria is gone which makes them less likely to cause problems.  The longer the food is fermented, the less fuel left for the microbes because they have consumed it already.  However, if you have SIBO or some dysbiosis it may make your digestion worse as the microbes will consume whatever carbohydrate source is left in the product. 


Histamine in Probiotics Can Make IBS Worse 


The second way that probiotics can sometimes make your IBS worse is if you have a problem with histamine and allergies.  This is referred to as histamine intolerance.  However, you don't necessarily need to have frank histamine intolerance for your probiotics to be a contributing factor to making your symptoms worse.  First let's look at this histamine situation is in more detail.   Histamine is a molecule that gives you allergy symptoms.  It's a compound that can make your skin, eyes, and nose itchy and irritated.  Histamine does have some positive aspects but it is the excess histamine that tends to create these negative symptoms.

When you have problems breaking down your histamine specifically in your gut it can lead to irritation there.  Certain types of probiotics and even the good bacteria that live in your gut can promote this histamine production.  If you're having a lot of histamine symptoms and think this might be part of your IBS picture or digestive problem, then you may want to avoid probiotics that have histamine promoting microbes. 

These include a lot of the lactobacillus  species.  Almost all of the probiotics on the market have lactobacillus in them and all except a few promote histamine production. Lactobacillus plantarum in particular does not seem to produce histamine.  You can also just avoid all the lactobacillus in general and choose a probiotic with only Bifidobacterium species, like this one.  Another option is to use a probiotic that is spore forming like a bacillus type of probiotic.

The main point being, if you have a lot of allergy symptoms you may get worse from taking a probiotic.  This usually occurs because you are not breaking down the histamine in your gut.  It is a specific issue that some people have for genetic reasons.  In these people, an enzyme called DAO or diamine oxidase is not working. This is the enzyme that breaks down histamine in your digestive tract.  


Soil Based Probiotics Could Make Your IBS Worse

The third and final reason why probiotics can sometimes make your IBS worse is from spore forming probiotic.  Spore forming probiotics actually have much higher potential of getting into and colonizing your digestive tract. This is a good thing.  Typically when you consume probiotics they have to travel through a lot of adversity between the acidity of the stomach and the enzymes in the intestine.  Very few actually get to the large intestine alive and intact.  This is not the case with the spore forming kind.  Because they are in a spore form, they are really protected against the adversity. They land in the colon in the spore form.  Once they arrive in this "safe environment" they come out of the spore form and start growing.  So there is an advantages to the spore forming probiotics. 

The only ones I have seen are different species of bacillus which are soil based microbes.  When you have a really fragile digestive tract, these spore forming microbes can create more problems when they are in high quantities.  For this reason, you want to use really small amounts of these probiotics to start off with, especially if you have a more fragile digestive tract. 

If everything's fine as far as your digestion and  you just want a little extra support, then you are probably okay.  However, for people that have IBS and  more sensitive digestion, it could make your digestion worse.  The spore forming microbes like bacillus can actually fortify your digestion but you have to be careful not to over do it.  Taking too much too soon can make your IBS worse. 


These are the reasons why I think probiotics make IBS worse.  Of course, it is just these three scenarios that will do this.  If they apply to you, your probiotic could be making things worse. 

So be sure to check the back of your bottle and the ingredients to make sure those things are not in your probiotic.  If you are struggling to improve your digestion or your IBS, click in the link below to get a free consult.


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