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September 2013

Probiotic Dairy Products May Lack Benefit For IBS Symptoms

Probiotic dairy products may lack benefit on symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) when compared to non-probiotic dairy products, a study suggests.

IBS may be referred to as spastic colon, mucous colitis, spastic colitis, nervous stomach, or irritable colon. IBS is a functional bowel disorder, conditions in which the bowel appears normal but does not function normally. IBS is fairly common and makes up 20 - 50% of visits to gastroenterologists (doctors who diagnose and treat digestive problems). Lower abdominal pain, and bloating associated with alteration of bowel habits (constipation and/or diarrhea) and abdominal discomfort relieved with defecation are the most frequent symptoms.

Most people can control their symptoms with diet, stress management, lifestyle modification and prescribed medications. For some people, however, IBS can be disabling. They may be unable to work, attend social events, or even travel short distances due to urgency to defecate (pass stool) and pain in the colon. IBS commonly starts between the ages of 20 and 30, and is twice as common in women as in men. The frequency of the condition in the general population is estimated to be somewhere between 10 and 20%. Up to 70% of people suffering from IBS are not receiving medical care for their symptoms.

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria (sometimes referred to as "friendly germs") that help to maintain the health of the intestinal tract and aid in digestion. They also help keep potentially harmful organisms in the gut (harmful bacteria and yeasts) under control. Most probiotics come from food sources, especially cultured milk products. Probiotics can be consumed as capsules, tablets, beverages, powders, yogurts, and other foods. Probiotics are thought to work by colonizing the small intestine and crowding out disease-causing organisms, thereby restoring proper balance to the intestinal flora. They compete with harmful organisms for nutrients and may also produce substances that inhibit growth of harmful organisms in the gut.

In the current study, researchers recruited 179 people between the ages of 18 and 65 who experienced IBS symptoms, including constipation. The subjects randomly received either a probiotic or a non-probiotic yogurt product twice daily, and kept a diary on improvements in any changes in symptoms such as pain, bloating, and flatulence, as well as stool characteristics, ease of bowel movement, and quality of life.

The researchers found a lack of significant differences between the two groups in terms of symptom improvement over the course of the 12-week study. All trial participants reported significant improvements for most outcomes.

The authors concluded that their findings lack solid evidence to support the use of probiotics for IBS. Further study is needed to determine the effectiveness of probiotics for symptoms of this condition.

For more information about probiotics, please visit Natural Standard's Foods, Herbs & Supplements Database.


  1. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. 
  2. Roberts LM, McCahon D, Holder R, et al. A randomised controlled trial of a probiotic 'functional food' in the management of irritable bowel syndrome. BMC Gastroenterology 2013,13:45. doi:10.1186/1471-230X-13-45.

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