As probiotics continue to demonstrate promising health benefits in a number of key areas, research is now showing their benefit in reducing the harmful effects of stress.  New research from the University of Michigan demonstrates that regular supplementation with probiotics demonstrates a significant decrease in the harmful effects related to stress-induced irritable bowel syndrome.  To best understand how probiotics help in this area, it is first to understand how irritable bowel syndrome affects us and what probiotics actually are.

Understanding Irritable Bowel Syndrome

According to Medline Plus, irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a painful condition of the large intestine, often causing cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, gas, constipation and diarrhea[1].  While IBS does not cause permanent damage, it is uncomfortable and can be severe enough to alter normal daily function.  While the exact cause of IBS is not yet known, it does affect 1 in every 6 adults[2].  Sufferers of IBS seem to have stronger intestinal contractions, moving food at a faster rate through the digestive tract, resulting in cramping, bloating and other significant IBS symptoms.

Other influences on IBS include certain types of food, hormones, and stress.  While the severity of IBS tends to be fluxuate, researchers are finding that environmental factors tend to influence the intensity of IBS.   One of the major environmental factors influencing IBS is stress.  While stress doesn’t cause IBS, it clearly does have a significant influence on the severity of IBS symptoms.

Probiotics

Probiotics are often known as “good” bacteria that support the growth and health of other “good” bacteria found throughout the intestinal tract.  Believe it or not, the digestive system containing trillions of live bacteria cultures; some of these are helpful, others are pathogens that can cause serious health conditions.  Probiotics, most often found in yogurt, kefir, fermented vegetables or through probiotic supplementation, live in the digestive tract and ensure proper balance between the “good” and “bad” bacteria.

The Probiotic-IBS Connection

Interestingly, new research into stress-induced IBS demonstrates that while stress does not cause IBS, it certainly contributes to its severity.  Specifically, stress seems to alter the chemical communication system between the brain and the digestive system, altering the normal, rhythmic digestive process.   Stress not only interrupts this pattern, it also suppresses the release of inflammasome, a vital component in regulation of gut bacteria levels[3].  This results in intestinal inflammation and increased severity of IBS symptoms, including constipation, abdominal pain, gas, and bloating.

Fortunately, this same study demonstrates that consuming probiotics preserves the normal release of inflammasome, even when under tremendous levels of stress.; resulting in reduced IBS symptoms when stress is present.  While further clinical research is required, researchers are confident in the beneficial relationship between probiotics and stress-induced IBS.

Currently, nutritionists recommend consuming one container of yogurt or one serving of kefir, sauerkraut or kimchi each day to ensure proper levels of probiotics are present in the digestive system.



[1] “Irritable bowel syndrome: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” 2002. 17 Mar. 2013 <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000246.htm>

[2] “Irritable bowel syndrome – MayoClinic.com.” 2005. 17 Mar. 2013 <http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/irritable-bowel-syndrome/DS00106>

[3] “Probiotics reduce stress-induced intestinal flare-ups … – Science Daily.” 2013. 17 Mar. 2013 <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130314110256.htm>

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