Biotics and the Digestive System – What’s the Connection?
Biotics – namely probiotics and their lesser-known counterpart, prebiotics – have gained a great deal of notoriety lately. One of the health benefits manufacturers claim that biotics can provide is helping to protect the digestive system. Biotics, manufacturers say, can help reduce the symptoms associated with issues such as constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, and some forms of diarrhea. Here’s how they do it:
There’s nothing much more frustrating than having to deal with an attack of constipation. If you’ve had to deal with this problem lately, you’re far from alone. Nearly 15 percent of the U.S. adult population experiences constipation each year, and we spend almost $800 million on remedies.1
Research indicates that biotics can help bring relief to people going through a bout of constipation. An analysis of 14 studies showed that biotics could soften stools, helping them move through the intestines more easily. The analysis also showed that they could increase the number of bowel movements. A probiotic bacteria known as Bifidobacterium tends to be the most effective in relieving constipation symptoms.2
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
If you struggle with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you know all too well how it can take control of your life. You feel uneasy leaving your home, because you don’t know when you’ll need to rush to the bathroom. But IBS is not just an annoyance – it can, in some instances, be extremely serious, leading to severe pain in the abdomen and other problems. Studies show, however, that certain types of biotics could play a role in alleviating symptoms. Here are a few of them:
- Bifidobacterium bifidum – Researchers performed a study involving 122 patients suffering from IBS. Over a four-week period, half of them received probiotic supplements containing the B. bifidum bacteria daily, while the other half received a placebo. According to the researchers, about 60 percent of the participants who took B. bifidum showed improvement in their IBS symptoms, while only about 20 percent of those who took the placebo saw a reduction in symptoms.3
- Bifidobacterium infantis – The B. infantis bacteria, as the name indicates, is one of the first types of beneficial bacteria that develop in the human body. That makes sense, seeing how human breast milk is rich in the bacterium. One study showed that B. infantis could help people suffering from IBS. This study involved 362 women with the condition, all of whom received supplements containing B. bifidum in different amounts. While all of the women reported a reduction in symptoms, the ones who were given doses of 100 million colony-forming units of B. bifidum reported the greatest improvement.4
- Lactobacillus plantarum – L. plantarum is one of the most thoroughly researched biotics when it comes to how it can help people suffering from IBS. In one particularly study involving 214 people with IBS, half of the participants received supplements containing L. plantarum for four weeks. The other participants took a placebo. The group receiving L. plantarum not only saw a significant reduction in the number of times they had to go to the bathroom, they also reported fewer bouts of abdominal pain and bloating.5
You might assume that there’s only one kind of diarrhea, but there are actually a few different types. If you’ve ever had diarrhea after taking antibiotics, for example, that’s known as antibiotic-associated diarrhea, or AAD. Antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria, and while they do eradicate harmful microbes, they also wipe out many of the beneficial ones as well. These “good” bacteria are meant to help protect you from digestive issues. If you don’t have them, you’ll be susceptible to problems like AAD. Research shows that probiotic supplements containing Lactobacillus bacteria can help reduce AAD symptoms.6
There’s another type of diarrhea, known as traveler’s diarrhea or “Montezuma’s revenge,” that commonly strikes people going to developing countries. You might have contracted it after drinking some of the local water or eating local cuisine. There have been mixed results in regard to studies about how biotics can help with this problem, but research indicates that B. bifidum and L. acidophilus could be effective.7
A harmful bacterium known as Clostridium difficile is associated with a particularly severe form of diarrhea that, in some extreme instances, can be life threatening. Research shows that certain strains of biotics can help keep C. difficile from getting into the intestines and causing severe diarrhea.8
Even though biotics show promise in potentially helping to reduce the symptoms associated with diarrhea, it’s very important that people take the right precautions if they develop this condition. In addition to taking probiotic supplements, you also need to make sure you get plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
Are Biotics Safe?
Biotics are considered to be safe for people who are in good health. However, there have been some reports that they can make certain conditions worse. For example, if you have a serious intestinal disease or your immune system is compromised, you’ll definitely need to have a talk with your doctor first before starting any sort of regimen that includes biotics.
If you get the green light from your doctor, you’ll have a lot of different probiotic products from which to choose. Most people opt for capsules because they’re so convenient, but there are also a lot of different kinds of chewable products, drinks, and powders on the market. No matter what type you choose, make sure you look at the labels closely and follow all directions. There’s no “one size fits all” approach to the right dosage of biotics you should take, but the labeling will provide a good guideline.