The human digestive tract contains both friendly (aka "good") and not-so-friendly (aka "bad") bacteria. Good bacteria improve digestion, strengthen the immune system, and help increase the absorption of nutrients. Bad bacteria are commonly defined as pathogens, which means they may cause infection, make us sick, or even be deadly.
Bad bacteria typically come from external sources, such as contaminated food or water or environmental toxins. But even the effects of emotional stress or other common occurrences, such as excess sugar intake, overuse of antibiotics, and insufficient sleep can cause an imbalance in our intestinal flora that turns a healthy gut into a colony of very unsavory characters.
Probiotics are foods or supplements containing good bacteria that are the same as or similar to those found in a healthy digestive tract. The purpose of consuming probiotics is to colonize the digestive tract with a high number of good bacteria so that the bad bacteria are outnumbered and crowded out. Dietary sources of probiotics include naturally fermented foods, such as kimchi and sauerkraut, and foods to which probiotics have been added, such as yogurt. Probiotics are often touted as a possible cure for IBS, and they do indeed hold much promise. That's because virtually everyone with a functional digestive disorder also has some level of imbalance in the health of their microbiome.
Currently the types of bacterial strains used in probiotic products vary greatly. Further research is needed to clarify the role and value of probiotics and, if proven useful, determine which specific strains or combinations of strains are the most helpful for IBS.
I love hearing from you! If you've tried any of the recommended probiotic brands (or any that didn't make the cut), please post in the comment section below and let us know whether they helped with your symptoms.