Do Probiotics Help With Digestion, Gas & Bloating?

The term "probiotics" refers to a group of bacteria that occur naturally in the human body but that are also found in some foods, such as yogurt, as well as many supplements sold over the counter. Often referred to as "friendly" bacteria, probiotics can help control harmful bacteria in the body, particularly in the digestive tract, which can aid in digestion and potentially prevent gas and bloating -- especially for those with digestive problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome. Consult your doctor before taking any form of probiotics for a specific health problem.

Cultured yogurt is one food rich in probiotics. (Image: nensuria/iStock/Getty Images)

About Probiotics

You are not born with probiotics in your system, but they do eventually make their way into your body, primarily into the digestive tract and vagina. Probiotics can also be taken orally. Cultured dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir, contain probiotics, and supplements in the form of pills, powders or liquid extract are also available. Probiotic bacteria come in a variety of species, but Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the ones commonly sold in the United States, according to National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Each species contains a variety of subspecies, and not all subspecies have the same benefits for your health. Generally speaking, however, probiotics can help promote digestive health because they help eliminate potentially harmful bacteria by competing for space in your digestive tract.

Intestinal Gas

Gas in the intestinal tract is a common cause of bloating. It is often due to a specific bacteria, so taking probiotics may help eliminate the problematic bacteria. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study conducted in 2009 reported that subjects who took the probiotic Bacillus coagulans reported significantly reduced gastrointestinal problems, including gas and bloating, compared to the subjects that took a placebo. None of the subjects had a gastrointestinal disorder, which suggests that taking a probiotic can help reduce gas and bloating in otherwise healthy people.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is a common cause of gas and bloating, with approximately 10 percent to 20 percent of the U.S. population suffering from IBS at some point in their lives, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. According to New York University Langone Medical Center, numerous double-blind studies suggest that various probiotics may be helpful for reducing the symptoms of IBS. One such study, published in the July 2006 edition of "The American Journal of Gastroenterology," found that subjects taking the probiotic Bifidobacterium infantis experienced a 20 percent reduction in IBS symptoms, including gas and bloating, when compared to the placebo group.

Other Considerations

Taking probiotics might also ease gas and bloating caused by other digestive disorders, according to the Cleveland Clinic, including inflammatory bowel disease, chronic stomach inflammation and ulcers. Some studies have shown potential benefits for reducing symptoms of lactose intolerance, which can include gas and bloating. But this only works using certain strains of probiotics. If you are taking probiotics for a specific disorder, consult a qualified health practitioner to ensure you have the proper strain of probiotic and the proper dosage.

Side Effects

Probiotics are generally safe to take, according to the Cleveland Clinic, but it's important to note that taking probiotics can also cause gas or bloating in the first few days, as well as nausea and diarrhea. If you continue to experience these side effects for more than two to three days, stop taking them until you can consult a doctor. In some cases, the side effects may be due to an allergic reaction.

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