Lebwohl says IBS isn’t just about intestinal distress. For many IBS sufferers, it’s about the way our brain receives messages about pain. He describes the human colon as “almost reptilian” in the way that it contracts and relaxes throughout the day, but says these contractions are usually happening way below our threshold of consciousness, so we don’t even notice. In people with IBS, the neurotransmitters in our gut (yes, we have them in there too) may be sending severe distress signals to the brain about benign contractions happening in digestive tract.
If you want to supercharge your probiotic friends, you may want to feed them with prebiotics. That’s P-R-E-biotics. They nourish the good bacteria in your gut in order to keep them healthy against the bad bacteria. They should go hand-in-hand with probiotics. Prebiotics are found in many foods, including bananas, whole grains, honey, garlic and onions. Try to get two to four servings of these prebiotic-rich foods a day.
Whether a brand of probiotics works really depends on its quality and your body's own gut. Everyone has a different set of gut flora so try several to see what works for you. Using a brand of at least 40 billion CFU is best. There seems to be some debate as to whether one should use refrigerated or unrefrigerated probiotics. I went with the side that claims unrefrigerated are sturdier and less prone to die off.
Although people often think of bacteria and other microorganisms as harmful “germs,” many microorganisms help our bodies function properly. For example, bacteria that are normally present in our intestines help digest food, destroy disease-causing microorganisms, and produce vitamins. Large numbers of microorganisms live on and in our bodies. Many of the microorganisms in probiotic products are the same as or similar to microorganisms that naturally live in our bodies.
But before you start reaching for the calcium supplements, there may be a more effective way to support your bone health. Like many other parts of the body, the health of your bones is closely tied to the health of your gut, especially your intestines. Temporary intestinal inflammation can trigger an immune response in which your body releases interleukins, proteins that have an immune function but also absorb bone tissue. If the temporary inflammation remains unaddressed, these molecules can take a toll on your bones, eventually weakening them.14
The idea that consuming probiotics can boost the ability of already well-functioning native bacteria to promote general health is dubious for a couple of reasons. Manufacturers of probiotics often select specific bacterial strains for their products because they know how to grow them in large numbers, not because they are adapted to the human gut or known to improve health. The particular strains of Bifidobacterium or Lactobacillus that are typically found in many yogurts and pills may not be the same kind that can survive the highly acidic environment of the human stomach and from there colonize the gut.