Are prebiotic supplements good for IBS symptoms?
You are probably aware that gut bacteria has a role in your IBS. So anything that affects your gut bacteria could also benefit your IBS right?
In this post, I look at a new study published which found that prebiotics are not useful for those with any functional bowel disorder, including IBS (1).
Table of Contents
What Is A Prebiotic?
Simply put, a prebiotic is food for your gut bacteria. It does have an official definition though;
“A prebiotic is a food ingredient that selectively stimulates growth and/or the activity of microbial species inhabiting the host, and that confers health benefits to the host” (2).
Some foods such as onions, chicory root, agave and cereal contain natural occurring prebiotics (2).
But, you can also buy prebiotic supplements which boost your intake of gut bacteria food. The idea being that if you take these supplements your gut bacteria levels would then increase.
If you have IBS then you will likely have lower levels of certain gut bacteria. So it is reasonable to start thinking that a prebiotic supplement may help your IBS.
Researchers at Kings College London in the UK carried out a systematic review and meta-analysis of the current available research into prebiotics being used in functional gut disorders. This included irritable bowel syndrome.
The study only included trials which are called randomised control trials. These types of trials are considered to be a high standard, which means that we can trust the results.
Only 11 studies were considered of high enough quality to be included in this paper.
Within these studies, different types and amounts of prebiotics were used. Interestingly, they did find that doses of 6g or more each day improved flatulence slightly. And, you need to be careful to avoid inulin-type prebiotics as these seemed to make flatulence worse.
Overall, the systematic review and meta-analysis showed that there was no difference between taking a placebo compared to taking a prebiotic supplement in IBS symptoms. These results included abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence and quality of life.
So save your money and time. Current research does not show that taking prebiotic supplements will help your IBS.
Take Home Message
The overall benefit you will get from taking a prebiotic supplement for IBS is negligible, if any. Some types which contain inulin, may make your symptoms worse.
If you are looking for a supplement to help your irritable bowel syndrome, then probiotics is a better place to go. You can read more about these here.
Kirsten Jackson is a UK registered Consultant Gastroenterology Dietitian and founder of The Food Treatment Clinic. She has undergone many qualifications to get where she is today, including a UK BSc Honours Degree in Dietetics and Post-Graduate Certificate in Advanced Dietetics. In addition to this, she has FODMAP Training from Kings College London University. Kirsten set up The Food Treatment Clinic in 2015 after first experiencing digestive problems herself. She felt that the NHS was unable to provide the support individuals needed and went on to specialise in this area before opening a bespoke IBS service. Kirsten also participates in charity work as an Expert Advisor for the IBS Network. In addition, she can be seen in publications such as Cosmopolitan and The Telegraph discussing IBS as an Official Media Spokesperson to the IBS Network.