Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS is known to affect at least 1 in 10 people in the UK. Although there is yet no defined treatment for this debilitating condition, other than dietary suggestions like the FODMAP diet, a recent study found that the use of probiotics alleviated some symptoms and even helped with sleep patterns.
what is ibs?
According to The IBS Network, the definition is as follows:
“IBS is an illness that has no specific cause, no distinctive pathology and no single effective treatment. The symptoms can vary from person to person and in the same person different times but often in response to what happens or changes in diet or lifestyle.Physiological studies have shown that the gut in IBS tends to be more sensitive and reactive (irritable). Causes of this may include a traumatic or upsetting event or situation or an attack of gastroenteritis. It is more common in women than men (3:2), tends to start in teenage or twenties and may persist on and off throughout life, often depending on what is happening.”
Although symptoms aren’t the same for everyone, some common symptoms of IBS include:
- Heartburn and indigestion
- Needing to pass urine frequently
- Muscle pains
- Abdominal cramps, often relieved by going to the toilet
ibs and probiotics
Although we know that probiotics can help reduce the severity of symptoms in IBS sufferers, we’re not sure exactly HOW probiotics do this. One possible explanation is that probiotics help produce and regulate levels of melatonin in the body. As melatonin acts as a natural anaesthetic, and affects gut motility, this could help with IBS.
Hold on a minute, what is Melatonin? The Sleep Foundation explains:
“A hormone that’s made by the pineal gland in the brain, melatonin helps control your daily sleep-wake cycles. Your body’s internal clock (also known as your circadian rhythm) influences how much melatonin the pineal gland makes, and so does the amount of light that you’re exposed to each day. Typically, melatonin levels start to rise in the mid-to-late evening, after the sun has set. They stay elevated for most of the night while you’re in the dark. Then, they drop in the early morning as the sun rises, causing you to awaken.”
This recent study found that in fact Melatonin levels rose while taking probiotics. The study took a group of IBS sufferers, and split them into 2 groups. For 6 weeks one group took a VSL#3 supplement, and the other group a placebo. At the end of the 6 weeks, not only did those taking VSL#3 report an improvement in some of their IBS symptoms, such as abdominal pain, satisfaction with bowel habits and improved quality of life, but there was also a correlation between those men who saw their levels of melatonin increase, and those whose symptoms improved.
So this is good news for IBS sufferers!
Some things to keep in mind, this study looked at a fairly small group of people, so although the results are promising, more studies are needed before we can say anything for definite about the role of melatonin. The melatonin findings were also only relevant for those with a normal sleeping pattern – any night shift workers for example might not be affected in the same way!
Other studies involving VSL#3 also suggest improvements to flatulence and bloating in those with IBS.
watch the video on this study: