Leena Thomas - Irritable Bowel Syndrome

By: Leena Thomas, Registered Pharmacist

Lately, I have had a few clients asking for help to select a probiotic to treat IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). IBS is not a life-threatening disease, but it can have a negative impact on one’s quality of life.

A functional gastrointestinal disorder associated with recurrent abdominal pain, and changes in stool frequency and appearance, IBS symptoms are pain, bloating, diarrhea and constipation.

The direct cause of IBS is still hazy. But the reasons may include genetic predisposition, food intolerances/sensitivities, gastrointestinal infections, stress or early life events like trauma/abuse, depression and anxiety.

The subtype of IBS includes:

  • constipation-predominant: IBS-C
  • diarrhea-predominant: IBS-D
  • mixed bowel habits: IBS-M
  • unclassified: IBS-U

Canadian Association of Gastroenterology recommends cognitive behavioural therapy and hypnotherapy as psychological therapies and alternative therapy such as peppermint oil and probiotics for IBS-D, and IBS-M, not for IBS-C. Based on research probiotics are one of the best reasonable first-line therapies for IBS.

Before you select a probiotic:

  1. Speak with your pharmacist to choose the best one recommended for your IBS subtype because the effects of probiotics depend on the specific strain or combination of strains and on the delivery format and dose.
  2. Consider probiotics approved by Health Canada.
  3. Refer to the Clinical Guide to Probiotic Products Available in Canada for the most up-to-date listing of probiotic strains supported by evidence.

Pharmacists can help you by discussing goals of the treatment and the expected duration of treatment, say 12 weeks, to assess the benefit as per most studies.