A recent study has shown that probiotics can help reduce gas and improve constipation by decreasing levels of certain bacteria in the gut. These bacteria include the organism responsible for methane SIBO (technically not a bacteria, it’s an archaea). Was this a ‘special’ probiotic? Not really. Let’s discuss the details.
Dr. Michael Ruscio, DC: Hi, this is Dr. Ruscio. And let’s discuss how probiotics can reduce flatulence and improve constipation by reducing levels of unwanted bacteria in your gut.
DrMR: So, specifically in this study, 21 subjects were given a probiotic that contained a mixture of Lactobacillusand Bifidobacterium strains. And they found the abundances of Citrobacter, Klebsiella, and Methanobrevibacter were reduced. So these are three bacteria that may not be great to have in high quantities in the gut. And the probiotic showed the ability to reduce the abundance of each one of these.
Now, more specifically regarding symptoms, as the Methanobrevibacter decreased, they did show that as this bacteria decreased—and Methanobrevibacter is not a bacteria. Technically it’s an archaea. You can think of it like a cousin of a bacteria. But for simplicity’s sake, we can call it a bacteria.
“Probiotics exert antibacterial effects. This is oftentimes overlooked.”
Essentially, as this organism Methanobrevibacter decreased, there was a corresponding decrease in flatulence. Also, for women only, there was a reduction of constipation. Why this is salient is this Methanobrevibacter archaea organism has been correlated with reducing the motility in the intestines and has been highly correlated to constipation.
So it’s no surprise that we see reduced gas, because these organisms produce gas, and an improvement in constipation because this organism, Methanobrevibacter in particular, has been highly correlated with constipation.
So what does this mean? A few notes for you. Probiotics exert antibacterial effects. This is oftentimes overlooked. In fact, one of the main strengths or utilities of probiotics may not be that they colonize you. Most probiotics do not. However, they have transient impacts, one of which is secreting antibacterial and antifungal peptides that can help reduce fungal or bacterial overgrowths in the gut.
So there are other mechanisms. But one important mechanism is the mechanism of reducing unwanted bacteria and fungus in the gut by being, ironically, antibacterial and antifungal. By decreasing these levels of unwanted bacteria and fungus in the gut, then we can have a reduction of flatulence and improvement in constipation or bowel regularity amongst other things.
Now, something else here to be cognizant of is being careful not to get pulled too into marketing claims regarding probiotics. Probiotics can certainly be helpful. And I encourage people to experiment with probiotics as long as it’s from a reputable company and you know it’s a safe, tested form of probiotic that isn’t filled with a bunch of garbage. But you also have to be wary of some of the health claims, because now everyone, it seems, is trying to one up each other in saying that, “Our probiotic is the new, improved, the best,” what have you.
Four Categories of Probiotics
And one of the things I continually try to bring us back to is looking at the evidence and looking at how we see similar results with different probiotics. And in many studies, you’re seeing different perturbations on a certain mixture, and they’re all having similar results.
For example, there have been many studies that have a shown an ability to reduce gas and/or improve constipation with a Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium predominant blend of probiotic. Is there one special blend or one special strain that will only vector those benefits? No, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
Many different formulas with different strains of Lactobacillus and different strains of Bifidobacterium have been shown to have these positive effects.
Now, that’s just one class of probiotic. There are, in my opinion, three other classes. You have a Saccharomyces boulardii probiotic, which is actually a healthy fungus. You have a soil-based probiotic or a spore-forming probiotic, and this will oftentimes have various strains of the Bacillus family. And finally, you have E. Coli Nissle 1917. And that is another class. There are a few other probiotics that are potentially slightly different from those categories.
But if you look at the brunt of the research that has been done, it is with one of these four categories. And you will see, for example, multiple studies showing an improvement in constipation with probiotics. And rarely is it the same formula that’s always used.
So certainly, there may be a time and a place to become more prescriptive with probiotics, but I try to prevent us from making things unnecessarily complicated. So in this case, we see that a Lactobacillus/Bifidobacterium blend has the ability to reduce flatulence and improve constipation. The constipation improvement was in women only. But other studies have shown, with a similar probiotic, improvements in constipation in men and women.
So if you’re someone who has flatulence and/or has constipation, a trial of a Lactobacillus/Bifidobacterium predominant probiotic is certainly worth a trial. Experimenting with other probiotics to try to improve your gut health or for other health conditions is certainly warranted.
Just be cautious of health claims and make sure that you’re listening to your own body and clearly noticing a benefit from a probiotic in order to qualify it as being something that you should use in the long term. If you’re not noticing a clear benefit from it, I wouldn’t continue to use a probiotic because you read how great it was or what have you.
So probiotics can certainly be helpful. We just have to be a little bit tempered in getting swept up in some of the excitement, some of the marketing, having a practical approach in terms of how we use and apply probiotics. In this case, good news for those with flatulence and/or women with constipation.
I care about answering your questions and sharing my knowledge with you. Leave a comment or connect with me on social media asking any health question you may have and I just might incorporate it into our next listener questions podcast episode just for you!
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