I know this might sound like something out of a science fiction film, but our colons (large intestines) are hosts to an unbelievable number of microscopic organisms that make up the “intestinal microbiota,” sometimes referred to as the “forgotten organ" because of its huge impact on human health.
As a dietitian who specializes in gastrointestinal health, I'm particularly excited about research into the potential role these organisms play in gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Probiotics may help reduce IBS and IBD symptoms
Probiotics are species of beneficial bacteria (or yeasts) that we ingest to help populate our guts with good bacteria. Probiotics are found in supplement form, but you can also find them in a variety of fermented foods such as sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, and kefir.
Researchers have found that individuals with IBS and IBD have a lower number and variety of beneficial bacteria in their colons, which may play a role in the onset and progression of these health conditions.
Taking probiotic supplements has been shown to improve IBS and IBD-related symptoms and outcomes. Scientists aren't exactly sure why probiotics help, but they suspect it might have something to do with their anti-inflammatory properties and/or ability to crowd out the "bad bacteria."
While they are generally regarded as safe, you should talk to your healthcare provider before taking probiotic supplements.
Recommended Readings to Learn More About Probiotics:
Before You Buy Probiotics, Learn About the Friendly Gut Bacteria You Already Have
What Are Probiotics ... And Does Your Gut Need More of Them?
SIBO — Bacteria on the move!
Having bacteria and other microorganisms in our colons is perfectly normal. However, when these microbes migrate from the large intestine to settle in the small intestine, they can cause a variety of gastrointestinal symptoms, especially gas and bloating.
This condition is called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO.
A health care provider with knowledge of SIBO can test for and treat the condition and you can work with a dietitian to change your diet to help keep the SIBO from returning.
In the meantime, here are 10+ things you need to know about SIBO.
The low FODMAP diet and the gut microbiome
If you have IBS or IBD then you’ve very likely heard of the low FODMAP diet.
FODMAPs are certain types of carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed and highly fermentable. (FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polyols).
Limiting foods that are rapidly fermented by our gut microbes means less fermentation, and less fermentation means less gas, less bloating and less abdominal pain. No wonder people with IBS, IBD and SIBO feel better with fewer FODMAPs!
A low FODMAP diet is only meant to be a short-term "learning" diet because its effect on the gut microbiota is unknown. Research has shown that following a low FODMAP diet might reduce the numbers of desirable and undesirable microbes that live in the colon. For this reason, it's imporant to work with a knowledgeable dietitian to help reintroduce high FODMAP foods.
While it is clear that the number, type, and location of microorganisms living in the GI tract may play a role in IBS and IBD, the exact relationship is not fully understood. Consuming natural and supplemental probiotics, following a low FODMAP diet, and addressing SIBO are just some of the ways those with GI disorders can take advantage of what we currently know about these microbes.
With the growing interest in microbiome research, we can expect to learn lots more about the relationship between the microbiome and GI disorders in the coming years, so stay tuned!