Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a poorly-understood diagnosis that categorizes difficulty in maintaining regular bowel movement cycles. Recent research has found that people suffering from IBS symptoms tend to have a unique balance of intestinal bacteria. Those suffering from IBS were found to have less than half of the Bifidobacterium catenulatum bacteria found in those with healthy digestive cycles.


Researchers from the University Medical Center in the Netherlands developed a study to categorize microbiota in patients with IBS symptoms. Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a godawful term used by modern Western medicine to describe un-diagnosable digestive issues. If you are constipated, have diarrhea, develop traveler’s diarrhea, or have any remotely unpleasant digestive issues you’d likely qualify for an IBS diagnosis by your local team of MDs.  Let’s take it from the Mayo Clinic’s definition:

Irritable bowel syndrome … includes cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea or constipation, or both

As one might note, an IBS diagnosis is likely to account for a slurry of symptoms. There are some FDA-approved treatments, ADA-recognize matrices of symptom identification, and plenty of trained professionals to hand out a diagnosis with treatment. Still, IBS remains a somewhat broadly-termed diagnosis that’s hard to apply to anything specific. The research here helps connect common IBS cases with a little more insight into the underlying bacterial profiles.

The IBS—Probiotic Connection

The team from the Netherlands decided to offer more meaningful insight into the issue and developed a study to better understand the shifts in gut bacteria among those suffering from IBS symptoms. They investigated the bacteria found in samples taken directly from the small intestine walls of 41 volunteers. Subjects all suffered from one of three types of IBS—diarrhea type, constipation type, and alternating diarrhea/constipation.

Researchers found lower levels of Bifidobacterium catenulatum in those suffering from IBS

Using methods proven to provide accurate identification of these types of bacteria, the researchers compared the samples taken from this group with the samples collected from 26 healthy subjects. Researchers discovered Bifidobacterium catenulatum levels were nearly twice as low in those suffering from IBS—making a potential connection between specific bacteria and IBS. Loads more data are required before the FDA or the ADA are likely to raise an eyebrow but these initial findings will hopefully usher in more research teams with similar goals.

Good Bacteria Make For Good Digestion

How do you digest food? This simple question has proven to be quite enigmatic over the years. We’ve understood the most basic functions of the human body for centuries—mouth, teeth, stomach, intestines, etc. What Science is still largely unaware of are the specifics of how these systems operate and co-mingle with one another.

Fermented foods like sour krauts, Kimchi, and tempeh are great sources for many bacteria that are generally regarded to be capable of helping to boost gut health. Probiotics are another wildly-popular source of these bacteria and used by many people. As with most supplements and live-culture foods—brand quality greatly determines how much benefit you might actually be getting.

Working to better understand these powerful microorganisms, and their role in our health may help you find a better balance. The research here is specific to IBS but likely similar to many different health conditions.

Putting Things into Perspective

One of the most interesting concepts of healthy digestion is the role of intestinal microflora. These are the billions of tiny bacterial lifeforms that live inside your digestive tract. These tiny little microbiota exist in a delicate balance which is very much affected by what we eat and where we live. Bacteria like Streptococcus pyogenes—responsible for Strep Throat—are found in nearly all of our bodies at any given time, but they are kept in a harmless balance by other bacteria. Keep in mind, the human gut is thought to be home to more than 30,000 unique species of bacteria. That’s probably a serious underestimate but one of the best-proven guesses we have currently.

This study is excellent, but a far cry from solidifying any new treatments for IBS.

It’s useful to regard this balance as a ‘soup’ of sorts, where all the ingredients have access to one another and are constantly mixing together. Trouble can begin when certain bacteria are able to grow in excess, which can alter the delicate balance of the bacterial community. This can be seen in such issues as Candida Albicans, which is common yeast known to cause symptoms of brain fog, chronic fatigue, and depression. C. Albicans is a common yeast bacteria that provides a valuable function to our body, but when exposed to diets high in yeast-fueling ingredients like sugar and carbohydrates—it can begin affecting your balance of microbiota.

Maintaining Balance

Many beneficial bacteria in our guts are considered to be transient—which means they don’t colonize on a permanent basis. Working to maintain constant exposure to these bacteria can be beneficial to your health, but can also be difficult. Ideally, eating fermented foods such as yogurt and krauts can help boost your levels of beneficial bacteria conveniently. The interplay between different bacteria is complicated—to say the least—and modern research is just now getting a handle on it. Taking some pages from our evolutionary past, in the form of dietary practices, can help simplify some otherwise astoundingly complex concepts.

Fermented Foods & Probiotics

Foods like sour kraut often contain loads of bacteria like Lactobacillus Plantarum, Lactobacillus Paraplantarum, Lactobacillus Koreensis, Lactobacillus Brevis, and Lactobacillus Hammesii. These bacteria are all generally regarded as being beneficial to gut health and can be had simply by eating unpasteurized sour kraut.  Everyone is different, however, and sometimes more isolated approaches can be helpful in understanding how you will respond to different strains of beneficial bacteria. Probiotics offer easy access to isolated bacteria known to provide powerful digestive support.

Quality Probiotics

One of the most reliable manufacturers of probiotics is Klaire Labs which offer a wide range of powerful probiotic products. In many regards, maintaining healthy gut flora is an everyday endeavor. One source of the bifidocontaining product is the Klaire Labs Ther-Biotic Factor 4. This product is also available from Amazon, though you need to check that the seller uses adequate refrigeration before and during shipping—or else the probiotics will die during shipping! Most probiotics are living and require constant refrigeration to avoid making them all but useless. Some are freeze-dried and can sustain a longer non-refrigerated shelf life. We have a guide to probiotics that can help you select a product if you’re uncertain.

Final Thoughts

While IBS is considered by many to be a cop-out diagnosis—in that it falls short of offering specific insight to root causes—science is starting to better understand it. This study’s insight into decreased counts of certain probiotic bacteria in those suffering from IBS is an incredible step forward. It helps validate long-held beliefs of the alternative medical community and functional medicine. Science knows very little for certain when it comes to discerning favorable intestinal microbiota composition. What makes one feel great might make you feel horrible. This study is excellent, but a far cry from solidifying any new treatments for IBS.

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