If you are one of the many millions that suffer from unexplained abdominal cramps, bloating, constipation and diarrhea, you are not alone. According to the NIH, 1 in 5 Americans suffer from similar symptoms.

The cause? Physicians have placed all of the unexplained and irregular symptoms into the catch-all disorder irritable bowel syndrome.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), despite being one of the most commonly diagnosed disorders, is one of the least known. Patients who suffer from IBS can manage their symptoms through change in diet, stress control and medication for anxiety and depression which can worsen IBS symptoms. However, no medication targets the causes of IBS, because the disorder is largely not understood and physicians are uncertain of the root cause. This can be quite irksome for the millions of IBS sufferers who are desperate for more information and better treatment. Many forego trying treatment at all, and merely ‘deal’ with their symptoms without medical help.

The NIH reports that up to 70% of people with symptoms are not receiving any medical care for their IBS.

This illustration shows the layout of the gastrointestinal system. Researchers suspect that IBS is caused by a colon (large intestine) that is sensitive to certain foods and stress. Other effects like the immune system and hormones have also been implicated to play a role in IBS symptoms and causes. Photo credit: National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse

A recent study may shed light on the mysterious face of IBS, and offer a new option for treatment. The research, published in the March issue of Postgraduate Medicine, concluded after an eight week study, that probiotics (helpful bacteria) could improve the severity and frequency of symptoms associated with IBS.  Based on promising results from other studies that have examined the effects of beneficial bacteria on IBS, author Larysa Hun, M.D. and author of the study wanted to streamline the data, and examine one particular strain to measure results. 

Specifically, the study looked at the bacteria strain Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086 and its effects on abdominal pain and bloating symptoms of IBS. Participants were either given a dosage of the probiotic or a placebo once a day for eight weeks and symptoms were self reported and further evaluated. Results found that participants given the B. coagulans experienced a significant reduction in both abdominal pain and bloating as compared to the control group.

A culture of Bacillus coagulans, which can help ease some symptoms of IBS> Photo credit: Michigan State University
"This study helps confirm that Bacillus coagulans is effective in IBS," said Hun. "A combination of Bacillus coagulans, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and Streptococcus thermophilus was previously shown in a clinical trial to significantly improve IBS symptoms, but it was not possible to determine what effect, if any, each strain had by itself."
Currently, there are two FDA approved prescription medications available for IBS. Alosetron is prescribed for women with severe IBS-related diarrhea, and can cause some serious side effects. The other medication, lubiprostone is prescribed for women with IBS-related constipation. Often, these medications only tackle part of the problem, and other symptoms of IBS can crop up despite taking the prescription medications.

As a result, physicians often recommend over the counter solutions like fiber, laxatives or anti-diarrhea medications like Imodium. Another option may now be available, Ganeden Biotech has developed an over the counter medication, Digestive Advantage Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which contains the probiotic strain of Bacillus coagulans GBI-30 6086, tested in the study.

Although larger scale clinical trials are needed to examine the effects of probiotics on symptoms of IBS, initial results show the potential to safe and possible better way to alleviate chronic symptoms of IBS.


Hun, Larysa  MD, FAAP. "Bacillus coagulans Significantly Improved Abdominal Pain and Bloating in Patients with IBS." Postgraduate Medicine Volume 121 (2). March 2009. doi: 10.3810/pgm.2009.03.1984

Irritable Bowel Syndrome: National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, A service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, NIH