If you’re one of the five million people around the world living with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) you know how distressing and painful this condition can be. Inflammatory bowel disease, which affects men and women equally, often refers to two major illnesses – ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease.
Colitis causes inflammation in the lining of the colon or rectum, while Crohn’s disease can inflame the entire gastrointestinal tract. Initially, these conditions can be very difficult to diagnose, which makes them even more difficult to treat, however a growing body of research indicates that probiotics provide natural and effective healing benefits.
Cause of IBD
So far the specific cause of IBD is unclear. Some health professionals suggest a germ or an immune system problem is to blame. Also, there’s a possible hereditary link as it tends to run in families.
Ethnicity and geography also play a role in Crohn’s disease as people of Jewish heritage and those living in industrialized countries are more prone to contracting it, according to the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. Smoking also increases the risk of developing Crohn’s but not UC.
There is also some suggestion that dietary habits, oral contraceptives and breastfeeding may contribute to inflammatory bowel disease.
Symptoms of IBD
The most common symptom in UC is diarrhea, although there may also be abdominal pain and rectal bleeding. Crohn’s disease symptoms are most often diarrhea, abdominal pain and weight loss, and sometimes bleeding.
How Probiotics Help IBD
Probiotics are healthy bacteria that help to balance bacterial flora in your intestinal tract and fight off the bacteria that play a role in IBD. Probiotics naturally occur in the body, however, they’re constantly under siege by unhealthy bacteria and are often lacking in your diet.
According to one study published in the journal Best Practice & Research. Clinical Gastroenterology, researchers stated that “probiotics attempt to modify disease by favourably altering bacterial composition, immune status, and inflammation.” They further added that probiotics are no longer being viewed by the wider health community as “folk” medicine, and that these healthy microorganisms are increasingly being studied for their benefit to numerous health problems – including IBD.
Another study revealed that probiotics reduced the number of pro-inflammatory cytokenes (immune system proteins) in ulcerative colitis, essentially reducing inflammation.
While evidence supporting probiotic use for Crohn’s disease isn’t as strong as it is for UC, probiotics are generally safe and well tolerated. Adding them to your diet to fight either of these conditions may provide relief from your symptoms, especially diarrhea.
Two of the most widely available, Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, have shown positive results in treating IBD. You can get them in yogurts, drinks, and liquid or capsule supplements.
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