Do Probiotics Help with Bloating? The Gut Microbiome Connection

A woman holds her stomach and holds a probiotic pill to help with bloating

Summary

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Bloating can be uncomfortable, frustrating, and sometimes even embarrassing. Many of us have felt that unwelcome tightness in our bellies, leaving us searching for quick relief. In this blog post, we'll dive into the causes of bloating, explore the connection between bloating and the gut microbiome, and what foods cause it. Finally, we'll answer the question, do probiotics help with bloating? Read on to learn about bloating and see if probiotics may be the answer you're looking for.

What is bloating?

Bloating is that uncomfortable feeling of fullness or tightness in your abdomen. It is often accompanied by gas. 

Bloating can be caused by:

  • Overeating
  • Swallowing air
  • Food intolerances and sensitivities
  • Drinking carbonated beverages
  • Eating certain foods like sugar alcohols or high-fiber foods
  • Digestive disorders like chronic constipation, small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) [1].

It’s important to note that bloating is not the same as abdominal distension, where your stomach physically swells up. That said, the two can happen together.

A healthy digestive system efficiently moves gas through the gut, ready for expulsion. But if you have symptoms of IBS or other digestive issues, you may experience gas pooling in your gut. This impaired gas movement can cause bloating, even without an actual increase in gas production [2]. Cue the uncomfortable, swollen feeling! 

Bloating and the gut microbiome

Most clinical studies on bloating have focused on patients with IBS. One study compared IBS patients—some with bloating, some without—with healthy individuals. It found gut bacteria differences between IBS patients with bloating and without bloating. And the IBS patients without bloating had fewer beneficial bacteria from the Ruminococcaceae and Eubacteriaceae families compared to the other groups [3].

Other studies have shown that treatment with the antibiotic rifaximin significantly reduces bloating in people with IBS [4], [5]. This suggests that the gut microbiome has a role in bloating symptoms.

Your gut bacteria make various byproducts like short-chain fatty acids. These interact with the nervous, muscle, and immune cells in your gut which regulate how food moves through your system—or gut motility [6]. When motility slows, constipation or gas entrapment can increase. This may lead to bloating.

Diet has a major influence in bloating, too. You may have noticed that certain foods make you feel gassy and bloated. It’s possible that your gut bacteria are not well prepared to aid you with their digestion. Does that mean you should eliminate these foods altogether? No, unless you have food intolerances, sensitivities, or a chronic digestive disorder. If you think this may be your case, make sure to ask your healthcare provider. 

Foods like legumes, vegetables, whole grains, and fruits are rich in healthy fibers and prebiotic sugars. But they're also known for causing gas. Why? Because your gut bacteria ferment these fibers and prebiotic sugars. This fermentation process is essential. It helps you maintain a balanced gut and support your overall digestive health [7].

Gut microbiome testing can give you valuable insights into how well your gut can digest different foods. Tiny Health’s Gut Test includes:

  • Fiber Digestion insights, showing your gut’s capacity to break down pectin, cellulose, resistant starch, and chitin.
  • Complex Sugar Digestion insights, showing your gut’s capacity to digest prebiotic sugars. These include galactooligosaccharides (GOS), fructooligosaccharides (FOS), xylooligosaccharides (XOS), and isomaltooligosaccharides (IMO).

When you first begin eating fiber and prebiotic-rich foods, your body may produce more gas. This is because your gut bacteria are adjusting and ramping up their fermentation activities. Over time, your gut microbes get used to these foods. Gas production typically normalizes [8]. For most people, consistency helps their gut microbes ‘learn’ to better digest these foods, reducing gas in the gut [2].

Gradually introducing fiber and prebiotic-rich foods gives your gut microbiome time to adjust. And drinking plenty of water can help your body digest and absorb fibers.

Can probiotics help with bloating?

You may have heard that probiotics can help with bloating. You may have even tried probiotic supplements for relief. But how do you know which probiotics work for bloating, or the right probiotic for your gut? Let’s explore what the research says.

Studies exploring probiotics and their impact on bloating show mixed results. This is where it's helpful to look at a systematic review, an in-depth summary of all the research on a specific subject.

A 2018 systematic review looked at studies where adults took Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, or multistrain probiotics for IBS symptoms [9]. Some of the studies found probiotics were effective for bloating. Others found no significant effect.

The review concluded that certain probiotics may help reduce bloating in some people with IBS. Unfortunately, it's hard to pinpoint the best probiotic strain from the research. The reviewed studies varied widely in probiotic species, strain, dose, and treatment duration. 

That said, if you are dealing with bloating, it’s worth giving probiotics a try. Especially if a microbiome test identifies imbalances in your gut. Let’s explore what other studies have found.

Probiotics with Limosilactobacillus reuteri are commonly used to treat colic in babies. Some studies have shown that this probiotic is effective in relieving bloating in children [10]-[12]. But others found no significant effects compared to a placebo [13], [14].

Newer studies highlight benefits of Bacillus coagulans probiotics. These probiotics can significantly reduce bloating in healthy adults, adults with IBS, and children [15]-[21].

Can probiotics cause bloating? 

But what about people who report the opposite? They take a new probiotic and suddenly feel terrible. So can probiotics cause bloating? Here's the truth: 

Probiotics sometimes cause bloating when you first start taking them. Your gut is adjusting to the new bacteria, but don’t give up too soon! This mild, temporary bloating usually improves in a couple of weeks. The key is to start with a low dose and gradually increase it.

Trying probiotics for bloating—final thoughts

Do probiotics help with bloating? They sure can, for some people. Your gut bacteria influence your digestion and gas production. So if bloating is a frequent bother, probiotics are worth trying. Research on probiotics and bloating shows mixed results. We need more research to identify the most effective probiotic strains and optimal dosages. That said, adults may find bloating relief taking B. coagulans probiotics. And studies show promising results for children taking L. reuteri probiotics. 

If you're considering probiotics for bloating or other digestive issues, know there is no one-size-fits-all solution. It might take some experimenting to see what works best for you. A good start could be testing your microbiome to see where your gut needs support. With Tiny Health’s adult Digestive Issues Program, you’ll get a detailed gut health report, a personalized plan of action, and ongoing 1-on-1 support from a microbiome specialist. We’ll take the guesswork out of finding the right probiotic, if you need one, and a follow up test to help you track your progress toward a happier gut. Get started today.

References

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