Probiotics and Postbiotics for IBS: How Do Gut Biotics Help Support IBS Symptoms?

Key Points:

  • Probiotics and postbiotics like butyrate both have research backing their effectiveness for relieving IBS symptoms. 
  • Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that create postbiotics in your gut. Postbiotics are therapeutic metabolites like butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA). However, most probiotic supplements don’t contain butyrate-producing bacteria species. 
  • If we had to choose between the two, we’d pick butyrate for its gut, brain, immune, and inflammatory response support. But we’re definitely biased!

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a fickle condition for many people. IBS can present with a wide range of gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, abdominal pain, and cramps. It can also manifest as mental health symptoms like depression and anxiety. (No surprise considering the gut-brain axis.)

In short, IBS is a sign that something is off in the gut: the microbiome has shifted to favor bacteria or fungi that cause these symptoms, inflammation is on the rise, and/or the nervous system is stuck on overdrive. It’s likely that the cause is some combination of factors. 

But often, shifting the microbiome in some way is the first line treatment for IBS. For some, changes in diet, lifestyle, stress management, and sleep are enough to initiate this shift. But many people need additional support. This is where probiotic and postbiotic (butyrate) therapy comes in.

Do probiotics and postbiotics help with IBS? Current research suggests they do, and they may work synergistically as well. Let’s take a look at how probiotics and postbiotics may help relieve IBS symptoms.

Table of Contents:

Changing the Gut Microbiome to Support IBS Management

The main thing probiotics and postbiotics have in common is their ability to shift the gut microbiome. Let’s take a look at the mechanisms and benefits of each biotic for supporting recovery from IBS, pulling straight from current scientific research. 

Probiotics for IBS

Probiotics are living and sometimes inactive organisms that provide a beneficial effect in our gut microbiome (hence the “pro” prefix). In oral supplements, they typically include species of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria

Some supplements provide a single beneficial species, (hopefully) backed by research on that species for improving a specific symptom or condition. Others provide multiple species in the hopes of diversifying the microbiome, increasing the overall number of beneficial bacteria to create a positive effect (less bloating, better digestion, etc.).

Probiotics have been on the market for over a decade now and have a lot of research backing them up for treating IBS symptoms. 

      •  A 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis (an analysis of multiple studies on a specific research topic) concluded that probiotics had beneficial effects on global IBS symptoms and abdominal pain, but noted that a specific combination of probiotic species or strains for IBS was not identified.
      • A 2019 study specifically on Lactobacillus probiotics for “unconstipated” IBS found that patients taking Lactobacillus probiotics had significant improvements in global IBS symptoms over the placebo group.
      • A 2019 systematic review found that beneficial effects for IBS patients were more pronounced with multispecies probiotics taken for eight weeks or more. ​​This suggests that symptom relief is more likely when patients take multispecies probiotics over a longer period of time. 
      • Improved symptoms in these studies include diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, gas, and bloating.

One other interesting note about probiotics is that they may not need to be “alive” to have a positive effect. Research has found that heat-inactivated probiotics still seem to have beneficial effects, reducing issues like chronic diarrhea and atopic dermatitis. So you don’t have to stress about keeping your probiotics in the fridge or keeping them alive while you travel. 

In fact, it’s likely that some brands advertising their probiotics as “alive” just because they are kept cold are only using this as a marketing tactic to persuade you that their probiotics are better than the room temp ones.

What a good probiotic should include

Postbiotics for IBS 

Butyrate, a postbiotic metabolite produced by certain probiotic species in the colon, may also be helpful for reducing IBS symptoms. Unlike probiotics, postbiotics are not living organisms but rather a nutritional product made and used by the microbiome. Butyrate, in addition to being part of the “biotic” family, is also classified as a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA). Butyrate is well known for: 

      • Nourishing and protecting the gut lining*
      • Helping to balance the microbiome*
      • Supporting a healthy inflammatory response*
      • Regulating the immune system*
      • Supporting brain health and diminishing brain fog.*

There have been some exciting studies on the power of butyrate for gut health, and one potential cause of IBS might be low butyrate levels in the gut. That alone implies that supplementing butyrate may help improve IBS symptoms. 

      • A 2022 study on the effects of butyrate for IBS symptoms found that microencapsulated sodium butyrate at 150 mg twice per day significantly improved abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, nausea, vomiting, constipation, and diarrhea. Ninety-three percent of patients said they would continue taking the butyrate and 88% said they would recommend it to other IBS patients! 
      • A 2020 study looked at the microbiomes of 30 IBS patients and determined that significant dysbiosis was present, as well as reduced SCFAs and SCFA transporters. They indicated that a lack of SCFAs in the gut may be important to IBS pathogenesis. 
      • Another review on sodium butyrate for IBS described improvements in abdominal pain and discomfort, and also noted that there were no adverse side effects with the treatment. Butyrate seems to be a therapy that won’t hurt, but might help.* 

Which Biotic Is Right for You? 

Probiotics and postbiotics for IBS both have their advantages, and you may need one or the other — or both — to support your gut. 

From our perspective, butyrate is an excellent nutraceutical to support IBS symptoms and build a more resilient gut.* We have heard from hundreds of BodyBio customers and practitioners that BodyBio Butyrate has drastically improved their gut health, and often their brain and mental health too. 

One advantage of butyrate as a short-chain fatty acid is that it works systemically in the body, meaning SCFAs can travel through the bloodstream and go to work in different organs like the brain.*

Probiotics, while still powerful, only work in the gut itself (when ingested). A typical multispecies probiotic also does not include butyrate-producing species, since these strains fall outside of the usual Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria categories. Some of them include Clostridium, Eubacterium, Fusobacterium species.

While rare, another disadvantage to probiotics is that they may skew the microbiome too far in the opposite direction, with too many Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species. Technically, this is still dysbiosis, even when the strains are considered beneficial. Some people experience IBS-type symptoms when this happens, some don’t feel it at all. Probiotics are very individual. 

If we had to choose between the two, we’d go for butyrate for its gut, brain, immune, and inflammatory response support. But we certainly won’t hold it against you if you try probiotics instead. Listen to your gut and find what’s right for you!  

Supporting Your Gut Health to Relieve IBS

Diet, stress management, and sleep will always be essential to good gut health, but after those foundations have been addressed, the next step may be to add a “biotic” to your routine to relieve IBS symptoms. 

      • Probiotics add beneficial bacteria to your gut microbiome, usually in the form of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species. 
      • Postbiotics are beneficial metabolites created by the gut bacteria, the most popular of which is butyrate, a therapeutic short-chain fatty acid. 

You may need one or both to notice a difference in your IBS symptoms, but they each have good research backing up their effectiveness and an almost non-existent side effect profile. Yet, individual experiences with probiotics and postbiotics vary. The first option you test might not be the best option for you, but keep trying different products! We’re confident you’ll find a great therapeutic option for you. 

Learn how to find a high-quality probiotic here. 

Learn more about BodyBio Butyrate here. 


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