Do probiotics help with bloating? If you’ve ever overindulged at a meal and experienced an uncomfortable sensation of fullness or a distended stomach, it’s a question you may have found yourself pondering.
Probiotics are live bacteria that benefit the host and are found in foods like yogurt and the best probiotic supplements. They are purported to enhance gut health and boost immunity and while there are promising results that probiotics may ease gastrointestinal issues such as bloating, the research is far from clear-cut.
To complicate matters, probiotics attract a lot of hype, which makes it tricky to tell whether claims are science-backed. Occasional bloating is also considered normal and not necessarily a cause for concern — although if symptoms are persistent, it’s important you consult a doctor to rule out any underlying causes.
Below, we speak to an expert and examine the evidence to find out if probiotics really can help with bloating.
Do probiotics help with bloating?
So, do probiotics help with bloating? “Probiotics might help but the evidence is far from clear,” says Shyamala Vishnumohan (opens in new tab), certified prenatal dietitian and founder of One to One Thousand Nutrition Clinic, based in Perth, Australia.
While research evidence is promising, it’s tricky to draw firm conclusions. Many of the studies are small-scale, and the results are mixed. Often they focus on particular groups, like people with irritable bowel syndrome, and there are few trials specifically on bloating.
For example, one 2020 review published in the International Journal of Surgery (opens in new tab) demonstrated that probiotics alleviate symptoms of bloating in people with IBS. Yet another clinical trial (opens in new tab) found little difference in bloating symptoms between those taking probiotics and the placebo group.
The effectiveness of probiotics depends in part on the cause of your symptoms. “If your bloating is because of intestinal dysbiosis, a science-y term for imbalance in your gut bacteria, then probiotics like Bifidobacterium can be beneficial,” says Vishnumohan. This may be relevant if you've recently had an infection and taken a course of antibiotics, as they can disrupt the delicate balance of microorganisms in the gut.
Vishnumohan is a certified prenatal dietitian, doctor of food and nutrition (PhD, The University of New South Wales, Sydney), and researcher based in Perth. She has over 15 years experiencing working in nutrition and currently runs a private practice called One to One thousand.
Another factor is the type of probiotic. “Different strains have different effects on your body,” says Vishnumohan. If you choose the wrong one, it may not have the desired outcome. With bloating, the varieties with the most research evidence (opens in new tab) are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
On top of that, responses to probiotics are highly individualized. “Even if it is a clinically tested probiotic, there is no guarantee that it will work for you. No two people have the same gut microbiome,” says Vishnumohan.
Before taking a probiotic, consult with a doctor, particularly if you have an underlying condition, as it could have side effects. Vishnumohan recommends keeping a symptom diary before and after trying a supplement to determine whether it works for you.
Be prepared for a transitional period of a few weeks while the body adjusts. Research published in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy (opens in new tab) suggests bloating is a common symptom during this phase, so the problem may get worse before it gets better.
Probiotics and gut health
The gastrointestinal tract is host to trillions of microorganisms. The diversity of these gut flora is linked to optimum health, according to a paper in the Australian Family Physician (opens in new tab). A balanced gut microbiome aids the digestion of food and is correlated with better immunity. In addition, your intestine influences other aspects of your health, potentially including your mood through the gut-brain axis.
Probiotics help to maintain a healthy community of bacteria within your gut. “If someone is healthy, there is no solid evidence that probiotics are necessary,” says Vishnumohan. “But if you have an unhappy gut which is interfering with your daily life, in some cases probiotics can be beneficial in managing your symptoms.” You can choose from food sources like live yogurt and kefir or supplements.
One review (opens in new tab) of studies shows probiotics generally benefit gastrointestinal health, though selecting the right strain is essential.
Many questions remain unanswered. Scientists are still figuring out optimum doses. There are also challenges with transporting live bacteria to the gut intact. “It is important to recognize that probiotics need to withstand the acidic environment in the stomach to make it live to the intestine,” explains Vishnumohan.
“We are starting to understand probiotics at a deeper level. Maybe five to 10 years down the track, we will have compelling evidence to use them. It’s such an enormous and exciting area,” says Vishnumohan. In the future, it may be possible to have probiotics that are tailored to an individual's unique microbiome.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to offer medical advice.