Medically reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 5/29/2022
Probiotics: the things your gym friend raves about and the things you’ve probably consumed after someone else said it was good for you.
We give probiotics a lot of credit — according to the internet, they can boost vaginal health, clear up dietary issues, treat urinary tract infections, make our gut biomes better and improve digestive health, clear up our skin and fix lactose intolerance.
How much of that is or isn’t a marketing ploy is a difficult question to answer, but what we do know is that there are benefits to probiotics, and that reducing bloating may indeed be one of them.
Does that mean your bloating can be cured by these magical things? Not so fast — before you go chugging a gallon of probiotics, let’s cover some facts.
For many people, bloating is an unspecific term to describe bowel and abdominal discomfort, and for the most part, that’s how the medical profession sees it.
Bloating can be described as a distended or tense sensation in the abdomen, or it might be described as a gassy feeling. All of this centers on one specific sensation though: pressure.
Bloating and bloating symptoms like abdominal pain are a fairly common complaint in the world of gastroenterologists, and they can be caused by a variety of conditions.
Diabetes, hypothyroidism, celiac disease, bowel malignancy, ovarian malignancy, small bowel bacteria overgrowth and a few more hard-to-say conditions can all cause bloating symptoms.
But before you dash to WebMD to try and determine how long you have left to live, you should know there’s probably no need for panic. For many people these complaints might simply be the result of food allergy or intolerance — lactose, fructose and other carbohydrates can all cause bloating and other unpleasant digestive symptoms.
Conditions like irritable bowel syndrome can also cause boating, and as many women are likely aware, bowel function changes are a substantial problem during or before menstruation — especially if you have another condition like IBS.
When food intolerances cause severe symptoms like stomach pain and reduce your quality of life, it makes sense to seek treatment.
Probiotics are living things. They’re strains of bacteria — healthy, potentially beneficial bacteria — that can have positive impacts on digestive symptoms when taken as a food supplement.
Generally, they’re microorganisms specifically chosen for their benefits to gut health, but what gut health means is a little vague. Research shows that they can be beneficial to people suffering from various gut disorders and issues like diarrhea, but some probiotic strains have also been studied for benefits in the prevention of post-surgical complications, respiratory tract infections and more.
The FDA is a bit reserved on all of this — they’ve indicated that certain types of probiotics are safe, but have generally suggested that there’s insufficient evidence of benefits from probiotic supplements.
t means that there’s no FDA-approved probiotic for diarrhea or other stomach issues. This is largely because the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements, so none of these products have to meet approval guidelines, but of course it’s also important to keep that insufficient evidence in mind.
Because they’re not FDA approved, supplements and food and beverage products containing probiotics can’t make many claims, including if they can treat bloating and symptoms of bloating.
if you’re wondering what other scientific organizations have said about taking a probiotic for bloating, you should know that the NIH doesn’t even acknowledge a relationship between the two.
Okay, so if the NIH hasn’t said anything good, what have they said?
Well, a 2016 study looked at the relationship between probiotics and diverticular disease, which bloating is a symptom of. With more than 700 patients and 11 studies, the review was inconclusive about the relationship between probiotics and this condition. The study's authors mostly attributed this to the poor quality of the 11 studies in question.
o be expected, frankly, because probiotics are a relatively new subfield in the supplements world. The number of people using them in the United States has more than quadrupled over the last couple of decades.
What we do know is that the NIH has covered the established information about probiotics in detail and they do acknowledge that studies have shown a beneficial role for probiotics in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which can cause bloating.
The NIH did note a meta analysis that showed probiotics could improve symptoms for irritable bowel syndrome sufferers to the tune of 21 percent of the population. They once again however noted that the quality of the studies was low.
Do probiotics seem to have an impact on some causes of bloating and on bloating itself? Data would suggest as much. But given the variety of strains of probiotics being studied (you can also combine them) and the variable quality of the studies we have access to, it’s impossible to safely take this conversation to the next step, which would be prescribing probiotics as a treatment for bloating.
While probiotic bacteria do seem to work on abdominal bloating, at this time we can’t tell you which probiotic strains to consume — or in what quantities — for the desired health benefits.
Are daily probiotics the solution to bloating? Well, your guess is frankly as good as the medical community’s right now. Experts generally agree that the pathophysiology of bloating isn’t completely understood, and they also agree that thus far, no treatment is completely or universally effective.
What we have then are a variety of treatments that a healthcare provider may suggest if your symptoms are affecting your quality of life.
Healthcare professionals may advise changes in diet to limit the sources of gas and bloating. That means that if you have a food intolerance, your healthcare provider is probably going to tell you just to avoid that food and address a poor diet if you have one. They might also recommend a low FODMAP diet to stop bloating.
As with most health conditions, some physicians believe there’s a link between exercise and improvement in symptoms, and while that evidence isn’t the most promising (and nobody wants to hop on the treadmill with gas), we can’t argue the idea that exercise is generally good for your health.
If these lifestyle changes don’t do anything to reduce your bloating, your healthcare provider might recommend antibiotics or a daily probiotic as a second-line treatment. Specifically, the use of probiotics is being driven by the aforementioned anecdotal evidence and some clinical trials showing a variety of individual strains and multi-strain probiotics working for some people.
Because probiotic supplement treatments may be tailored to your individual conditions or causes of symptoms of bloating, we can’t really be any more specific — the next part of this conversation is one you should have with a healthcare professional.
We also have a guide on 5 Supplements for Bloating if you’d like to read more.
Bloating isn’t fun for anyone, and if you’ve been dealing with chronic bloat for some time, the next step should be speaking to a healthcare provider. Whether you have a particular diagnosis yet or not, probiotics could be something you self administer; no one can stop you from grabbing some over-the-counter supplements.
That said, a healthcare provider can help you more effectively find the best probiotic options for women among the variety of strains out there. More importantly, they can also rule out serious or life-threatening conditions that might be associated with bloating and more serious gastrointestinal symptoms.
Want to ask these questions now? We have resources available to you. Talk to a medical professional now, and start the process of letting the pressure off for good.