Can Prebiotic Sodas Worsen IBS Symptoms? A Dietitian Weighs In

With the rise of prebiotic sodas, what is the impact of these drinks on those living with irritable bowel syndrome?

Soda cans
by
Caroline Thomason
— Signos
Dietician + Diabetes Educator (CDCES)
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Updated by

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Science-based and reviewed

Published:
July 18, 2024
June 13, 2024
— Updated:

Table of Contents

Prebiotics, distinct from probiotics, are increasingly prevalent in various food products such as bars, shakes, and alternative sodas. For instance, some prebiotic beverages boast up to an impressive nine grams of fiber per can, providing over a third of the recommended fiber intake for Americans. While these healthy products appear promising, anecdotal reports from consumers are popping up, detailing gastrointestinal issues and symptoms such as gas, bloating, and discomfort.

Let’s examine the research on these products and discuss how you can incorporate them into your routine to reap the benefits without any surprises. 

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Also Read: </strong><a href=probiotics-metabolic-health>Can Probiotics Affect Your Metabolic Health?</a>.</p>

What Are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics refer to the non-digestible fibers that nourish food for beneficial gut bacteria, particularly strains like lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, unlike probiotics, which are live gut bugs that introduce healthy bacteria into the gut, prebiotics function as a fuel source, stimulating the growth and activity of these probiotic bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. 

Prebiotic fibers are commonly found in specific carbohydrates such as oligosaccharides, inulin, fructooligosaccharides, and galactooligosaccharides. Foods abundant in these prebiotic fibers are garlic, onions, leeks, bananas, asparagus, chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, and whole grains. Consuming probiotics and prebiotics can contribute to maintaining a balanced gut microbiota, which is crucial for optimal digestion, nutrient absorption, and overall gut health.

IBS and Fiber Intake

A bowl of oatmeal with blueberries

In 2018, researchers from the American Gut Project released a significant study indicating that individuals who consumed a whopping 30 different plant foods weekly had more diverse and healthier gut microbiota. This paper highlights the importance of not just increasing fiber intake but also diversifying fiber sources for optimal gut health. Breaking down the goal of 30 plants per week translates to about four different types of plant foods daily, like colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and spices. 

However, achieving this goal might be more challenging for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) due to potential food sensitivities and intolerances. It's essential to note that not all prebiotic sodas are the same, and their effects on IBS symptoms can vary depending on the individual's specific condition and the type and dosage of prebiotics used in the product. If you have IBS-D, you may need to test different products and serving sizes to ensure you don’t experience negative gastrointestinal reactions.

While some individuals with IBS-D (diarrhea-predominant IBS) may have a greater intolerance to prebiotics, others with constipation-predominant IBS might benefit from incorporating prebiotic fiber into their diet. When increasing your fiber intake, it’s important also to increase water intake to help move your digestion along, especially if you are prone to constipation.

Can Prebiotics Worsen IBS?

a woman massaging her stomach

Having too much of a good thing can sometimes lead to negative outcomes, especially when it comes to certain types of fibers and individuals with IBS. While some people with IBS may not tolerate all types of prebiotics well, others might be able to gradually increase their prebiotic intake without experiencing symptoms. 

For instance, inulin-type fructans could offer digestive health benefits for individuals with IBS-C (constipation-predominant IBS), but they might exacerbate flatulence in those with other forms of IBS.1, 2 

However, according to a meta-analysis of 11 randomized controlled trials, prebiotics didn't significantly improve gastrointestinal symptoms in IBS patients but did increase levels of bifidobacteria, which are typically low in individuals with IBS.3 

While prebiotic-fortified products are gaining popularity, more research is necessary to understand their impact on digestive and overall health fully.

Learn More About How to Boost Your Gut Health With Signos' Expert Advice

Products with prebiotics are popping up everywhere, and there seems to be some good research to support including fortified fiber products in your diet. If you are diarrhea-prone or you struggle with IBS, proceed with caution and consider increasing the serving size slowly to prevent any negative GI side effects. There also seems to be some positive research showing that increasing probiotics can support a healthy gut ecosystem.

The primary takeaway about IBS and prebiotic sodas is that each person may react differently. Determining which foods and drink options exacerbate your symptoms is the key to managing your IBS symptoms—and every person is unique.

The Signos app can take personalization even further. Tracking your blood sugar response in real-time allows you to quickly identify which foods benefit your metabolic health and create a holistic approach to support gut health. 

Small dietary and lifestyle changes can help bring relief and make a big difference in your daily life. Signos also offers many articles and resources from exercise professionals, dietitians, and doctors on the blog, or you can find out if Signos is a good fit for you by taking a quick quiz now.

<p class="pro-tip"><strong>Learn More: </strong><a href=heal-a-leaky-gut>Healing Your Leaky Gut: A Comprehensive Guide</a>.</p>

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References

  1. McDonald D, Hyde E, Debelius JW, Morton JT, Gonzalez A, Ackermann G, Aksenov AA, Behsaz B, Brennan C, Chen Y, DeRight Goldasich L, Dorrestein PC, Dunn RR, Fahimipour AK, Gaffney J, Gilbert JA, Gogul G, Green JL, Hugenholtz P, Humphrey G, Huttenhower C, Jackson MA, Janssen S, Jeste DV, Jiang L, Kelley ST, Knights D, Kosciolek T, Ladau J, Leach J, Marotz C, Meleshko D, Melnik AV, Metcalf JL, Mohimani H, Montassier E, Navas-Molina J, Nguyen TT, Peddada S, Pevzner P, Pollard KS, Rahnavard G, Robbins-Pianka A, Sangwan N, Shorenstein J, Smarr L, Song SJ, Spector T, Swafford AD, Thackray VG, Thompson LR, Tripathi A, Vázquez-Baeza Y, Vrbanac A, Wischmeyer P, Wolfe E, Zhu Q; American Gut Consortium; Knight R. American Gut: an Open Platform for Citizen Science Microbiome Research. mSystems. 2018 May 15;3(3):e00031-18. 
  2. Bărboi OB, Ciortescu I, Chirilă I, Anton C, Drug V. Effect of inulin in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (Review). Exp Ther Med. 2020 Dec;20(6):185. 
  3. Wilson B, Rossi M, Dimidi E, Whelan K. Prebiotics in irritable bowel syndrome and other functional bowel disorders in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr. 2019 Apr 1;109(4):1098-1111.

About the author

Caroline Thomason is a dietitian, diabetes educator, and health writer based in Washington, DC.

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Please note: The Signos team is committed to sharing insightful and actionable health articles that are backed by scientific research, supported by expert reviews, and vetted by experienced health editors. The Signos blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, promptly contact your professional healthcare provider. Read more about our editorial process and content philosophy here.

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