I posted this story up on Facebook a few weeks ago, but have decided – since the issue is so endemic – it’s worth a blog post, for those of you who missed it. When I was working as a nutritionist, the single most common complaints I got heard were constipation and gas/bloating. I was glad, then, to read the following study.
Most gas is caused by the fermentation of fibers by the gut bacteria. So while we’d all like to eat a really healthy plant-based diet, many struggle with it, from a digestive point-of-view. (I should mention that I would always tell clients looking to improve their diet to go slowly, as they added more fiber. It does take time for the bacteria to shift to those that can help you digest it better. And don’t forget to drink plenty of water, which also helps.)
In this study, 63 healthy adults received 3 days of a high fiber (residue) diet including legumes (beans, as you know, tend to cause gas); vegetables; whole grains; fruit…and then, were given 28 days of a fermented milk product which included lactic acid bacteria and particular species of Bifidobacterium animalis.[i]
To be eligible for the trial (as 63 people were), during the initial phase participants had have achieved at least 50% adherence to the flatulogenic diet and had a specifically measurable increase in flatulent expulsions. If they met criteria, they drank the fermented milk product twice per day for the aforementioned 28 days. (Previous research using this same product showed the same, but in that case, gas production was measured by breath test.) The results showed that the product reduced the feeling of needing to evacuate gas, the actual number of gas evacuations, and improved overall digestive wellness. It did not increase fecal microbiota diversity but it did increase the relative abundance of certain gut bacteria, which was measured in fecal samples given throughout the course of the study.
The lessening of flatulent evacuations was associated in an increase in the abundance of Mogibacterium and Parvimonas and a decrease in Desulfobibrionaceae. An increase in Succinivibrio and a decrease in Methanobrevibacter species led to a reduction in the feeling of needing to evacuate gas. (In case you are wondering (and I’ll admit, I was), gas was collected using something called a rectal balloon catheter, which we can all visually imagine. ‘nough said about that.)
As I am always looking for products to help with GI issues, I was encouraged by the study. As these authors write: “Our data may have also practical applications: high-residue diets have beneficial effects but are poorly tolerated and probiotics may enhance compliance to these healthy diets; conversely, probiotics may be indicated to reduce the side effects of dietary transgressions.” While I wouldn’t call eating a high fiber meal a “transgression,” I get their point!
For those interested, it took me awhile to track down the fermented milk product they specifically used. I found all kinds or research showing its beneficial effects, but in all these studies, it’s never actually named: it’s referred to as a “marketed” product, and that’s it. After doing my best Sherlock Holmes imitation, I was able to figure it out: it’s Activia, which is produced by Danone. As they say on their website: “Activia yogurt with Bifidobacterium lactis DN-173 010/CNCM I-2494, our exclusive probiotic culture, has been studied and shown to provide a specific digestive health benefit. Activia may help reduce the frequency of minor digestive discomfort.” I haven’t tried it myself so can’t attest to its taste but will give it a whirl once I can safely get into the supermarket!
[i] Le Nevé B, Martinez de la Torre A, Tap J, et al. A fermented milk product with B. lactis CNCM I-2494 and lactic acid bacteria improves gastrointestinal comfort in response to a challenge diet rich in fermentable residues in healthy subjects. Nutrients. 2020; 12(2), 320. doi: 10.3390/nu12020320.