Crohn’s disease can cause many challenging symptoms due to inflammation in the digestive tract. Treatment often focuses on anti-inflammatory medication and bowel rest. However, some experts suggest that probiotics may also be able to help.

Crohn’s disease is a chronic condition that causes inflammation in the digestive tract, most commonly in the small intestine and upper part of the large intestine. People with Crohn’s disease often experience symptoms such as diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and weight loss. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, resulting in flare-ups between quiet periods.

Some experts have suggested that probiotics might provide relief when managing Crohn’s. Probiotics can be found in many foods and supplements and are commonly used to keep the gut healthy.

Here’s what you need to know about taking probiotics to help manage symptoms in people living with Crohn’s disease.

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Probiotics are living microorganisms that can help balance the bacteria that live in your gut. They often contain strains of bacteria such as lactobacillus, bifidobacterium, saccharomyces, andstreptococcus.

They can be found in fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, kefir, and tempeh.

Some experts suggest that probiotics could help reduce some of the inflammation in the digestive tract, which affects people with Crohn’s disease, and help create a healthier balance of bacteria in their microbiome.

According to a 2015 review, probiotics may be helpful for people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. The idea is that lactic acid bacteria (LAB) and bifidobacteria in some fermented dairy products may be able to alter the gut microbiota. This might be helpful in the prevention and treatment of IBD.

Research into whether probiotics can help with Crohn’s is limited. However, some experts say probiotics could benefit people living with Crohn’s because they may reduce inflammation in the intestines.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), probiotics are generally well-tolerated. They are also easy to find and use, and depending on what you buy, they’re usually affordable.

However, experts say it’s too soon to say whether probiotics can help a person with Crohn’s disease enter remission.

A 2015 review of research found that studies did not show that using some probiotics significantly improved the condition of people with Crohn’s disease. However, they did seem more promising in people with ulcerative colitis. The authors suggested that more research is needed.

Also, more recent research suggests that there’s not enough evidence to recommend probiotics to improve Crohn’s disease symptoms. According to a 2020 research review, there’s a lack of randomized controlled trials supporting using probiotics to induce remission.

The review’s authors suggested that additional research into different strains of probiotics and the amount and duration could provide more helpful information.

Though most people tolerate probiotics well, they can cause minor gastrointestinal side effects, such as:

In rare cases, people can develop infections, potentially harming those with weakened immune systems.

If you have Crohn’s disease and are considering probiotics, consider speaking with a healthcare professional first. They can guide you on whether the treatment option suits your needs.

Because there is no cure for Crohn’s disease, treatment aims to decrease inflammation, prevent flare-ups, and keep people in remission.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), the three primary treatment approaches are medication, surgery, and bowel rest.

Some people use more than one approach because the most appropriate treatment can depend on the severity and location of the disease and someone’s previous response to treatments.

Medication options for Crohn’s

Medications to treat Crohn’s disease often focus on reducing inflammation and include:

  • aminosalicylates, which contain an anti-inflammatory substance called 5-aminosalicylic acid (5-ASA)
  • corticosteroids, which suppress the immune system to help control inflammation
  • immunomodulators, which also target the activity of the immune system to reduce inflammation
  • biologic therapies, which can help people go into remission

As with all medications, these drugs can cause side effects, so not every option is appropriate for every person with Crohn’s disease. For example, according to the NIDDK, the immunomodulator cyclosporine can cause several serious side effects, so it should be used only in severe cases of Crohn’s disease.

Bowel rest

A doctor may recommend bowel rest for a few days or even a few weeks to give your intestines a break and a chance to heal. During that time, you may rely on a liquid diet or intravenous (IV) nutrition.

Surgery

Surgery was often an option in the past for people with more complex cases of Crohn’s disease that were difficult to manage. Surgeons would remove part of the small or large intestine in a procedure called a resection. In more severe cases, they would perform a proctocolectomy to remove the entire colon and rectum.

However, research suggests that surgery could now be helpful at an earlier stage, perhaps as part of a multidisciplinary management strategy.

Though probiotics may hold some promise in helping manage symptoms in people with Crohn’s disease, more research is needed to confirm its effectiveness.

Probiotics are generally considered safe, but they may cause mild side effects. These side effects could be worse for people with weakened immune systems. If you have Crohn’s disease and want to try using probiotics, consider talking with a doctor first. They can help determine whether the treatment will be suitable for you.