Probiotics for Constipation: Does It Work?
Published Aug 08, 2021
Though it has a lot of benefits, probiotics have always been associated with gut health – and for a good reason. Several studies have proven its efficacy in diarrhea and other digestive issues. But the all-important question that’s probably on your mind right now is: will probiotics work for constipation?
Though the evidence remains inconclusive, several studies prove that probiotics can help ease constipation. For example, a systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2014 say that probiotics can improve stool consistency and increase its frequency by 1.3 bowel movements per week. It also found that probiotics help reduce intestinal transit time. Harvard Medical School even evaluated this review and agreed with most of the findings in it.
So what do these all mean?
Intestinal transit time refers to how long it takes for the gut to digest the foods you eat. Those suffering from constipation often have longer intestinal transit times than healthy people. Constipated people also suffer from hard, lumpy stools that are difficult to pass. Improving the stool’s consistency will make pooping easier and less painful. It can also lead to an improved stool frequency and a more regular bowel movement. In short, probiotics do work against constipation.
But to understand more about how probiotics help fight constipation, let’s first take a look at what causes it.
Common Causes of Constipation
Constipation is one of the most common digestive health issues in the world. But most of the time, it is brought about by an underlying condition. As such, knowing what’s causing your constipation can help you address it more effectively. Here are some of the most common causes of constipation:
Aside from stomach pain and bloating, people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) also experience constipation.
It’s estimated that up to 38% of pregnant women experience constipation. This is mostly due to the hormonal changes that the body goes through during pregnancy. A pregnant woman’s intestines also tend to absorb more water which hardens the stool. Vitamin supplements and an enlarged uterus also contribute to the slow movement of feces across the gut.
3. Childhood Constipation
Constipation is one of the most common conditions that plague growing children. It’s linked with various factors such as genetics, diet, psychological issues, and even allergies.
4. Ongoing Medication
Medication for certain illnesses also tends to cause constipation. This is especially documented in people going through cancer treatment therapies. In fact, about 16% of those going through this treatment experience chronic constipation.
The older we get, the more often we will experience functional constipation. This is mainly because our intestine’s microbial population (microbiota) changes with aging. This, in turn, alters our gut function.
Probiotics for Constipation: How it Works
Laxatives have been traditionally used to address constipation. But it isn’t always effective. As such, experts are placing their hopes on probiotics.
As mentioned, constipation is caused by a lot of factors and underlying conditions. But two things they have in common are:
- a delayed gut transit time
- increased water absorption in the intestine, which dries out the stool making it hard and lumpy
All these points to a messed-up digestive process that alters the gut microbiota. This is where probiotics enter the picture.
If you didn’t know, probiotics are live microorganisms that are naturally found in your gut. Dubbed as the “good bacteria,” their primary function is to bring back a healthy balance of microorganisms in your gut microbiota. A balanced microbiota keeps the harmful bacteria from colonizing the gut since there are enough good bacteria to suppress them. And this is how probiotics work against constipation. Probiotics have certain benefits that can fight constipation by:
- modifying the gut microbiota
- altering gut function, including sensation and motility
- increasing the production of lactate and short-chain fatty acids, which helps shorten the overall gut transit time
- keeping your digestive system healthy
In short, if your digestive system is working well, you can avoid most types of constipation as well as other gastrointestinal symptoms.
Probiotics Against Different Types of Constipation
Probiotics for Constipation in Children
A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials published in 2017 claimed that probiotics are effective against constipation in children. The review examined six clinical trials and found that probiotics increase stool frequency in Asian children. It did not, however, have any effect on stool consistency.
But another randomized controlled trial claimed that probiotics could improve both stool frequency and consistency in children. With these mixed results, more research is still needed to establish the effectiveness of probiotics.
Probiotics for Irritable Bowel Syndrome
As mentioned, IBS is one of the leading causes of constipation. There are a lot of studies exploring the effect of probiotics on IBS. Most of them came up with the same conclusion: probiotics work against bowel syndrome.
For instance, a review published in 2015 concluded that probiotics could reduce pain and severity of symptoms in IBS patients. Another study found that a mixture of different probiotic strains is effective against IBS and can even help modify gut microbiota.
Probiotics for Pregnancy-Related Constipation
In one clinical trial, researchers found that eating yogurt can help improve symptoms of constipation during pregnancy. The study was participated by 60 constipated pregnant women from Iran. They were given 300 grams of yogurt enriched with bifidobacterium and lactobacillus. At the end of the study, the women reported an increase in stool frequency. In addition, other constipation symptoms like straining, obstruction, and stool consistency and color have all reportedly improved.
Probiotics for Medication-Induced Constipation
It’s pretty common for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy to suffer from constipation. But according to this study, Bifidobacterium tetragenous viable bacteria tablets can help treat functional constipation in cancer patients. As the name suggests, this product contains Bifidobacterium, a probiotic strain typically used for constipation.
A clinical survey conducted in 2017 for cancer patients found that more than a quarter of them are taking probiotics with minimal to no side effects. Most of them are also willing to take probiotics should they be recommended by the doctor.
Best Probiotic Strains for Constipation
To maximize the effects of probiotics, it’s essential to take the right strain. You see, there are hundreds (possibly thousands) of probiotic strains. Each of them has different functions and benefits. So if you take a strain that’s intended for acne, for example, don’t expect it to be effective against constipation.
Here are the probiotic strains that you should look for when addressing constipation:
Various studies have proven the effectiveness of Bifidobacterium lactis against constipation.
In Brazil, 30 women suffering from constipation participated in a randomized controlled trial. They were divided into two groups. One group was given fresh cheese enriched with B. lactis for 30 days. The other served as a control group. Results showed that the women who were given probiotics had experienced beneficial effects against the symptoms of constipation.
While in China, 135 constipated women were given fermented milk with B. lactis. After two weeks, the beneficial effects of probiotics are starting to show. The women noticed improved stool consistency, frequency, and defecation condition.
A clinical trial conducted in chronically constipated patients showed how L. casei could help ease the symptoms of constipation. The trial lasted for four weeks, during which the patients were given a probiotic supplement containing L. casei Shirota. In the second week of the trial, the patients have already reported improved stool consistency and constipation symptoms. At the end of the trial, up to 89% of patients reported positive results.
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About The Author
Judy Ponio is a firm believer in the health benefits of probiotics and she wants to share that with the world. She also loves to write about healthy foods and other healthy living tips.