If you’ve ever experienced the discomfort and frustration of constipation, you’re certainly not alone. But fear not, because we’re here to explore a potential solution that might just be hiding in your fridge or medicine cabinet – probiotics.
These living microorganisms have been gaining popularity for their ability to support digestive health, but do they actually help with constipation?
As a working clinician with over 10 years in the field, I am here to provide you with a practical and well-researched answer.
What causes constipation?
Before jumping straight to the question, let’s find out what causes this common digestive woe.
Common causes of constipation generally encountered in the practice include:
- Low fiber diet
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Lack of activity
- Medications e.g. calcium & iron supplements, opioid analgesics
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Other important causes include intestinal obstruction e.g. bowel mass, medical conditions such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, hypercalcemia, and neurological causes like spinal cord disease/injury and Parkinson’s disease.
Can probiotics help with constipation?
The good news is that probiotics may help relieve constipation.
There is also some promising evidence that probiotics can help you poop easier.
- The meta-analysis of 14 clinical trials, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition stated that probiotics increased gut transit time by 12.4 hours, increased the number of weekly bowel movements by 1.3, and helped soften stools, making them easier to pass.
- In another clinical trial, 60-day oral administration of probiotic mixtures in 150 people with irritable bowel syndrome helped improve bowel regularity and stool consistency.
- Moreover, probiotics may offer relief for constipation during pregnancy. In a study conducted on 60 pregnant women with constipation, eating probiotic yogurt enriched with Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus daily for 4 weeks improved constipation symptoms.
How Do Probiotics Help With Constipation?
- They help the colon maintain a healthy lining of mucus, which facilitates bowel movement.
- Probiotics create short-chain fatty acids in the colon. These fatty acids help lower the colon’s pH and increased acidity of the gut luminal contents stimulates peristalsis. Peristalsis involves the contraction and relaxation of the muscles in the intestines, which aids in moving stool through the colon.
- Another way in which probiotics contribute to alleviating constipation is by metabolizing bile salts which can also stimulate colonic peristalsis.
How Long Will It Take for Probiotics to Work for Constipation?
Generally, it may take 3-4 weeks for probiotics to take effect. However, since each individual is different, there is no universal timeframe for when you may begin to observe any changes.
In my practice, I always recommend sticking with the probiotic supplement you choose for at least a month to give it sufficient time to take effect.
Moreover, while consistently taking probiotics, it is important to remember to enhance your daily fiber intake, ensure an ample consumption of fluids, and make an effort to engage in more physical activity.
The Best Probiotic Strains For Constipation
Different probiotics have different properties. Picking the right probiotic is essential as certain strains may not yield the desired efficacy compared to others.
Despite various studies demonstrating the positive impact of probiotics on addressing constipation, we still lack substantial evidence on the most effective probiotic strains, optimal dosage, and recommended duration of usage.
However, I have picked out some probiotic strains that have been used in various clinical studies that highlight their ability to alleviate constipation.
- Bifidobacterium lactis
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG®
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus casei
- Streptococcus thermophilus
What About Prebiotics? Do They Help Constipation?
While probiotics help create a healthy microbiome in the GI tract that facilitates regular bowel movements, prebiotics feed the probiotics so they stay healthy and are more efficient at their job. Moreover, prebiotic fibers are natural stool softeners.
Therefore, incorporating prebiotic-rich foods or supplements into one’s diet can be another effective strategy to promote regularity and alleviate constipation.
Take Home Message
To sum up, probiotics have shown promising results in helping with constipation.
What we need more is an extensive study to recommend a specific probiotic to help you poop more often, and an optimal dosage and duration.
Nonetheless, it does not change the fact that probiotics are helpful as a way of dealing with constipation.
My recommendation is to choose a probiotic supplement that contains strains from Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species and allow at least four weeks to see if the probiotic works for you. Consume some fluid and fiber, do some exercise, and see if you can get things moving!