Probiotics for Constipation: What Science Says

Constipation is a common digestive woe, affecting 16% of all adults worldwide and accounting for about 3.2 million medical visits a year in the United States alone. Americans spend nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars each year trying to treat their constipation, but most over-the-counter treatments, like stool softeners and laxatives, aren’t very effective in relieving symptoms. Nearly half of all users of such products say they aren’t satisfied with the results they get, citing product ineffectiveness and other issues.

Fortunately, when over-the-counter treatments fail, you have another option that’s proven effective in easing digestive troubles, including constipation: probiotics. Probiotic supplements contain beneficial bacteria that help balance your gut flora and keep your bowel movements regular. Fermented foods like kimchi, kefir, kombucha, tempeh, natto, and sauerkraut contain the same kinds of beneficial bacteria and offer the same probiotic effects as supplements.

Related: Probiotics Drinks Benefits [Buyer’s Guide]

Effects of Probiotics on Different Kinds of Constipation

Researchers have studied the effects of probiotics on constipation caused by several different conditions. These include:

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a digestive disorder that affects somewhere between 6% and 18% of people worldwide. It causes quite a few unpleasant digestive symptoms, one of which is chronic constipation. Probiotics help with many of the symptoms of IBS, constipation included.

2015 review of 24 studies found that probiotics helped reduce the severity of IBS symptoms, including pain and bloating, and improved bowel habits and quality of life for those living with IBS. Another study, in 2016, recruited 150 IBS patients who experienced constipation, giving them a daily probiotic for 60 days and tracking its effects on their symptoms. That study found multispecies probiotic supplements to be an effective treatment for constipation caused by IBS, helping improve patients’ bowel regularity and stool consistency.

A six-week study, conducted in 2007, studied the effects of probiotics found in fermented milk and yogurt on constipation symptoms of IBS patients. That study found that probiotics improved discomfort scores and bloating in constipation-predominant IBS. They also increased stool frequency in patients who previously had less than three bowel movements a week.

Constipation in Children

Constipation is a common ailment among children, accounting for 25% of referrals to pediatric gastroenterologists worldwide. Factors like family history, food allergies, diet, and psychological troubles can cause childhood constipation. And just as with adults, studies have found that probiotics are effective in helping treat constipation for children.

2017 review of six other studies found that taking probiotics for 3-12 weeks increased stool frequency and provided additional benefits for children experiencing constipation. Another 4-week study, involving 48 children, found that probiotics improved stool frequency, as well as the consistency of bowel movements for constipated children.

Constipation During Pregnancy

Constipation affects up to 38% of pregnant women and can be caused by hormonal fluctuations, prenatal supplements, and changes in physical activity during pregnancy. Fortunately, studies have found that probiotics can help ease this unpleasant symptom for pregnant women.

A study in 2016 recruited 60 pregnant women who were experiencing constipation. Over four weeks, the women ate 10.5 ounces of probiotic yogurt, each day, which contained the bacterial strains Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. The study found that doing so increased bowel movement frequency for the women and improved several other symptoms of constipation.

Another study from 2012 gave 20 pregnant women probiotics that contained a mix of bacteria strains. They found that taking this probiotic increased the frequency of bowel movements and improved other constipation symptoms such as stomach pain, straining, and a sense of incomplete evacuation.

Related: 12 Health Benefits of Kefir (Backed by Science)

Are you looking for a probiotic to alleviate troublesome digestive symptoms? Sunny Culture makes delicious probiotic water kefir drinks that will improve your gut health while pleasing your taste buds!

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