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.
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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.
A 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.
A 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)
Which probiotics make you poop?
If you've struggled with digestive issues, bowel regularity, and stool consistency. You might ask, Which probiotics are number 1 for making you go number 2? Here is a shortlist of just some of the beneficial probiotics that aid in a healthy digestive system and can help treat constipation:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus. This popular pro-gut health probiotic is often taken in pill form as a supplement. It also can be found in most dairy products, including kefir. Tempeh is a fermented soy product that is also high in Lactobacillus acidophilus.
- Bifidobacterium lactis. It is found in various fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut and kimchi. Some yogurt brands contain the daily recommended probiotic cultures.
- Lactobacillus Plantarum. Other than the apparent dairy products, food products such as olives and sourdough bread contain this probiotic. Furthermore, you can find this in a few types of cheeses and even some fermented meats.
- Streptococcus thermophilus. Though they sound scary, these are friendly bacteria used to ferment dairy. This probiotic is also used in some dietary supplements.
- Lactobacillus reuteri. This helpful bacteria is used to restore normality in the body and helps support your bowel and urinary issues.
- Bifidobacterium longum. You can find this probiotic in large amounts in goat dairy products, seaweed, and miso soup.
- Saccharomyces boulardii. This widely used beneficial bacteria is found in kombucha and so much more. It feeds on the sugars in these products while it ferments, making the probiotic even more concentrated with live cultures.
- Tibicos or water kefir is a fermented liquid made from water and symbiotic cultures. It is used as an alternative to milk-based probiotics. This type of probiotic is excellent for you and is found in certain drink products such as kombucha, which can also help with digestion.
Can probiotics make constipation worse?
Most people commonly tolerate probiotics well, and they have been proven safe for daily consumption. However, some side effects may occur, like constipation. Temporary bouts of bloating, gas, and dry mouth can also occur in rare instances.
Although used in treating IBS or irritable bowel syndrome, probiotics and live cultures can make your "flare-ups" and symptoms worse. People who have Crohn's or IBS have complained of increased flatulence and mild stomach aches for the first few days of starting on probiotics.
How long before probiotics work for your symptoms?
Studies show that within a month or two of regular probiotic use, you should start to feel better and experience the benefits. Most people taking supplements or high-quality probiotics report feeling the benefits of probiotics within hours of taking them.
A study held with participants infected with H. pylori bacteria found that their antibiotic-induced diarrhea and nausea symptoms improved within the first two weeks. Researchers gave the participants a daily probiotic drink for a month in another study on constipation. By the first few weeks, their gut health had improved drastically.
When it comes to weight management, the results of probiotics may take much longer to be effective. Combined supplements or probiotic drinks and a low-fat, reduced-calorie diet can promote gut health and weight loss.
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!