Some research suggests that probiotics may help alleviate constipation. However, there is not enough evidence to prove this. The effects may depend on the probiotic species.

Probiotics are live organisms that live in the digestive tract. They also occur in certain fermented foods, such as yogurt.

While some research suggests a link between taking certain probiotics and constipation relief, not all studies agree. In addition, a person using probiotics while they have constipation could risk causing an overgrowth of bacteria.

This article will discuss whether probiotics help with constipation, how long they take to work, potential risks, and other treatment options for constipation.

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Some evidence suggests that probiotics may help with constipation, but the effects vary significantly depending on the cause of the constipation, the type and dose of the probiotic, and the individual’s microbiome.

An animal study from 2022 looked at the relationship between probiotics and constipation in mice. It found that certain probiotics reduced constipation symptoms. However, it is important to note that animal studies do not always predict what would happen in humans.

A 2022 review also suggests that certain probiotics could help with constipation, but that the probiotic’s effect might depend on the strain, or species.

According to the review, the Lactobacillus casei Shirota (L. casei Shirota) and Bifidobacterium lactis strains both increased bowel movements. The L. casei Shirota strain also helped with multiple constipation symptoms and stool consistency.

That said, a different review from 2022 examined how probiotics affected chronic constipation with unknown causes in children. The researchers concluded that there was not enough evidence to decide whether probiotics can effectively treat the condition.

Based on the available evidence, it is currently unclear whether probiotics are effective for constipation and, if so, which ones may work best in which situations.

Probiotics are not similar to medications that have a set period of time in which they start working. Whether they help, and how quickly, can depend on many factors, such as:

  • probiotic species
  • dosage
  • cause of the constipation
  • how quickly the probiotics move through the digestive tract

In the 2022 review, most of the human studies involved taking probiotics for 28 days or more. One study the authors examined found that constipation symptoms decreased after 4 weeks of supplementation with a specific probiotic. But some studies involved supplementation for fewer than 28 days.

Guidelines generally suggest taking probiotics for 2 weeks to 2 months or longer, depending on whether they seem to have any benefit. It may help to take the probiotic first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, but there is no guarantee this will work.

For some people, the cause of their constipation is gut bacteria itself. In a condition known as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), too much bacteria in the small intestine can lead to gas, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea.

For people in this group, ingesting more bacteria in the form of probiotics could help, but some anecdotally report that it makes their symptoms worse.

There is also some evidence that taking probiotics could potentially cause SIBO, according to a 2020 review of past research. Taking a large amount of probiotics while the digestive system is sluggish could also cause them to settle in the small intestine.

Aside from the potential risk of SIBO, probiotic supplements may be safe for people with no other existing health conditions. However, few studies have looked at their safety in detail.

Probiotics can cause side effects such as gas, but they are typically minor and tend to go away when a person reduces the amount they consume or stops taking them.

The risks may increase for people with compromised immune systems or serious illnesses, as probiotics could become opportunistic and cause infections in those without the ability to protect against this.

People should always consult a healthcare professional before adding a new supplement to their routine, especially if they have chronic constipation, other unexplained symptoms, or take medications.

Constipation has many causes. Identifying the cause may help people avoid it. It may also give people a better idea of whether probiotics might help them.

Constipation can occur as a result of:

If diet or lifestyle factors are the cause, addressing these may remove the need to take probiotics. A doctor can test for other possibilities, too. If the cause is a condition that requires treatment, they will be able to recommend the best options.

What works for constipation can vary depending on the individual. Sometimes, people can treat it at home by:

If this does not work, or the constipation keeps coming back, speak with a doctor. It may be that a person needs a different medication or supplement dosage or to receive testing for underlying conditions. Do not stop taking a medication without consulting a doctor first.

Depending on the cause, there are a range of treatments for chronic constipation. If removing the cause is not possible, or the cause remains unknown, a doctor may recommend:

Conditions that can lead to constipation as a side effect also have their own treatment options.

While some scientific evidence suggests that probiotics could help alleviate constipation, experts need more research to draw conclusions about which type and dosage works best and in which situations.

A probiotic’s effect may depend on the strain of bacteria. Probiotics may also not be an effective solution for everyone, and there is some concern they could raise the risk of SIBO or make preexisting SIBO worse.

If making simple changes to diet and lifestyle or taking OTC constipation remedies do not work, a person should speak with a doctor. Recurring constipation can be a symptom of an underlying condition that requires treatment.