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.
This article will discuss whether probiotics help with constipation, how long they take to work, potential risks, and other treatment options for constipation.
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.
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
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
- cause of the constipation
- how quickly the probiotics move through the digestive tract
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
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.
- low fiber intake
- low physical activity
- frequent traveling
- certain medications, such as antacids, calcium channel blockers, anticonvulsants, diuretics, and opioids
- certain supplements, such as iron supplements
- ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement
- low motility, which is when food moves too slowly through the digestive tract
- chronic conditions that affect a person’s metabolism, hormones, nerves, spine, or brain
- functional digestive disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or SIBO
- inflammatory conditions
- bowel obstruction
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.
- drinking enough water
- increasing fiber intake, such as by eating more fruits and vegetables
- getting regular physical activity
- taking an over-the-counter (OTC) laxative or stool softener with the approval of a doctor
- stopping certain supplements and medications that could contribute to constipation with the approval of a doctor
- training the body to have a bowel movement at the same time every day
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:
- biofeedback therapy
- surgery for blockages or structural problems
Conditions that can lead to constipation as a side effect also have their own treatment options.
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
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.