Constipation is a common issue that affects approximately 16% of adults worldwide (
It can be difficult to treat, leading many people to turn to natural remedies and over-the-counter supplements, such as probiotics.
Probiotics are live, beneficial bacteria naturally found in fermented foods, including kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, and tempeh. They’re also sold as supplements.
When consumed, probiotics enhance the gut microbiome — the collection of beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract that helps regulate inflammation, immune function, digestion, and heart health (
Studies show that upping your intake of probiotics may reduce blood sugar levels and support weight loss, liver function, and skin health. Probiotics may also make harmful bacteria less likely to proliferate in your gut (
This article tells you whether probiotics can help treat constipation.
Effects on various types of constipation
Probiotics have been studied for their effects on constipation across a wide range of conditions.
Irritable bowel syndrome
Probiotics are often used to aid IBS symptoms, including constipation.
Another study in 150 people with IBS revealed that supplementing with probiotics for 60 days helped improve bowel regularity and stool consistency (
What’s more, in a 6-week study in 274 people, drinking a probiotic-rich, fermented milk beverage increased stool frequency and reduced IBS symptoms (
Multiple studies indicate that probiotics relieve constipation in children.
For instance, a review of 6 studies found that taking probiotics for 3–12 weeks increased stool frequency in children with constipation, while a 4-week study in 48 children linked this supplement to improved frequency and consistency of bowel movements (
However, other studies provide mixed results. Thus, more research is needed (
Some research suggests that taking probiotics during pregnancy may prevent constipation.
In a 4-week study in 60 pregnant women with constipation, eating 10.5 ounces (300 grams) of probiotic yogurt enriched with Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus bacteria daily increased the frequency of bowel movements and improved several constipation symptoms (
In another study in 20 women, taking probiotics containing a mix of bacteria strains increased bowel movement frequency and improved constipation symptoms like straining, stomach pain, and the sense of incomplete evacuation (
In particular, chemotherapy is a major cause of constipation. Around 16% of people undergoing this cancer treatment experience constipation (
In a study in nearly 500 people with cancer, 25% reported improvements in constipation or diarrhea after taking probiotics. Meanwhile, in a 4-week study in 100 people, probiotics improved constipation caused by chemotherapy in 96% of participants (
Probiotics may also benefit those who experience constipation caused by iron supplements.
For example, a small, 2-week study in 32 women noted that taking a probiotic alongside an iron supplement every day increased bowel regularity and intestinal function, compared with taking a placebo (
Even so, more research is needed to determine whether probiotics can help relieve constipation caused by other medications, such as narcotics and antidepressants.
Research shows that probiotics may treat childhood constipation and constipation caused by pregnancy, IBS, and certain medications.
Although probiotics are generally considered safe, they have a few side effects that you may want to consider.
However, these symptoms typically subside with continued use.
Some research suggests that probiotics may cause serious side effects, such as an increased risk of infection, in people with compromised immune systems (
Thus, if you have any underlying health conditions, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional before taking probiotics.
Probiotics can cause digestive issues, which typically subside over time. Yet, they may cause more serious side effects in those with compromised immune systems.
How to select and use probiotics
Picking the right probiotic is key to treating constipation, as certain strains may not be as effective as others.
- Bifidobacterium lactis
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Streptococcus thermophilus
- Lactobacillus reuteri
- Bifidobacterium longum
Although there is no specific recommended dosage for probiotics, most supplements pack 1–10 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) per serving (26).
For best results, use them only as directed and consider decreasing your dosage if you experience persistent side effects.
Given that supplements may take several weeks to work, stick to one specific type for 3–4 weeks to evaluate its effectiveness before switching.
Alternatively, try including a variety of probiotic foods in your diet.
Fermented foods like kimchi, kombucha, kefir, natto, tempeh, and sauerkraut are all rich in beneficial bacteria, as well as plenty of other important nutrients.
Certain strains of probiotics may be more effective than others at treating constipation. Aside from taking supplements, you can eat fermented foods to increase your probiotic intake.
The bottom line
Studies suggest that probiotics may relieve constipation related to pregnancy, certain medications, or digestive issues like IBS.
Probiotics are largely safe and effective, making them an excellent addition to a healthy diet to improve bowel regularity.