In this article let’s discuss constipation and the role of probiotics in alleviating its symptoms. If you or your loved ones are struggling with constipation, adding probiotics, and probiotic-rich foods into your diet may significantly help ease the problem or its associated symptoms.
The general understanding of being constipated is having trouble with passing stools. Even though constipation can happen occasionally as a possible side effect of something else, chronic or severe constipation becomes troublesome. When passing stools becomes difficult and causes stomach pain and uneasiness, it becomes impossible to go about your day. When this trouble of passing stools is reduced to three bowel movements per week you must get yourself checked.
Common signs and symptoms of constipation are:
- Difficulty in passing stools.
- Hard or lumpy stools.
- Reduced frequency of bowel movement.
- Feeling of rectum being blocked while passing stools.
- Feeling of incomplete passing of stools.
- The need of using help to empty the rectum to pass out stools.
When reading about probiotics online, you’d come across the term “prebiotics”, the two are different but somewhat symbiotic. Although you don’t necessarily need to take both together, consuming both may render probiotics more effective. Their combined use is called microbiome therapy.
Prebiotics are high-fiber foods that help probiotic microorganisms (cultures or microbes) flourish in the human gut. Whole grains, greens, bananas, soybeans, garlic, and onions are examples of prebiotic foods that promote the growth of beneficial microbes in the intestines.
Our Gut Health and Probiotic Microbes
Our intestines or gut has over 100 trillion microbes that influence immunity, metabolism, physiology, and other functions. Those present naturally in our body are particularly very significant to our good health. In our bodies, Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterial species, and other complex good microbes, all play key roles in digestion, vitamin K synthesis, and other functions. Having a balanced amount of good microbes helps fight bad microbes.
Probiotics are useful microorganisms that care for your gut. Also, available as dietary supplements these are prescribed by doctors for good gut health. Probiotics are recommended in other cases with harsh medications that may compromise your gut health. Examples of probiotic bacteria and yeast are:
- Lactic Acid Bacteria like L. acidophilus and L. casei.
- Bifidobacteria like B. bifidum and B. lactis.
- Other species of bacteria like E.coli and B. subtilis.
- Yeast like S. boulardii.
Probiotic foods contain live and active beneficial probiotic microbes. The most natural way to consume these cultures is through probiotic-rich foods like fermented foods. A few examples of probiotic foods are:
- Kefir, miso, tempeh, kimchi
- Aged cheese
- Brined pickles
- Fermented vegetables
Treating Constipation Using Gut-Friendly Probiotics
A promising July 2017 study showed that probiotics significantly improved constipation in elderly individuals by 10-40% when given Bifidobacterium longum. In another similar research study conducted in April 2017, the positive effects of probiotic bacteria in improving stool frequency were observed in children. In June 2019, a study published by Harvard Medical School showed that probiotics with Bifidobacterium seemed most effective in easing constipation symptoms.
The way probiotics help in relieving constipation symptoms is by softening stools to pass through the intestines easily and facilitating increased frequency of bowel movements. This reduces stomach pain associated with it.
To understand how to use probiotics for constipation you must first know what is causing constipation and then select the right probiotic strain.
Understanding The Cause Of Constipation
Constipation could be a small symptom of a larger issue. For instance, childhood constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or pregnancy. Constipation in children can be caused because of a number of factors, including family history, allergies, diet, etc. IBS is a disorder of digestion that has many symptoms including constipation. Studies estimate that 11-38% of pregnant women experience constipation as a symptom.
Other common causes of constipation are;
- Lack of exercise.
- Poor diet.
- Medication (antacids, painkillers, iron supplements).
- Some medical conditions (hypothyroidism, diabetes mellitus type 2, Parkinson's disease, and multiple sclerosis).
- Anal fissures.
In knowing the cause of constipation, you’ll understand which probiotic culture to use. Some microbial cultures are more effective than others depending on what is causing constipation as a symptom. Also keep in mind that every person’s gut is different so what works for one may not work for another.
Using The Right Probiotic Culture
A general recommendation is to use probiotics whether liquid probiotics or tablets with at least 1 billion colony-forming units. While there are products that contain more or less probiotic microflora, it is always safe to check the label to be sure about the dosage. Some probiotic microbes used as bacterial starter cultures in yogurt are often destroyed by stomach acid so if you rely on supplements such as those, check the label to ensure there is enough culture in the probiotic supplement that will be effective.
Some specific names of microbial cultures for relieving symptoms associated with constipation are:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Bifidobacterium lactis
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Lactobacillus paracasei
Strains such as these work by effectively helping to break down foods in the digestive tract, reduce inflammation and regulate bowel movement. When probiotics are taken in a liquid form this also increases its effectiveness.
Additional benefits of probiotics
- Balances gut-friendly bacteria.
- Improves mental health.
- Prevents diarrhea.
- Improves mental health.
- Some strains contribute to good heart health.
- Reduces certain eczema and allergies.
- Reduces certain other digestive disorders.
- Boosts immunity.
- Helps in weight loss and reducing belly fat.
When looking for constipation relief, it is highly recommended to combine other remedies such as drinking more water, exercising, eating high-fiber foods, and so on with consuming probiotics. If you have tried treating constipation at home, and it has been more than three months of no improvement, you must visit a doctor. It is likely that you may need stronger medication and certain other doctor-recommended treatments to treat your constipation.