How probiotics can ease constipation

Feeling backed up? You’re not alone. Constipation is a common gastrointestinal issue, with studies estimating that as many as 24% of the population experience chronic constipation and 39% experience sub-chronic constipation. While prunes have long held the reputation as an edible solution, below we discuss the role of  probiotics and how these beneficial bacteria can lend a helping hand. Known for nurturing gut health, fostering smooth digestion and regularity, probiotics help to balance the gut microbiome, which in turn can aid in softening stools and easing bowel movements. 

Let’s delve a little deeper into the causes of constipation, and how probiotic-rich solutions can bring harmony to the gut, fostering wellness from within. 

What Is Constipation? 

Constipation refers to infrequent bowel movements or difficulty passing stools, which can cause digestive discomfort. Common symptoms include: 

  • Hard, dry stools 

  • Straining during bowel movements 

  • A sense of incomplete evacuation 

  • Abdominal bloating 

  • Infrequent bowel movements (typically less than three per week) 

  • Abdominal pain or cramps due to the stool's slow movement through the colon 

What Causes Constipation? 

The causes of constipation are primarily rooted in lifestyle and diet. Some of the common causes include:  

  • Inadequate fibre intake - slows digestion, resulting in hard stools 

  • Insufficient water intake - leads to dehydration, hardening stools  

  • Sedentary lifestyle - reduces bowel motility, contributing to constipation 

  • Stress and mental health conditions - affect gut function, disrupting the digestive process 

Medications, certain health conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and hormonal imbalances can also trigger constipation. Understanding these triggers—dietary, lifestyle and health-related—is vital for adopting preventive measures and lifestyle adjustments to alleviate constipation. 

The Relationship Between the Gut Microbiome and Constipation 

The gut microbiome is a complex community of bacteria residing in the digestive tract and plays a key role in digestive health. A balanced microbiome aids in breaking down food, producing essential nutrients, and regulating bowel movements.  

An imbalance in this microbial ecosystem, known as dysbiosis, can impact the digestion process, leading to slower transit times in the colon. This imbalance may compromise the production of substances crucial for normal bowel movements, affecting stool consistency and motility. Dysbiosis can also trigger inflammation and alter nerve signalling in the gut, further exacerbating constipation. 

Maintaining a diverse and healthy gut microbiome through a balanced diet rich in fibre, probiotics and prebiotics supports optimal digestive function. Therefore, by addressing microbial imbalances through dietary adjustments or probiotic supplementation , you can aid in managing constipation by promoting a healthier gut environment. 

Can Probiotics Help with Constipation? 

Recent research suggests that probiotics can effectively alleviate constipation symptoms by rebalancing the gut microbiome. A 2022 clinical trial published in Medicine (Baltimore) showed that Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains improved the symptoms of intestinal functional constipation by increasing both the weekly frequency of evacuation and stool quality, as early as from the first week of treatment, with sustained improvements throughout the fourth week of treatment. Supporting these findings is a 2022 review published in Molecules, which found that probiotic compounds alleviated the symptoms of constipation, improved the rate of intestinal motility, and increased the amount of stool produced.   

Which Probiotic Strains Best Relieve Constipation? 

Certain strains of probiotics have exhibited an enhanced efficacy in addressing constipation by improving gut health and regularity. Understanding the unique features of these strains can aid in selecting tailored solutions. Research has shown strong evidence for the benefits of:  

Bifidobacterium lactis 

B.lactis aids in breaking down complex carbohydrates and promotes gut flora balance. It supports regular bowel movements, eases constipation discomfort and contributes to overall gut wellness. 

Lactobacillus plantarum 

This strain is recognised for its resilience in the digestive tract. L. plantarum assists in maintaining gut integrity, reducing inflammation and supporting healthy digestion by fostering a balanced gut environment. 

Streptococcus thermophilus 

Often used in fermented foods, S. thermophilus aids lactose digestion and supports overall gut health, promoting regular bowel movements. 

Lactobacillus reuteri 

L.reuteri produces antimicrobial substances, reducing harmful bacteria in the gut and supporting a balanced microbiome. Its anti-inflammatory properties indirectly aid in relieving constipation by fostering a healthier gut environment. 

Bifidobacterium longum 

B.longum helps maintain a balanced gut microbiota and supports the production of short-chain fatty acids, aiding in digestive regularity and easing constipation discomfort. 

For a deeper understanding of how different probiotic strains impact gut health and digestion, explore The Beauty Chef's insights on the roles of various probiotic strains here. Understanding the unique functions of these strains can help individuals choose products that best suit their digestive needs. 

How Long Does It Take for Probiotics to Work? 

The time it takes for probiotics to take effect varies between individuals. Some might notice changes in bowel habits within a few days after starting probiotics. However, for significant improvements, it typically takes a week or more of consistent use. Factors such as the probiotic strain, dosage, individual gut health, and lifestyle can all influence the timeline.  

The Bottom Line: Probiotics & Constipation 

Probiotics offer a natural and effective approach to managing constipation by rebalancing the gut microbiome. A number of strains, including Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus casei, improve digestion, promote regular bowel movements and soften stools, addressing constipation discomfort.  

By incorporating probiotic-rich foods or supplements into your day to day, you can support digestive wellness to alleviate constipation and maintain a healthy gut.  

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