An encouraging new meta analysis carried out by King's College London has identified that the use of probiotic supplements may improve symptoms of constipation. Two researchers at King's College carried out the review involving 14 randomised studies. The conclusion of the meta analysis was very positive in demonstrating the efficacy of probiotic supplements in reducing bowel transit time, increasing stool frequency and improving stool consistency.
Bifidobacterium lactis was identified in the review as being the most effective species at reducing constipation symptoms
The study identified that the species Bifidobacterium lactis was particularly beneficial in helping to reduce symptoms of constipation. Overall, probiotics reduced whole gut transit time by up to 12 hours and increased frequency of stool movements by up to 1.3 bowel movements per week. Interestingly Bidifidobacterium lactis, rather than another bacteria species in the studies, Lactobacillus casei Shirota, was most effective at improving stool consistency, making them easier to pass. This is potentially very positive news for those looking into alternatives to laxatives for relieving their constipation.
Allan Walker, director of the Division of Nutrition at Harvard Medical School and a world renowned expert in the field of probiotics, summarises the meta analysis by saying, "I personally think that probiotics may be very helpful in the future as a way of dealing with constipation and other health problems".
Probiotics, also known as live cultures, are the friendly bacteria in our gut which are thought to play a role in helping to improve digestive symptoms and help with the functioning of our bowels. There are many causes of constipation today, from stress to antibiotic use, and often cases are attributed to an imbalance in our gut flora. By taking a probiotic supplement, it may help to restore the balance of beneficial bacteria with positive effects on our digestive system, such as reducing constipation. You can read more about the benefits of probiotics for constipation here.
Our gut contains billions of bacteria and an imbalance may cause symptoms such as constipation
As probiotics are generally very safe with few side effects you may like to try taking a probiotic supplement in order to help address any symptoms you are experiencing. As the study recognised however, it is important to note that not all probiotic strains are the same. There are many, many different probiotic products available on the market but it is key to select strains that have been trialled for a specific health benefit. OptiBac Probiotics for example specialise in creating a range of probiotics for with specific health benefits, and their Bifidobacteria & fibre product has been designed to help reduce constipation. It contains a particular strain of the bacteria known as Bifidobacterium lactis BB-12, (B.lactis was identified in the meta analysis to be the most effective at reducing constipation). Bifidobacterium lactis BB-12 has been demonstrated in trials its effectiveness at reducing symptoms of constipation.
There is no questioning the positive outcome of this review, however we would always welcome the results of a larger study with standardised outcomes in order to further explore the potential benefits of using probiotics for constipation.
I would always recommend seeking advice from a Nutritional Therapist or Naturopath if you would like further information or guidance regarding diet or supplementation. You may also like to read here about other natural remedies for constipation.
Dimidi E, Cristodoulides S, Fragkos K, Scott S & Whelan K. 2014. The effect of probiotics on functional constipation in adults: a systematic review an meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. First published 6 Aug 2014. October 2014.