Can Probiotics Cause Constipation? A Gut Health Guide

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Can probiotics cause constipation or do they provide constipation relief? Is long term use of probiotics safe? Which are the foods that can ease digestion?

So many questions line up the net every day. In this post, we strive to provide detailed information about probiotics, its health benefits, effects on constipation, the potential side effects of using probiotics and more.

Probiotics are supplements or cultured food that contain strains of healthy bacteria touted for their ability to ease the digestive system. Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium are two of the most common strains of bacteria found in the probiotic supplements available in the market.

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Health Benefits Of Probiotics And Its Effect In Various Health Conditions

Do you know how good probiotics are for your health? They might lower the number of bad bacteria in your gut and replace them with good bacteria. Probiotic food and supplements boost the digestive tract and reduce inflammation of the gut.

Researchers are digging into how best these live microbes can help improve health. Studies suggest its benefits for some illnesses while others are under trials. So can probiotics cause constipation? The effects of probiotics on constipation have been studied across a wide range of conditions.

Let’s see how probiotic benefit us below:

  • Diarrhea: Antibiotic-associated diarrhea can be treated with probiotics (especially in children).
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): This is a disorder that affects the digestive system and can lead to symptoms like stomach pain, bloating, gas and constipation. Probiotics reduce the severity of these symptoms including constipation. Studies suggest drinking probiotic-rich milk improves bowel movement and reduces IBS symptoms.
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD): Probiotics may benefit people with remission (a state of little to no disease activity) of ulcerative colitis and prevent relapse of Crohn’s disease.
  • Childhood constipation: Various factors like family history, dietary changes, food allergies and intolerance, and psychological issues can result in childhood diagnosis. Taking probiotic supplements for 3-12 weeks can prove beneficial in improving the consistency and frequency of bowel movements.
  • Drug-related constipation: Several medications like iron supplements, opioids, antidepressants, and certain cancer drugs can cause constipation. Research shows that probiotics can relieve constipation in 25% of cancer patients.
  • Pregnancy: Nearly 38% of women experience constipation during pregnancy due to hormone changes and prenatal supplements. Probiotic-rich meals or supplements can increase bowel movements and relieve constipation.

Probiotics may prove to help following condition but there isn’t much research on it yet:

  • Preventing and treating urinary tract infections
  • Preventing and treating yeast infections
  • Skin conditions such as eczema
  • Treating certain stomach and respiratory infections like asthma
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Reducing inflammation in conditions like rheumatoid arthritis
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How To Know If Your Probiotic is Working?

The human gut is home to billions of living microorganisms known as the microbiome. The gut flora fits into two categories – good bacteria and bad bacteria.

The Beneficial Gut Flora

The good flora in the intestine complete tons of tasks in the human body like improving digestion, producing enzymes vitamins, and neurotransmitters, absorbing nutrients, controlling metabolism, reducing inflammation, managing appetite, and communicating with your brain.

The bad bacteria in the intestine causes disease and inflammation if left unchecked. The right balance of a microbiome (about 85% good to 15% bad) means a healthy digestive system. This balance can be disturbed by a plethora of factors like:

  • Antibiotics
  • Diet – high sugar foods
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Birth control pills
  • Gut infection
  • Stress

This chronic imbalance in your digestive tract results in health issues like food sensitivities, candida infections, digestive distress, skin disorders, immune dysfunction, joint pain, anxiety, and depression. Combining lifestyle and dietary changes with probiotic supplements can restore healthy gut balance and support overall health.

Every individual responds differently when you start a new prebiotic regimen. People report a positive impact on their health within one week to a few months after taking probiotics. Let’s look at the signs that indicate your probiotic is working:

  • Increased energy: Good bacteria increase the absorption of nutrients from the foods you eat so you may notice a boost in energy after beginning probiotics.
  • Improved digestion: Probiotics aid digestion, reduce gas and bloating, and increase regular bowel movements.
  • Lesser cravings for carbs: The good gut flora helps manipulate our appetite and obtain more substrates to thrive on. The bad microbes feed on sugars and when the gut is in balance sugar cravings tend to fade away.
  • Enhanced immune function: The beneficial microbes pair with immune cells in the body to boost the defense against allergens, external toxins, and pathogens that we are exposed to daily.
  • Weight loss: Good bacteria regulate our hunger/satiety hormones and thereby reduce hunger and food cravings. This helps to achieve weight loss.
  • Alleviates mood swings: Did you know 90% of the ‘feel-good’ hormones (serotonin) are made by gut flora? When the digestive tract has a healthy microbiome, it is automatically equipped to regulate mood and boost positivity.
  • Decreased anxiety: The good gut bacteria transmit messages to your brain to stay calm and relaxed.
  • Reduced yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis: Maintains the microbial ecosystem in the vagina and helps prevents infection. It can be used to complement an antibiotic treatment for already active infection.
  • Improved skin health: Healthy gut flora helps detoxify the body and this results in a flawless clear skin.

Potential Shortcomings Of Taking Probiotics

Probiotics are safe as it contains good bacteria that help the gut. However, there are a few things you must consider before taking probiotics.

These foods and supplements can trigger an allergic reaction. Some potential shortcomings of taking probiotics are listed below:

  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation

Now we know the answer to, “Can probiotics cause constipation?” Yes, temporarily.

These are initial signs of taking prebiotic diet and the relatively minor problems do not last for more than 3 weeks. These symptoms are temporary and will fade away as your gut environment changes – for the better!

Some people with compromised immune systems or other serious infections and health conditions may experience serious side effects. Individuals who are critically ill or have undergone surgeries should avoid the use of probiotics.

To adjust through this transition phase, drink plenty of water, decrease the supplement dose (after consulting with your doctor) and give your body some time to adjust.

How To Select And Use Probiotics

Picking the right probiotic is key to a healthy gut. Certain strains of bacteria may not be as effective as others so look for these strains that have shown to improve bowel movements.

  • Bifidobacterium Lactis
  • Lactobacillus Plantarum
  • Bifidobacterium Longum
  • Streptococcus Thermophilus
  • Lactobacillus Reuteri

The recommended dose for probiotics is 1-10 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) per serving. For best results use them as directed by your physician. These supplements might take 3-4 weeks to work, stick to one brand or type to evaluate its efficacy. Include a variety of fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, kombucha, kimchi, tempeh, natto, and sauerkraut in your diet to increase your probiotic intake.

Now that you know the health benefits of probiotics, hope the question “Can probiotics cause constipation?” is answered. Probiotics are used to treat various health conditions causing constipation and digestive issues.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do probiotics help with constipation?

Foods and supplements that contain beneficial bacteria are probiotics.  They have been touted since long for their abilities to ease digestion. Probiotics might have initial side effects like bloating and constipation but in the long run benefits some conditions like IBS, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis resulting in improved bowel movements.

How long before probiotics work for constipation?

Can probiotics cause constipation is a question most relevant here? Research shows that probiotics slow the gut transit time by 12.4 hours and increase the number of weekly bowel movements by 1.3. Probiotics take around 1-4 weeks to show its action depending upon the physiological adaptations within the central and peripheral nervous system. Probiotics containing Bifidobacterium appear to show the most effective results in constipation relief.

Is it OK to take a probiotic every day?

The healthy gut flora is touted to maintain digestive health and relieve constipation. If you’re facing problems with your gut consult your doctor and start probiotic therapy. You can also add yogurt (the best probiotic food) to maintain a healthy gut. However, healthy people aren’t formally recommended to take probiotics every day.

Should I take probiotics in the morning or at night?

The best time to take probiotics is shortly before food; it gives better results. You may take probiotic supplements in the morning just before breakfast. But if your routine gets thrown off consider taking them before lunch or dinner meals. No matter what time you take these supplements the benefits are cumulative.

Who should not take probiotics?

People who have compromised immune function or are on cancer therapy should not use probiotics without a doctor’s consultation. If you have currently undergone any surgery or are having any serious health issues, please consult with the doctor before you start taking probiotics. The gastric discomfort caused due to probiotic intake may amplify under these circumstances.

What happens to your body when you start taking probiotics?

When people start taking probiotics initially, there is a general tendency to develop gas and bloating. These gastric symptoms are usually mild and subside after 2-3 days of use. The stomach finally gets adjusted to the new microbiome and shows its beneficial effects over time.

How long should you take probiotics for?

NICE guidance suggests people who take probiotics should select one brand of the supplement and take the recommended dose for at least four weeks while monitoring its effect. You might experience mild and temporary side effects initially.

Can long term use of probiotics be harmful?

Generally, probiotics are safe to consume daily. The mild side effects that occur tend to go away in 3-4 days. Thus, probiotics can be taken as daily supplements for the long term. Probiotic strains of bacteria (good flora) also occur in naturally fermented foods.