Can Probiotics Cause Constipation? A closer look

A woman dressed in an orange crop top and leggings, holding a flower over her stomach

Unfortunately, yes, probiotics can cause constipation! Thankfully this isn’t a common side effect and there are effective methods to stop this from happening. 

Many people are hopping on the probiotic bandwagon, eating their fill of probiotic-rich foods or taking a probiotic supplement on the quest for better gut health. Taking a probiotic supplement can lead to better digestion, clearer skin, and even improve your immune system. However, as with any supplement, there is the potential to experience side effects. 

If you have ever experienced constipation, you will be aware of horrible it is and how uncomfortable it can make you feel. So, why when you are now taking a probiotic for better gut health, is your digestive system rebelling and causing you constipation?

Firstly, what is constipation? For it to be considered constipation you are likely unable to go to the toilet or are going less frequently (less than 3 times a week). You might feel bloated, nauseous, and have a smaller appetite.

It can be easy to blame the probiotic supplement you have started as the cause of your constipation. However, before you jump straight to blaming your probiotic, take a look at your overall lifestyle and diet. Many factors can contribute to causing constipation. 

Ask yourself these questions to see what might be causing your constipation:

  • Are you eating enough fibre? If you aren’t sure how much fibre is enough, take a look at this example of A Day of Eating for Fibre
  • Have you just got back from holiday? Travelling and a change in routine can cause constipation.
  • Have you stopped moving your body as much as you normally do? 
  • Have you changed medications or started a new medication? 
  • Are you dehydrated? 
  • Are you more stressed than normal?
  • Do you think you have IBS? If you are frequently constipated and experience other gastro symptoms, it might be worth speaking to your GP to see if you have IBS 

If you’ve asked yourself the above and none of them feel like the reason you are constipated, let’s see if it is your probiotic causing the problem. 

What does the science say?

The research on this is pretty limited! Most of the research around probiotics and constipation is on how they can help you poop or prevent constipation not on how probiotics can cause constipation.

One reason for constipation caused by probiotics could be due to the introduction of good bacteria disrupting the balance in your gut microbiome. This disruption may produce adverse side effects such as constipation. You may also experience some gas and bloating which can be normal when you first take a probiotic. If this is the case, as the good bacteria grow and things settle down, constipation may naturally resolve itself. If it does not resolve, try the below tips on dealing with constipation, and if that doesn’t help consider trying a different brand of probiotics or stopping them completely. 

In some cases, constipation could be caused by just one specific strain of bacteria in your probiotic. Lots of strains help to speed up gut motility and relieve constipation. Some strains however such as Saccharomyces boulardii may slow down digestion. 

Strains that have been proven to help with constipation include: 

  • Lactobacillus plantarum 
  • Streptococcus thermophilus
  • Bifidobacterium longum 
  • Lactobacillus Reuters 

Take a look at the strains found in your probiotic to determine if they could help relieve constipation or even prevent it. 

Sometimes, it might not be the bacteria at all but the ingredients that make up the casing of the probiotic. Sometimes the tablet or whatever carrier your probiotic has come in doesn’t agree with your digestive system and experience constipation or even other gastro symptoms. For some people, it might be worth trying a different probiotic supplement or try a liquid probiotic such as symprove

Top Tip: Make sure to follow the dosage instruction for your specific probiotic and follow the guidelines on when to take it. Does it say to take it in the morning on an empty stomach? Or with a meal twice a day? 

How to relieve constipation

You probably want to resolve constipation as quickly as possible. Try out the below tips to help get you back to normal.

Hydrate – drinking adequate amounts of water is important for your well-being but especially so when you are constipated. Keep a water bottle on hand so you don’t forget to hydrate throughout the day. Don’t forget, hot drinks such as tea also count towards your daily water intake. Drinking warm drinks is a proven way to relieve constipation as they help to stimulate your bowels.

Eat more fibre – fibre helps to add bulk to your stools and move them through your bowels. However, don’t suddenly add lots and lots of fibre to your diet as this can make things worse. Slowly increase your fibre intake day by day. Just so you know, the UK government recommends you eat at least 30g a day. 

Try out these foods that will help you hit your fibre goals and are known to help to relieve constipation: 

  • Oats
  • Prunes 
  • Kiwis
  • Figs
  • Chia seeds
  • Flax seeds 

Try and avoid foods with little fibre and high fat content as they won’t help your constipation and can even make it worse. Foods such as crisps, ready meals, fast food, and fatty meats. 

Get moving – it may be the last thing you feel like doing but a gentle stroll or some yoga can help to get your bowels moving and prevent constipation. 

Go to the toilet when you feel the urge – it is easy to ignore our bodies, especially when we are busy but ignoring the urge to go to the toilet can cause constipation or make constipation worse! 

If these tips aren’t helping, go see a doctor. It might be your probiotic causing constipation or something else. Getting things checked out is important and your doctor can prescribe medication to help relieve constipation. 

Don’t be disheartened if your supplements just aren’t working for you. You don’t need a probiotic supplement to live your healthiest life. You could consider slowly introducing probiotic-rich foods into your diet. If you do this gradually you might find the side effects of adding these microorganisms to your gut are reduced, while also still getting the benefits. 

The Takeaway 

For a majority of people, probiotics are a safe supplement to take and can be a helpful tool in improving your digestion and your gut health. You may experience some common side effects such as constipation or other digestive issues but if you follow the above tips these side effects should be temporary. 

If you continue to experience side effects or your constipation is not resolving, even if you stop taking the probiotics, always speak to a medical professional. 

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