Probiotic supplements are all the rage these days. Many people use them to help with digestive issues, and to help treat constipation. But do they make you poop?
No, at least not directly—probiotics are not laxatives. But probiotics can increase how often you have a bowel movement, thus reducing constipation.
Probiotics are strains of live beneficial bacteria and yeast that, if taken regularly, can help restore the balance of good bacteria in your digestive system. When you have a healthy balance of bacteria in your stomach and intestines, you are less likely to have digestive issues such as constipation.
What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are typically supplements that contain live strains of healthy bacteria and yeast, most commonly the Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and Saccharomyces bacteria strains. However, probiotics are not found only in supplements. They occur naturally in various foods and drinks, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, and other fermented foods.
Probiotics are thought to help balance your natural “gut” bacteria. The gut refers to your gastrointestinal tract. The gut includes all of the organs involved in eating, digesting, and pooping. Trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms live in the gut.
Normally, a healthy mix of various kinds of good gut bacteria contributes to your intestinal microbiome, helping to maintain your overall health. But when your body is challenged by stressors such as poor diet or illness, bad bacteria can take over. When that happens, digestive problems, including constipation, can develop. As a result, good bacteria, such as those found in probiotics, are now seen as increasingly important.
Probiotics have been studied to see if they help with gut-related diseases such as ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), infectious diarrhea, and functional gastrointestinal disorders. Research has also looked into whether probiotics can help with pancreatitis and Crohn’s disease; it found that while they are effective in improving symptoms of many gut disorders, probiotics do not seem to bet as effective in acute pancreatitis or Crohn’s disease (Wilkins & Sequoia, 2017).
Most fermented foods are also probiotic foods. Fermented foods undergo a process in which natural live bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food. This fermentation process promotes many good things such as enzymes, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, and natural probiotics.
Examples of probiotic foods:
- Yogurt – Yogurt is made from milk that has been fermented by probiotics.
- Kefir – A fermented probiotic milk drink, similar to yogurt, but has a thin consistency.
- Sauerkraut – Fermented, finely cut shredded cabbage. Make sure to choose unpasteurized sauerkraut, because the pasteurization process removes the beneficial probiotics.
- Tempeh – A product made from fermented soybeans. Tempeh is high in protein.
- Kimichi – A spicy Korean dish made from cabbage.
- Miso – A type of Japanese seasoning made from fermented soybeans.
- Kombucha – A fermented black or tea drink.
- Pickles – Cucumbers and other vegetables that have been fermented.
Do Probiotics Make You Poop?
Probiotics do not stimulate the intestines to produce a bowel movement like some laxatives do. However, research has found that probiotics lead to increased bowel movements in those with constipation.
Do Probiotics Affect Bowel Movements?
While probiotics are not laxatives, they can affect bowel movements. Taking probiotics can occasionally lead to unwanted side effects, such as a temporary increase in gas and bloating, especially when you first begin them. Start your probiotic dose slowly over a few weeks to reduce the risk of these temporary side effects. If these side effects continue after a few weeks, contact a doctor.
Can Probiotics Help With Constipation?
Yes, the good news for constipation sufferers is that research has demonstrated that probiotic-containing supplements lead to a statistically significant reduction of how long food sits in the intestines before a bowel movement is produced.
Do Probiotics Help With IBS?
First off, what is IBS? Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a disorder that causes gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and constipation. IBS is a common issue, affecting 5-15% of the general population globally (Ford et al., 2014).
Here is more good news about probiotics: research supports the idea that probiotics can help relieve some symptoms of IBS. A meta-analysis conducted by the American College of Gastroenterology found that probiotics improve overall symptoms of IBS, including bloating and flatulence (Ford et al., 2014).
What are the benefits of probiotics?
- They help your body digest food.
- They support immune function.
- They help control inflammation in the body.
- They aid your body in the breakdown and absorption of medications.
- They assist your gut cells in preventing bad bacteria from entering your blood.
- They reduce symptoms of IBS, such as diarrhea and constipation.
- They can improve your mood.
When to See a Doctor?
While much research is coming out about the benefits of starting a probiotic regimen, you should consult a doctor before beginning probiotics. A doctor can review your current medications and discuss any digestive issues that you may be experiencing that have led you to want to take probiotics in the first place.
Most healthy adults can start probiotics without any issues. Still, you may want to see a doctor anyway if you have digestive issues such as nausea, bloating, diarrhea, gas pains, blood in your stool, severe abdominal pain, frequent heartburn, or unusual-colored stools. A doctor can rule out illness and find an appropriate diagnosis and treatment for your digestive issues, and refer you to see a Gastroenterologist for your digestive issues, if necessary.
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Probiotics are live strains of beneficial bacteria and yeast that are found in foods and supplements but also naturally live in your body. They naturally occur in certain foods, such as yogurt, and fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and pickles.
There are various mixes of probiotic supplements available, containing live strains of beneficial bacteria and yeast. Common strains of probiotic bacteria found in supplements are Lactobacillus, Saccharomyces, and Bifidobacterium, among others.
Probiotics are often referred to as “good” bacteria because they help keep the balance of good bacteria in your gut.
Although probiotics do not directly stimulate the lining of your intestines to cause a bowel movement as a stimulant laxative does, probiotics are thought to reduce constipation and reduce uncomfortable symptoms of IBS.
If you are interested in introducing a probiotic supplement into your routine, it’s best to consult a doctor and see if it’s right for you.
- Anthony Lembo, M. D. (2020, June 22). Probiotics – even inactive ones – may relieve IBS symptoms. Harvard Health. Retrieved July 22, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/probiotics-even-inactive-ones-may-relieve-ibs-symptoms-2020062220303
- Fijan S. (2014). Microorganisms with claimed probiotic properties: an overview of recent literature. International journal of environmental research and public health, 11(5), 4745–4767. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph110504745
- Ford, A. C., Moayyedi, P., Lacy, B. E., Lembo, A. J., Saito, Y. A., Schiller, L. R., Soffer, E. E., Spiegel, B. M., Quigley, E. M., & Task Force on the Management of Functional Bowel Disorders (2014). American College of Gastroenterology monograph on the management of irritable bowel syndrome and chronic idiopathic constipation. The American journal of gastroenterology, 109 Suppl 1, S2–S27. https://doi.org/10.1038/ajg.2014.187
- How to get more probiotics. Harvard Health. (2020, August 24). Retrieved July 22, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-get-more-probiotics
- Miller, L. E., Ouwehand, A. C., & Ibarra, A. (2017). Effects of probiotic-containing products on stool frequency and intestinal transit in constipated adults: Systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Annals of gastroenterology. Retrieved July 22, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5670282/
- Probiotics: What is it, benefits, side effects, food & types. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Retrieved July 22, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/14598-probiotics
- Wieërs, G., Belkhir, L., Enaud, R., Leclercq, S., Philippart de Foy, J. M., Dequenne, I., de Timary, P., & Cani, P. D. (2020). How Probiotics Affect the Microbiota. Frontiers in cellular and infection microbiology, 9, 454. https://doi.org/10.3389/fcimb.2019.00454
- Wilkins, T., & Sequoia, J. (2017). Probiotics for Gastrointestinal Conditions: A Summary of the Evidence. American family physician, 96(3), 170–178. https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2017/0801/p170.html