Prebiotic-Probiotic Combo Relieves Constipation

Taking a “synbiotic" supplement—one that contains pre- and probiotics—may help ease constipation in women, according to a study in Clinical Nutrition.

Go, good bugs!

Prebiotics are nondigestible food ingredients like FOS (fructooligosaccharides) that serve as an energy source for probiotics.

Probiotics such as Lactobacillus acidophilus are beneficial bacteria (“good bugs”) that live in the intestines. Probiotics have many diverse roles in maintaining human health. They

  • enhance resistance to infections,
  • boost the immune system,
  • help alleviate childhood asthma and eczema,
  • prevent traveller’s diarrhea, and
  • inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria in the intestines.

Pre- and probiotics work synergistically, so together they’re called synbiotics.

Get things moving synergistically

Constipation is defined as having three or fewer bowel movements per week. It’s often accompanied by feelings of incomplete evacuation, abdominal pain, bloating, straining, and an urge to defecate.

Women are about two to three times more likely than men to experience constipation. Nervous system disorders, pelvic floor problems, dehydration, and inadequate fiber intake can all be causes. Some evidence also suggests that an imbalance in intestinal bacteria might be to blame.

The available treatment options for constipation don’t provide relief for many people, and some of them may become habit-forming.

A team of Brazilian researchers aimed to find out if taking a synbiotic supplement could relieve chronic constipation in women. For 30 days, 99 women took either a placebo or 6 grams of FOS with a combination of Bifidobacteria and three strains of Lactobacillus two times per day. They recorded the frequency of their bowel movements, stool consistency and shape, abdominal symptoms (including pain, bloating, and gas), and constipation severity.

Compared with placebo, bowel movement frequency, stool consistency and shape, and constipation intensity were significantly improved in women taking the synbiotic. Abdominal symptoms did not change significantly in either group and no side effects related to the supplement were reported.

This study is consistent with previous studies in children and adult men, though the authors caution, “Further studies, in particular large, randomized clinical trials, are needed to confirm these results and to define the clinical role of synbiotic administration in constipated patients.”

Beat the blockage

Try these tips to keep your insides working smoothly:

  • Keep up the fiber. Eating whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables provides intestines with the fiber they need to bulk up stools and avoid constipation.
  • Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water allows dietary fiber to swell, which helps to keep things moving in your intestines.
  • Get active. Exercising your body does wonders for your bowels, too. Aim for 30 minutes of mild- to moderate-intensity exercise on most days.

(Clin Nutr 2012;

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, received her doctoral degree from Bastyr University, the nation’s premier academic institution for science-based natural medicine. She co-founded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI, where she practiced whole family care with an emphasis on nutritional counseling, herbal medicine, detoxification, and food allergy identification and treatment. Her blog, Eat Happy, helps take the drama out of healthy eating with real food recipes and nutrition news that you can use. Dr. Beauchamp is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

Healthnotes are made available on NOW University website for educational and informational purposes only. To learn more about Healthnotes, go to NOW University is not responsible for the content of the Healthnotes published on the NOW University website, and does not edit these Healthnotes.
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