Can probiotics and prebiotics help treat constipation?

Lawrence S. Friedman, MD
Probiotics are live microorganisms used to benefit health. Prebiotics are non-living substances intended to promote the growth of beneficial organisms. A variety of probiotic and prebiotic agents have been tested for treatment of constipation, with varying results. High-quality studies establishing the efficacy of specific probiotic microbes at specific dosages are lacking.

One prebiotic agent, lactulose, has shown some evidence of increasing stool water content and stool volume and accelerating stool transit and frequency in patients with constipation. The probiotic agent Lactobacillus casei rhamnosus may help soften stools and increases stool frequency in children with constipation. A variety of commercial products available in stores contain some probiotic and prebiotic components, but their efficacy has not been fully studied.

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