The effect of probiotics as a treatment for constipation in elderly people: A systematic review

Arch Gerontol Geriatr. 2017 Jul;71:142-149. doi: 10.1016/j.archger.2017.04.004. Epub 2017 Apr 14.


Purpose: Treating constipation in elderly people remains a challenge; the administration of probiotics may be a valid therapy for this problem as an alternative to traditional drug-based treatments. The objective of this systematic review was to evaluate the efficiency of probiotics in treating constipation in elderly people.

Methods: Articles related to this topic and published, without any time limitations, in the Medline, Embase, Scopus, Lilacs, or Cochrane databases were systematically reviewed according to Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines. The primary search terms were 'constipation' and 'probiotics'. The main inclusion criteria were: 1) the article was original and the whole text was published in English or Spanish and 2) included the primary search terms in the title, summary, or body text; 3) the studies had to have included 60 or more participants defined as 'elderly' and 4) have specifically evaluated the effect of the administration of probiotics.

Results: Of the 475 articles consulted, 9 met the inclusion criteria. Among the selected studies, there were four randomised and placebo-controlled trials and the remaining five reports were observational. Overall, our analysis of the randomised and placebo-controlled trials suggests that administration of probiotics significantly improved constipation in elderly individuals by 10-40% compared to placebo controls in which no probiotic was administered. The strain of bacteria most commonly tested was Bifidobacterium longum. However, caution is needed when interpreting these reports because of the heterogeneity of the original study designs, populations, and the risk of bias. Therefore, further placebo-controlled trials are necessary to determine the most efficient strains, doses, and the optimal treatment duration.

Keywords: Aging; Bacteria; Gastrointestinal transit; Gut; Nutraceutical; Probiotic.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Constipation / drug therapy*
  • Controlled Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Probiotics / adverse effects
  • Probiotics / therapeutic use*