Probiotics and constipation: mechanisms of action, evidence for effectiveness and utilisation by patients and healthcare professionals

Proc Nutr Soc. 2020 Feb;79(1):147-157. doi: 10.1017/S0029665119000934. Epub 2019 Jul 2.


The aim of this narrative review is to assess and present evidence on the mechanisms of action of probiotics in constipation, their effectiveness and their utilisation by patients and healthcare professionals. Chronic constipation is a common bothersome disorder that has a considerable impact on patients' quality of life. Probiotics have been increasingly investigated for their effectiveness in various disorders, including chronic constipation. Probiotics may affect gut motility and constipation through their impact on the gut microbiota and fermentation, the central and enteric nervous system and the immune system. However, evidence for the effectiveness of probiotics in the management of constipation remains varied, with some strains demonstrating improvements, while others show no effect. Despite the uncertainty in evidence and the fact that the majority of healthcare professionals do not recommend probiotics for constipation, an increased prevalence of probiotic use by people with constipation has been shown. Therefore, there is a need for public health strategies to inform the public about where strong evidence of probiotic effectiveness exist, and where evidence is still weak. Education of healthcare professionals on the increased utilisation of probiotics for constipation by the public and on current evidence for the effectiveness of specific strains is also required.

Keywords: Constipation; Mechanisms; Probiotics.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Constipation* / diet therapy
  • Constipation* / metabolism
  • Constipation* / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Health Personnel / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Probiotics* / metabolism
  • Probiotics* / therapeutic use
  • Treatment Outcome