Probiotics and synbiotics in chronic constipation in adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials

Clin Nutr. 2022 Dec;41(12):2759-2777. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2022.10.015. Epub 2022 Oct 27.


Background & aims: Probiotics and synbiotics have been increasingly investigated for the management of chronic constipation. We aimed to investigate the effect of probiotics and synbiotics on stool output, gut transit time, symptoms and quality of life in adults with chronic constipation via a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials (RCTs).

Methods: Studies were identified using electronic databases, backward citation and hand-searching abstracts. The search date was 10 July 2022. RCTs reporting administration of probiotics or synbiotics in adults with chronic constipation were included. Risk of bias (RoB) was assessed with the Cochrane RoB 2.0 tool. Meta-analysis was conducted separately for probiotics and synbiotics. Results were synthesized using risk ratios (RRs), mean differences or standardized mean differences (SMDs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) using a random-effects model.

Results: Thirty RCTs investigating probiotics and four RCTs investigating synbiotics were included. Overall, 369/647 (57%) responded to probiotic treatment and 252/567 (44%) to control (RR 1.28, 95% CI 1.07, 1.52, p = 0.007). Probiotics increased stool frequency (SMD 0.71, 95% CI 0.37, 1.04, p < 0.00001), with Bifidobacterium lactis having a significant effect, but not mixtures of probiotics, Bacillus coagulans Unique IS2 or Lactobacillus casei Shirota. Probiotics did not impact stool consistency (SMD 0.26, 95% CI -0.03, 0.54, p = 0.08). Probiotics improved integrative symptom scores compared to control (SMD -0.46, 95% CI -0.89, -0.04). Synbiotics did not impact stool output or integrative symptom scores compared to control.

Conclusions: Certain probiotics may improve response to treatment, stool frequency and integrative constipation symptoms, providing cautious optimism for their use as a dietary management option. There is currently insufficient evidence to recommend synbiotics in the management of chronic constipation. Caution is needed when interpreting these results due to high heterogeneity and risk of bias amongst the studies.

Keywords: Constipation; Meta-analysis; Probiotics; Synbiotics; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bifidobacterium animalis*
  • Constipation / therapy
  • Humans
  • Probiotics* / therapeutic use
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Synbiotics*