Even before you take fiber to relieve constipation, you should try a one-meal juice fast and start taking a probiotic supplement three times a day. Many people who suffer chronic constipation find that probiotics are useful for relieving constipation even without fiber, but fiber does not work without probiotics.
Bacteria Add Bulk to the Stool
Most people would be surprised to learn just how many bacteria live in a healthy colon. The upper reaches of the intestines, the duodenum and the jejunum, normally host 10,000 bacteria in every milliliter of fluid. A little lower in the intestinal tract, farther away from the acid environment of the stomach, the ileum usually contains about 100,000,000 bacteria in every milliliter of stool. By the time waste products reach the colon, every single milliliter of liquid stool contains about 10,000,000,000 friendly and unfriendly bacteria. If you are regular, every time you relieve yourself you dump trillions of trillions of microorganisms, making up about 1/3 of the bulk of stool.
Probiotic bacteria are extremely helpful in fighting constipation. Not only do they keep the disease-causing pathogenic bacteria in check and help the bowel absorb vitamins D and K, they also provide soft bulk to the stool. They make the stool softer and moister and reduce its odor, and they help it decay faster once it is in the sewer system.
Killing probiotic bacteria is the reason that taking antibiotics usually causes constipation or diarrhea. Either there is not enough bulk in the stool and there is diarrhea, or there is too much hardened waste matter in the stool and there is constipation. Restoring friendly bacteria to normal levels can help normalize bowel movement before, during, and after treatment with antibiotics. And taking probiotic supplements is helpful for just about anyone who has constipation.
Why Take a Probiotic Capsule?
Especially in the USA and Canada, the makers of probiotic yogurt aggressively market yogurt for treating irregularity. Some of these products are completely worthless.
If a “probiotic” yogurt is not labeled for “active cultures,” and the leading probiotic yogurt in the United States is not, then it cannot reestablish friendly bacteria in your bowel. Pasteurizing the yogurt after the probiotic bacteria are added defeats the purpose of putting them in the product in the first place.
Many brands of yogurt that are not marketed as probiotic actually contain the needed friendly bacteria. In the United States, these good brands include Stonyfield Farms and Oikos among others. They are fine when you are already regular, but if you are treating irregularity, you may need to avoid the calcium and lactose sugars that can keep you constipated. Pasteurized yogurts may even make you more constipated. For the purpose of correcting constipation, it's OK if the live cultures are added to pasteurized milk.
Which Brand of Probiotic Is Best?
When you're treating constipation, it's best to take a probiotic supplement that contains as many different kinds of probiotic bacteria as possible so the maximum number wiLactobacillus grow in your gut. Some brands of yogurt may only contain live Lactobacillus acidophilous cultures. Some better brands of yogurt might contain a mixture of Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Lactobacillus acidophilous, Bifidobacterium bifidus (or just “bifidus”), and L. casei. But a typical probiotic supplement would contain Bifidobacterium breve, Bifidobacterium lactis, Bifidobacterium longum, Lactobacillus acidophilous, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and Lactobacillus salivarius, and some products contain many more.
It's easier to pop a probiotic capsule three times a day. But it's better to use one of the brands that is mixed into juice. The added benefit of juice is that it provides the prebiotics for the probiotics, it contains the food the bacteria need to grow.
Juice as Prebiotic for Your Probiotic
Prebiotics are food substances for probiotic bacteria. Providing prebiotics helps probiotics grow much more rapidly. Prebiotics can't be digested by the human digestive tract, but they can be digested in the human digestive tract by the bacteria that consume them.
The two main prebiotics are oligofructose and inulin (not to be confused with insulin). They are especially abundant in asparagus, bananas, barley, chicory, jicama, leeks, and wheat. Most people who are chronically constipated don't react well to wheat and barley doesn't mix well with juice, so that leaves asparagus, bananas, chicory, jicama, and leeks.
Banana juice can be added to prune juice to give it a mellower flavor and to support probiotic growth. Jicama has a bland taste that works in either fruit or vegetable juices. Asparagus and leeks work in green juices, but be sure to rinse leeks thoroughly before sending them through the macerating juicer. Taking a shot of juice containing any of these ingredients with your probiotic accelerates the rate at which it will work. It's not essential to drink or eat prebiotics when you take probiotics, but it helps.
Is There Any Objective Evidence that Probiotics Relieve Constipation?
Over 40 published scientific studies support the use of probiotics in treating constipation. Most of the studies found that it takes about two weeks for probiotics to make a difference. Prune juice gets faster results, but probiotics confer a variety of benefits.
A study in Brazil found that Bifidobacterium longum is especially helpful for relieving painful constipation in babies. Another group of Brazilian researchers found that probiotics prevent antibiotic-related diarrhea and reduce the frequency of eczema and allergies. Belgian researchers have found that probiotics reduce the number of Helicobacter pylori, which is associated with gastritis and stomach ulcers. Other studies have linked probiotics to reduced rates of colorectal and bladder cancers.
Can anything go wrong with taking probiotics? If you follow label instructions, no. Some overzealous users of nutritional supplements, however, take too many probiotics and suffer bloat. All it takes to correct the problem is to stop taking the probiotics until bloating subsides. Also, sometimes taking too many probiotics results in a sudden “dump” of stool—it cleans you out but you need to be close to a toilet when nature calls.