Toilet roll pattern

“Why am I constipated?”: some probiotics can make it harder to use the loo – here’s how to stop that from happening

Posted by for Nutrition

If you think that taking a daily probiotic might solve your gut health woes, then think again. Sometimes, supplements can open up a whole new can of worms, Strong Women editor Miranda Larbi says.

Good gut health means being regular. It means being able to eat food without becoming super gassy or bloated, before being fully digested. And that means using the loo every day.

And yet, much of the UK is constipated. According to a paper by Coloplast, one in seven Brits has constipation at any one time, with 2 million people thought to have chronic constipation in the UK. 

If you struggle to poop, you might be wondering whether improving your gut health might help – and that might mean thinking about supplements. But can some gut-loving supplements help to relieve constipation, or might they make the matter worse? 

Daniel O’Shaughnessy, aka The Naked Nutritionist, explains that some vitamins can cause constipation. He says that if you aren’t used to probiotics, for example, then you might feel constipated afterwards. “They may cause issues if you’re not drinking enough water throughout the day, and this can happen with as little as one capsule and a low strength, particularly if you have IBS.”

Constipation from probiotics isn’t a particularly common side effect; in fact, many find that taking gut supplements actually helps to regulate bowel movements. But if you do try some and find that you’re unable to poo, then it’s typically a sign that you’re not consuming enough fibre or water. Both are easily rectified: up your intake of fibre-rich foods (think fruit, veg and whole grains – carbs) and try drinking more fluid than usual.

As well as aiming for two or three litres of water a day, O’Shaughnessy suggests taking a break from whatever supplement you’re currently taking for a few days, before trying it again at a lower dose. 

Glass of water on a green background
As well as upping your fibre in take, it's a good idea to stay really hydrated while taking probiotics.

It’s also important to get to the root of the issue. If you’re taking probiotics because you’re struggling with certain digestive issues, mild constipation may well be a sign that the supplements are working. 

On the other hand, supplements can knock our natural balance of bacteria and vitamin levels off balance, so constipation could be a sign that something’s gone haywire. Before taking supplements to help with digestive issues, you’re best off visiting your GP to make sure that there’s nothing else at play.

Supplements for constipation

As for taking supplements for constipation, you’re definitely best off trying a food-first approach. If you’re eating 30 plants a week or nailing your five portions of fruit and veg a day, look at what kinds of carbs you’re consuming. A sludgy digestive system could be caused by years of avoiding carbs in favour of keto foods, for example. Go for whole grains, fermented breads like sourdough, and plenty of oats.

Then you might want to consider taking something like magnesium, which attracts water to your intestines. That can lead to more frequent bowel movements and reduced straining. A 28-day study of 34 women with mild-to-moderate constipation found that taking 1.5g of magnesium oxide a day significantly improved stool consistency, quality of life and digestion speed compared to a placebo. 

Glass of water next to supplements
Magnesium is known to help ease constipation symptoms.

Registered nutritionist Marjolein Dutry van Haeften previously explained to Stylist that magnesium oxide isn’t very well absorbed by the body and the benefit could be more regular bowel movements because the mineral is staying in the gut. Not great if you want the other benefits of magnesium, such as reduced stress, but very useful if you want to be a bit more regular. If you are interested in the other benefits of magnesium, however, try taking magnesium glycinate, which is better absorbed.

And if eating a load of seeds, grains and veg isn’t enough to get you going, you could try taking a fibre supplement like psyllium, which you can either supplement or buy as a cooking ingredient. The gel-forming soluble fibre retains a lot of water and has been found to improve stool consistency. Oh, and it has the added benefit of being a rather good vegan egg substitute. 

Images: Getty

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Miranda Larbi

Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.