Do Probiotics Make You Poop?

By Craig Sorkin, DNP, APN
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
April 15, 2022

Probiotics, the live bacteria and/or yeasts that are naturally found in the body and some cultured foods, are helpful in maintaining digestive health.

However, they are also delicate and can be killed with antibiotics, certain dietary changes, and infection. 

Today, many different kinds of probiotic supplements can be found in drug stores and supermarkets across the country.

Two of the most commonly found probiotic supplements contain the bacteria Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium.

These products are generally marketed as a way to support digestive health, but can probiotics help you to have a bowel movement when you’re constipated? 

In this article, we’ll go over what probiotics and prebiotics are, which foods contain them, and whether or not probiotics or prebiotics found in foods or supplements can support digestive health.

We’ll also explain when you should reach out to a healthcare provider before trying probiotic supplements at home.

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics refer to a combination of live microorganisms that are found in the body and in some cultured foods.

In the body, probiotics contribute to your microbiome, an important community of microbes (including bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa) that support many essential bodily functions.

Most of the probiotics in the body live in the gut (specifically the large intestines), but they can also be found in the mouth, vagina, urinary tract, skin, and lungs.

Probiotics help maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria in the body. 

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Foods With Probiotics

Many foods also contain probiotics.

In fact, you can support the amount of beneficial microbes in your body by consuming certain foods that contain probiotics, like:

  • Yogurt
  • Buttermilk
  • Sourdough bread
  • Cottage cheese
  • Raw and unpasteurized cheeses
  • Kefir
  • Kombucha
  • Tempeh
  • Fermented foods like pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi
  • Miso soup

Incorporating foods with probiotics into your diet can help to support a healthy microbiome, but it’s important to maintain a balance of probiotic-rich foods and other kinds of foods. 

Prebiotics

Prebiotics are the food source for good bacteria found in the gut and elsewhere in the body.

There are several different types of prebiotics, but the majority of them are complex carbohydrates known as oligosaccharide carbohydrates (OSCs). 

Many people who take probiotic supplements may be advised to combine them with a prebiotic supplement.

Evidence suggests that prebiotics may have protective effects on the gastrointestinal system, central nervous system, and cardiovascular system. 

Probiotics and Poop

Because most of the probiotics that naturally live in the body live in the gastrointestinal tract, probiotics found in foods and supplements have long been believed to support general digestive health. 

Constipation

The research on the use of probiotics to treat constipation is complex.

One systematic review and meta-analysis found that probiotics in general may improve whole gut transit time (the time it takes for waste to become fecal matter and be eliminated), stool frequency, and stool consistency.

This review also found that the probiotic Bifidobacterium lactis (B. lactis) may be especially helpful in treating functional constipation. 

But the results from a randomized clinical trial found that the same probiotic, B. lactis, was not effective in the management of mild chronic constipation.

However, both of these reports conclude that there isn’t enough evidence to recommend a specific probiotic for constipation and that further studies are needed to better understand the strain-specific effects of probiotics on constipation.

IBS

Similarly, there is research to suggest that probiotics can work to reduce pain and symptom severity in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but which individual species and strains are the most beneficial remains unclear

More research is needed to identify the role of probiotics in the management of this and other gastrointestinal disorders.  

Other digestive problems

Some of the strongest evidence for probiotics in support of digestive health is in treating diarrhea caused by a viral infection or from taking antibiotics.

Because infection and antibiotics can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the digestive system, probiotics have been found to help restore this balance after infection or antibiotic treatment. 

Additionally, people with ulcerative colitis, mild flare-ups of colitis, or intestinal illnesses may benefit from probiotics called VSL#3 and E. coli Nissle.  

When to See a Doctor

For many people, experimenting on your own with probiotics is probably a safe bet—in general, probiotics don’t cause any side effects and are considered safe.

However, they’re not regulated or tested by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the way that prescription medications are.

For this reason, you may want to consult with your healthcare provider or dietitian before adding a probiotic supplement to your diet, especially if you’re considering taking probiotics for constipation. 

It’s also important to remember that probiotics are full of bacterial spores, and for some immunocompromised people, probiotic use can increase the risk of developing a serious infection.

People with cancer should be especially cautious before taking probiotics as a complementary or alternative treatment, as there can be risk of infection or serious side effects. 

In addition, probiotic use may not be recommended for premature infants, people with short bowel syndrome, people with central venous catheters, and people with cardiac valve disease. 

Finally, probiotics should not be used as a replacement for a visit with your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing new or troubling symptoms, like chronic constipation.

If you’re experiencing chronic constipation that won’t go away after probiotic treatment or other lifestyle changes, reach out to your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

In some cases, chronic constipation can be a sign of something more serious.

If you experience any of the below symptoms, seek emergency medical attention right away:

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is it normal to poop a lot after starting probiotics?
For adults with healthy immune systems, probiotics are generally considered safe to use. However, few studies have looked at the safety of probiotics in detail, so there isn’t a reliable source of possible side effects. When first using probiotics, some people experience gas, bloating, or diarrhea. If you experience mild gastrointestinal changes in the first few days after starting probiotics, they usually go away on their own. But if your side effects don’t clear within three days of starting probiotic supplementation, reach out to your healthcare provider.
Do probiotics affect bowel movements?
Most of the probiotics that naturally live in the body live in the gastrointestinal tract, which is why probiotics found in foods and supplements have long been believed to support digestive health. Some of the strongest evidence for probiotics in support of digestive health is in treating diarrhea caused by a viral infection or from taking antibiotics. Additional research suggests that probiotics can improve gut transit time, increase the frequency of bowel movements, and make stools softer and easier to pass. However, in the treatment of constipation, more research is needed to determine which probiotics may be effective and at what dose and frequency of use.
What happens to your body when you take probiotics?
Probiotics have been shown to support a healthy microbiome. Probiotics live naturally in the body, but if you’re fighting an infection, taking probiotics can help to restore the balance of healthy bacteria in the body.
What are the signs you need probiotics?
Probiotics are naturally found in the body, and many foods also contain probiotics. Most people can support a healthy balance of bacteria in their body without the use of probiotic supplements. However, if you’re on antibiotic treatment for a bacterial infection, your provider may recommend supplementing treatment with a probiotic. Another reason your provider may recommend taking a probiotic supplement is to support treatment of a viral infection. Otherwise, it’s best to consult with your healthcare provider before taking probiotics.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

Craig Sorkin, DNP, APN

Craig Sorkin, DNP, APN is a board certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over 15 years experience. He received his Undergraduate and Graduate degrees from William Paterson University and his doctoral degree from Drexel University. He has spent his career working in the Emergency Room and Primary Care. The last 6 years of his career have been dedicated to the field of digital medicine. He has created departments geared towards this specialized practice as well as written blogs and a book about the topic.