Probiotics are friendly bacteria that are beneficial to the person consuming them. Prebiotics are soluble fibers that increase the amount of beneficial bacteria in the gut. In essence, prebiotics act as food for the probiotics, helping to support their growth. Taking the two supplements together is often recommended as a way to optimize gut bacterial balance and improve digestive health.

One important way both pro- and prebiotics work is by improving bowel regularity. Constipation is defined as fewer than three bowel movements per week. That means mainstream medicine believes that pooping only three times a week is normal. I’m sorry folks, but that’s not normal. Myself, and many of my colleagues in the natural and integrative medicine field—define constipation as less than one healthy bowel movement per day. That’s right—if you don’t have a healthy-sized bowel movement daily, you are constipated.

A recent study published in the journal Clinical Nutrition found that taking the prebiotic FOS (fructooligosaccharides) with a multistrain probiotic formula containing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains increased the frequency of bowel movements, and improved stool consistency and constipation intensity in chronically constipated women when compared to those women taking a placebo.

The study did not find an improvement in abdominal symptoms, and I wonder if it was because the probiotic dosage was very low—between 200 million and 2 billion cultures daily. Further, the formula included only one Bifidobacterium strain, an important strain in the colon, where constipation occurs. For constipation I recommend high dosages of a multistrain Bifidobacterium formula. At any rate, this study highlights the strong support for digestive benefits in people with constipation.