Are probiotics for constipation or diarrhea? World Gut Health Day 2023 focuses on gut health

2023 May 5 marks the 29th World Gut Health Day. The intestine is an important digestive organ of the human body, but also the most important and critical organ for nutrient absorption, 19% of the nutrients needed by the human body are absorbed from the intestine, care for the intestine, and have a healthy "intestine" life. In our gut, there are trillions of microbiota, some of which are beneficial bacteria that live for a long time; Some are pathogenic bacteria that will destroy the conditions when the intestinal microecology is destroyed; Some invade passing pathogenic bacteria for other reasons. These gut microbes, especially beneficial microbes, and the metabolites they produce, regulate and influence our health all the time, including digestive health, immune health, metabolic health and bone health.

However, when it comes to probiotics, most people still have a half-understanding, and even have many misunderstandings and questions, such as "Doesn't it mean that probiotics cure constipation?" How can you still cure diarrhea? "Could it be that I took the wrong probiotic and the diarrhea became worse?" So, do you also have this doubt: are probiotics for diarrhea or constipation? Aren't these two diametrically opposed and contradictory? Today, let's take a closer look at it from the beginning:

Probiotic products on the market are food, not medicine

It can only be relieved, not treated

I believe that many people have similar experiences: they feel that their stomach is particularly squeamish, and as long as they eat out, they will have diarrhea. If you have this feeling, I believe that many people have also tried various methods, among which probiotic-related products are definitely the one that is "Amway" the most. Although probiotics are a relatively new category in the food industry, they are now "popular", and many people have begun to have a certain understanding of probiotics.

First of all, it should be clear that the probiotic products on the market belong to the category of ordinary food or health food, not drugs, and cannot replace drug treatment for diseases. So when we answer the question, we can't say "cure constipation or diarrhea", we need to express it more precisely: can probiotics really relieve constipation and diarrhea?

Probiotics do not work for "constipation" or "diarrhea"

Rather, it improves the balance of intestinal flora

There is a lot of scientific evidence that certain probiotic strains have shown relief from constipation in studies; At the same time, there is a lot of research evidence for certain probiotic strains to relieve diarrhea. Probiotics do not work for symptoms of "constipation" or "diarrhea." Its relief of "constipation" or "diarrhea" works by improving the balance of intestinal flora and restoring and maintaining normal intestinal function. When the intestines function normally, common intestinal problems such as constipation and diarrhea disappear. Therefore, from the mechanism point of view, probiotics have the effect of improving constipation and diarrhea at the same time, which is not contradictory.

For example, probiotics can promote colonic fermentation. In the case of diarrhea, fermentation products can lower intestinal pH, inhibit the proliferation of pathogenic bacteria, and improve diarrhea caused by pathogenic infection. In the event of constipation, fermentation products change the osmotic pressure of the intestine and increase intestinal moisture, thereby softening the stool and increasing the volume of the stool, improving constipation.

However, "relieve constipation or diarrhea" is only one of the possible functions of probiotics, and not all probiotics have this function. Whether it also has the function of "relieving constipation or diarrhea", it is necessary to look specifically at the probiotic strain, see whether this strain has clinical evidence, and whether it has been confirmed by clinical studies.

You can't rely solely on the number of species and viable bacteria

to judge the quality of probiotic products

The first thing to look at is the "strain". People often hear that probiotics have such and such functions, it seems to be an "all-round player", but in fact, this is just a general term. What function to achieve specifically, it is necessary to select specific strains that have corresponding clinical studies to confirm this function.

Second, don't blindly compare the number of probiotics in probiotic products. The amount of effect required by different strains of products in different functional applications is different, and it cannot be simply relied on the number of bacteria and the number of viable bacteria to judge the quality of the product. As long as the bacterial composition and addition amount of this product have sufficient scientific evidence, especially supported by clinical trial data, it is good. On the contrary, if there is no scientific evidence to support it, no matter how high the live bacteria count is, it is not a good probiotic product.

A range of processes from processing to transportation

All may affect the quality of probiotic products

Probiotic products often also contain excipients other than probiotic strains, and the production, processing, packaging, transportation and storage of probiotic products have an impact on the quality of the product. It is recommended to read the product label, check the type and content information of the strain contained in the product (the strain should have the strain number), the origin and manufacturer information, storage conditions and precautions for use, etc.

Finally, it's important to note that taking probiotics isn't the only way to improve gut health. On the basis of a reasonable diet and balanced nutrition, pay attention to eating more vegetables, fruits and whole grains, while living regularly, exercising moderately, getting enough sleep, and maintaining a happy mood are all important factors to maintain intestinal health.

Text/Wu Jia (Registered Dietitian)