Can Probiotic Dietary Supplements Help with Constipation?

The problem: About 15 percent of adults (more women than men) suffer from constipation.

What may help: Bifidobacterium lactis DN-173 010.

The evidence: Among 126 Chinese women with constipation, those who ate 4 oz. of Dannon Activia every day for two weeks averaged about one more bowel movement a week than those who ate a placebo yogurt. They also reported “improved stool consistency,” according to the researchers. (The 2008 study was funded by the company.)

In 2010, Dannon promised the Federal Trade Commission that its ads wouldn’t claim that Activia relieves temporary irregularity or speeds food through the GI tract unless the ads explained that you’d have to eat three servings a day. Several earlier studies had hinted at improved transit time with the larger amount.

Now Dannon’s website claims that two company-funded studies show that Activia can reduce “the frequency of minor digestive issues like bloating, gas, rumbling, and discomfort.”

The studies pitted two servings a day of Activia against a placebo yogurt in healthy women (197 in Germany and 324 in France) with minor digestive complaints. Among the German women, a higher percentage of the Activia eaters (41 percent) than the placebo eaters (34 percent) reported improved “GI well-being.” But among the French women, there was no difference between the two groups.

The bottom line: If Activia helps with any kind of GI distress, the benefit is modest.

Sources: World J. Gastroenterol. 14: 6237, 2008; Br. J. Nutr. 102: 1654, 2009; Neurogastroenterol. Motil. 25: 331, 2013.

Dannon Activia doesn’t accept any paid advertising or corporate or government funding. Any products recommended by have been vetted by our staff of nutritionists and are not advertisements by the manufacturers.

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