Jokes about constipation are commonplace, but at the same time, if you experience regular constipation, you know it can be extremely uncomfortable. And there’s the 25 - 45 million Americans who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is a functional disorder that affects the large intestine so your digestive system doesn’t work as it should. It’s common for people with IBS to go back and forth between both extremes and experience alternating episodes of constipation and diarrhea. Symptoms range from moderate to severe.1
While there are over-the-counter and prescription medicines you can turn to, many doctors recommend food and physical activity as the ideal solution for constipation relief. What foods are best to aid in relief? Yogurt is often touted as beneficial for digestion – but it’s also a dairy product, which for some, can be constipating.2 So, which is it? Is yogurt good for constipation, or does it cause constipation?
What is constipation?
First, confused about what exactly constipation is? To put it simply, constipation means that your bowel movements are tough and happen less often than normal. It’s usually caused by eating foods that are too low in fiber. Foods that contain a fair amount of fiber move through your intestine faster, and fiber itself acts like a scrub that cleans any build up in your intestines. If your body doesn’t get enough of this fiber, this build-up can cause blockage, leading to discomfort in your bowel. And currently in America, an estimated 95% of adults and children are fiber deficient: meaning, they don’t consume recommended amounts of fiber.6
In IBS, the cause of constipation becomes a bit more complicated. The intestinal muscles that typically move food and waste through your body spasm: the muscles’ contractions are longer, stronger, and often painful. These spasms also interrupt the rhythm of the digestive tract. If these longer, stronger contractions slow down food’s movement, you become constipated. If they speed it up, food moves through too quickly and you have diarrhea.1
Does yogurt cause constipation?
So does yogurt actually worsen constipation? The short answer is: rarely. Studies show that high intakes of dairy products can worsen constipation.2 Milk contains a fair amount of casein (a slow-digesting protein) that is not easily digested. Yogurt does contain a lot of milk, meaning it also contains a large portion of casein. However, unless you are eating pounds of yogurt a day, it is highly unlikely that it’s harming your digestive system.
Why? One word: probiotics.
Can yogurt help relieve constipation?
Yogurt certainly won't hurt in the battle for relief! Yogurts often contain probiotics, which means it introduces good and helpful bacteria into your gut. Probiotics are types of microorganisms, including bacteria, that provide a health benefit to the “host” (that’s you). A great dietary source of probiotics is unpasteurized fermented foods, which can include yogurt.
Can I count on yogurt as my only source of probiotics?
Consuming probiotics can be used to help regulate inflammation, immune function, digestion and heart health.3 Studies have also found that probiotics often helps to aid in reducing bloating and severity of IBS symptoms.4 But because yogurts contain just a few strains of probiotics, you will need to consume other sources to help get the probiotic diversity you need—both fora healthy microbiome and to fully combat digestive issues. But yogurt is still a healthy, enjoyable way to get some of the probiotics you need!
That said, not all yogurts are equal. You want to be mindful of a few things when shopping for yogurt.
What type of yogurt is best?
When choosing what type of yogurt to get, doctors and nutritionists recommend getting full-fat probiotic yogurt. When searching labels look for the phrase “live and active culture” which will often contain the following strains of bacteria:
These particular strains have been shown to improve stool consistency.
But be careful. A lot of yogurts also contain lots of sugar—sometimes they can contain more sugar than a bowl of ice cream! “Bad” bacteria thrive on sugar, so the key is to find yogurt with healthy probiotic strains, and almost no sugar. Some tasty yogurts that house these bacteria include:
Maple Hill Creamery
Stonefield Organic Whole Milk Probiotic Yogurt
Dannon Activia Probiotic Yogurt
Additional foods that may aid in relief
If you’re constipated and only turning to yogurt for relief (consuming tons of it), the more pressing issue may be that yogurt lacks fiber. When it comes to eating for a healthy digestive system and microbiome, fiber is by far the most important nutrient.5 Foods that contain a fair amount of fiber move through your intestine faster, and one of the things fiber does is acts like a scrub that cleans any build up in your intestines. It is also the preferred source of food for your beneficial gut microbes. The more diverse sources of fiber you eat, the easier it is for many diverse gut microbes to eat well and thrive. If you are indeed eating a ton a yogurt, make sure you’re not sacrificing eating more fiber-rich foods.
There are many other foods that we recommend that are also rich in fiber and can help your microbiome. To eat for your gut microbiome, for digestion, and to help constipation, make sure your diet is full of:
Nuts and Seeds
Fermented Foods, as a dietary source of probiotics, including:
Multi-species probiotic supplement
Yogurt can be greatly beneficial to your health, but it also only contributes a small portion of the variety of probiotics you need.
To give you the best chance for relief from any uncomfortable digestive symptoms, we also recommend boosting your intake of probiotics from supplements such as our own drinkable and fermented probiotic, which has zero sugar and houses a diverse ecosystem of 11 live and active cultures.