Slow Mover: How our Intestinal Microbiome can lead to Constipation

Slow Mover: How our Intestinal Microbiome can lead to Constipation

  • Gut Health

  • By Desiree Nielsen, Registered Dietitian

    Our gut is a creature of habit. Travelling? Normal bowel routine may get thrown for a curveball. Stressed? Yep, that can do it too. But if not going is more regular (pun intended) than going, well then we've got to look at the intestinal microbiome.

    The ROME IV defines constipation as moving your bowels 3 or fewer times per week, incomplete elimination or feeling 'blocked' at least 25% of the time. If these resonate with you, you're not alone - constipation may affect as many as 20% of us.

    What's important to remember, however, is 'common' does not equal 'normal.' Your body uses your bowels as a way of eliminating waste, and no one should have junk hanging around longer than necessary!

    When dealing with sluggish bowels, the first strategy is always the simplest: ensure adequate intake of fibre and water. However, you may be surprised to learn that an imbalance in your gut bacteria may be strongly linked to constipation.


    Go With The Flow

    Your gut is one big long muscle, more than six meters long, that moves in flowing, rhythmic waves known as peristalsis. In fact, as soon as you swallow food, your enteric (gut) nervous system takes over moving the contents of your gut along from one end to the other.

    What's interesting though is this enteric nervous system, doesn't just respond when you eat food. It responds to the type of food you eat, as well as your mental state, and the community of bacteria living in your digestive tract.

    While there is a lot that remains to be understood, it is widely established that constipation is associated with changes in the community of gut bacteria1-5. In general, there may be a decrease in the lactobacilli species and an increase of more pathogenic strains1,4,5. Lactobacillus tend to be associated with improved intestinal transit time, or, how long it takes things to move through your gut1.

    One reason for this is that certain strains of Lactobacillus have been shown to increase serotonin (the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter) production in the gut with some strains of this bacteria even producing serotonin themselves6,7. In fact, the gut is responsible for roughly 90% of the body's serotonin via cells known as enterochromaffin cells. It's believed this production of serotonin helps to regulate peristalsis - so lower levels may be associated with poor motility.4,6,7


    How Does A Microbiome Imbalance Happen and How Can You Fix It?

    An imbalance in your gut bacteria can come from so many factors, and in fact, will often not just be related to one thing. For example, psychological stress can alter gut bacteria as can the foods you choose to eat, medications you may take and how active you are. Consumption of a high sugar, high fat, low fibre diet (one that is typical of North America) is almost perfectly designed to throw the gut off balance.

    Once the imbalance occurs, the most significant challenge is righting it. For example, the slow motility that makes constipation worse will also have negative effects on our gut bacteria creating a vicious circle: poor transit time increases bad bacteria. Bad bacteria increases poor transit time.

    Luckily, we have probiotics for that. Probiotics are living micro-organisms that help repopulate the gut with beneficial bacteria. This is in addition to supporting your natural community of microbes and helping them to thrive.

    If you've made it this far in the article, you're probably wondering about probiotics and daily or travel constipation. While the reasons why taking a probiotic helps with constipation are complex (discouraging the growth of pathogenic bacteria and altering levels of serotonin to name two), research supports that yes, probiotics do improve transit time and ease the feelings of constipation.3,8

    Taking a daily bottle of Bio-K+ drinkable probiotic is an easy and convenient way to get your daily probiotic fix for better gut health. If you have been experiencing constipation, we do advise starting slow - begin with a ¼ bottle of our drinkable Bio-K+ and gradually work up to a full bottle as your symptoms start to improve.


    Constipation may be your reality right now, but it doesn't have to be that way forever. Consider adding a probiotic to your daily routine along with increasing your intake of water and high fibre plant foods.


    If you are looking to stock up on Bio-K+, head to our store locator. For more information on Bio-K+, probiotics and digestive health, contact us, find us on Facebook and Instagram or join our community.




    1. Zhao, Ying, and Yan-Bo Yu. “Intestinal Microbiota and Chronic Constipation.” SpringerPlus5.1 (2016): 1130. PMC. Web. 26 Feb. 2018.
    2. Parthasarathy, Gopanandan et al. “Relationship Between Microbiota of the Colonic Mucosa vs Feces and Symptoms, Colonic Transit, and Methane Production in Female Patients With Chronic Constipation.” Gastroenterology150.2 (2016): 367–379.e1. PMC. Web. 26 Feb. 2018.
    3. Dimidi, Eirini, et al. "The effect of probiotics on functional constipation in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials–." The American journal of clinical nutrition100.4 (2014): 1075-1084.
    4. Cao, Hailong, et al. "Dysbiosis contributes to chronic constipation development via regulation of serotonin transporter in the intestine." Scientific reports7.1 (2017): 10322.
    5. Mancabelli, Leonardo, et al. "Unveiling the gut microbiota composition and functionality associated with constipation through metagenomic analyses." Scientific reports7.1 (2017): 9879.
    6. Clarke, Gerard et al. “Minireview: Gut Microbiota: The Neglected Endocrine Organ.” Molecular Endocrinology28.8 (2014): 1221–1238. PMC. Web. 26 Feb. 2018.
    7. Yano, Jessica M. et al. “Indigenous Bacteria from the Gut Microbiota Regulate Host Serotonin Biosynthesis.” Cell161.2 (2015): 264–276. PMC. Web. 26 Feb. 2018.
    8. Miller, Larry E, and Arthur C Ouwehand. “Probiotic Supplementation Decreases Intestinal Transit Time: Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.” World Journal of Gastroenterology : WJG19.29 (2013): 4718–4725. PMC. Web. 26 Feb. 2018.

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    Desiree Nielsen Registered Dietitian
    About the author
    Desiree Nielsen is a registered dietitian, author and host of the vegetarian cooking sshow, The Urban Vegetarian. Desiree takes an evidence-based, integrative approach to her dietetics work, with a focus on anti-inflammatory, plant-centredcentered nutrition and digestive health.
    View all articles by Desiree Nielsen
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