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Probiotics Improve Bowel Function in Elderly

Probiotics Improve Bowel Function in Elderly

Elderly patients who are hospitalized for various reasons are often prone to developing bowel problems.  Most commonly, they have problems with constipation, but diarrhea is another common complaint.  We all know that bowel problem are almost the furthest thing from glamorous in our society, but they still have a huge impact on our day-to-day well-being.

Probiotics which are essentially “good bacteria” that confer health benefits have been more extensively researched for preventing diarrhea (especially antibiotic-induced) compared to preventing constipation.  Elderly patients are often particularly susceptible to bowel problems due to a number of factors including immobility, medication, dehydration, lack of dietary fiber, not to mention a number of other factors, or simply their age itself.

Do Probiotics Improve Bowel Function?

A recent study published in The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, looked at the impact of probiotics on bowel function in elderly patients admitted to a geriatric orthopedic rehabilitation department.  [1]  A total of 215 patients who were randomized to receive probiotics or placebo were followed for a duration of 45 days.  The primary outcome measures for the study included the number of days of either constipation, diarrhea, or laxative use.

For the study, the intervention group received a commercially available probiotic preparation from VSL Pharmaceuticals Inc.  Specifically it includes:

450 billion viable lyophilized bacteria consisting of four strains of Lactobacillus (L. plantarum, L. paracasei, L. bulgaricus, L. acidophilus), three strains of Bifidobacterium (B. breve, B. longum, B. infantis), and one strain of Streptococcus (S. thermophilus).

The researchers basically found that the percentage of days with diarrhea was significantly lower in the treatment group.  Laxative use was also lower in the treatment group.  Conversely, there was no significant reduction in constipation in the treatment group.

From the Study Authors:

“In the PROAGE study, probiotic supplements have shown beneficial effects in several areas, including decreased laxative and antibiotics use as well as CRP(C-Reactive Protein, a marker of inflammation) levels, and increase in albumin and prealbumin levels. Among participants over the age of 80 years, probiotics also decreased diarrhea.”


  1. Zaharoni H, Rimon E, Vardi H, Friger M, Bolotin A, Shahar DR. Probiotics Improve Bowel Movements in Hospitalized Elderly Patients – The PROAGE Study. J Nutr Health Aging. 2011;15(3):215-20.


  • Dawn

    VSL 3 is good for many of the intestinal or bowel related problems but it is expensive. You can get the Double Strength on prescription and have it covered by health insurance but the Single Strength is not covered. The script must specify VSL#3 DS. A lot of folk have trouble getting this one covered so persevere. Of course, for "ordinary" constipation some other probiotics work equally well without breaking the bank.

  • jasonryz

    Thanks again Jarret for posting this informational article. I reposted on my Facebook account for ProbioticsMD. The results are a bit confusion. Laxative use is associated with constipation so it is unclear why there was decreased laxative use but unchanged reports of constipation. Nonetheless, I suspect probiotics will take on an even great role in the GI health of the elderly population.

  • Brokeman

    Heres some advice, If you have a gut then maybe you should start eating and exercising right before taking supplements.

  • DrMcDougal

    Interesting post. From a functional standpoint, it's important to realize that while probiotics can be very beneficial in restoring a healthy balance of intestinal flora, they also have a lot of powerful competition which is often not addressed. Many harmful bacteria or yeast, such as Candida Albicans for example can easily dominate if present, especially if the person is actively feeding the yeast with a diet high in refined carbohydrates. Be sure to support the probiotics with prebiotics, and to avoid supporting the competition by adjusting the diet accordingly.

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