Prebiotics Help Children's Constipation

Kathy Wheddon Nutritional Therapist DipION

Childhood constipation is one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders in children. The NHS estimates that it affects as many as 1 in 3 infants at any one time – less surprising, perhaps, if you have little people of your own. If so, you might be aware of the discomfort and pain this condition can cause. It's good news, then, that evidence from a recent study1 found that supplementing constipated children with a prebiotic fibre could improve stool consistency and frequency, thereby relieving symptoms.

content child sitting in a bathroom
A recent study has found that inulin-type fructins could relieve symptoms of constipation in children

Scientists conducted a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial where constipated 2-5 year olds were given daily doses of inulin-type fructans, or a placebo, over six weeks. Inulin-type fructans are a kind of indigestible prebiotic (read more over in the Probiotics Learning Lab) fibre that reaches the large intestine intact, where it is then fermented by probiotic bacteria, particularly the Bifidobacteria genus. A species of Bifidobacteria, Bifidobacterium infantis, is found in higher concentrations in children and thought to be beneficial for their wellbeing and immunity.

Published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, the paper found that two daily doses were able ‘to improve stool consistency as compared with children having received the placebo’. The study authors also noticed an improvement in bowel regularity in the supplemented group, and concluded that ‘supplementing the daily diet with a rather low dose of inulin-type fructans…seems to be promising for treating functional constipation in young children.’

An earlier pilot study supports these findings2. Scientists analysed the benefits of probiotic species including Bifidobacteria bifidumBifidobacteria infantis and Lactobacillus rhamnosus in children aged 4-16 years old who were suffering from constipation. The probiotics generally resulted in an increased amount of bowel movements and a decrease in faecal incontinence, as well as less abdominal pain. The study can be read here.

For more detailed and up-to-date information on the subject, please take a look at our article Probiotics for Constipation.

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  1. Closa-Monasterolo, R., Ferré, N., Castillejo-DeVillasante, G., Luque, V., Gispert-Llaurado, M., Zaragoza-Jordana, M., Theis, S. and Escribano, J., (2016). The use of inulin-type fructans improves stool consistency in constipated children. A randomised clinical trial: pilot study. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 68(5): pp.587-594.
  2. Bekkali, N., Bongers, M., Van den Berg, M., Liem, O. and Benninga, M., 2007. The role of a probiotics mixture in the treatment of childhood constipation: a pilot study. Nutrition Journal, 6(1).