Constipation isn’t something anyone necessarily likes to talk about, but it’s a reality for just about everyone at some point. Where is gets confusing is determining just how often you should go. Some people regularly have a bowel movement once per day; some have one every couple of days; others have one multiple times per day. What healthcare professionals tell us is that while there is no universal right or wrong time frame between trips to the bathroom, your bowel movements should be regular and comfortable. Do your bathroom experiences not fall into those categories? Read on.
Home Remedies for Constipation
For some people, constipation can be a chronic, ongoing problem. For others, it just crops up on occasion. Common treatments like chemical laxatives and other over the counter products can be harsh on your system and worse, can even cause dependency. Fortunately, there are plenty of effective natural home remedies for constipation. If you’re looking for remedies that provide natural constipation relief, you’re in the right place. Here are our eight favorites.
1. Eat More Fiber (and Prunes!)
What goes in, must come out – or at least in theory. Unfortunately, the unbalanced standard American diet – while sorely lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables – is full of processed foods and other digestive nightmares like red meat. It is not a difficult to conclude that changes to your diet are among the best home remedies for chronic constipation for most people. Among the many healthy diet changes most Americans should be making, eating more fiber is at the top of the list.1 Fiber is a natural food substance that your body cannot readily digest, so it acts like a sponge when it’s in the stomach and intestines. It draws in water as it passes through the system which helps to soften the stool and keep things moving. While you can purchase psyllium husk and other fiber products at the drug store (generally laden with added refined sugars and preservatives), the best source of fiber will always come from natural, whole foods.
Some of the top fiber-rich foods you can eat include beans and legumes, bran, whole wheat (and other whole grains), nuts, berries, and fruits (like apples, pears, apricots, and plums). Adding these fiber-rich foods to your diet can act as a natural regulator for the digestive system and bowels. Fiber is also a natural remedy for constipation that can bring other added health benefits like lowered cholesterol and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
One of the classic sources of fiber that can aid in constipation relief is prunes (which is just an old-fashioned name for dried plums). Yes, your grandmother’s famous constipation remedy is still an excellent choice for natural constipation relief. One study even deemed it more effective than psyllium in treating constipation!2 The reason prunes make for an excellent natural laxative is three-fold. They have a high fiber content, but they also naturally contain dihydrophenylisatin and sorbitol. Dihydrophenylisatin is a chemical found in the skin of prunes that works as a gentle stimulant laxative. Sorbitol, on the other hand, acts as a stool softener as it is a natural carbohydrate that draws water from the intestine into the stool.
So try eating a few prunes to get your bowels moving naturally. You can also drink prune juice for the sorbitol, but you probably won’t get any extra fiber due to the filtration process. Just be careful not to overdo it on the prunes or prune juice – an excess of sorbitol can make the stool too soft and cause gas and discomfort. Most healthcare professionals recommend a half of a cup of prune juice for adults whereas the usual advice for small children and babies is 1 to 2 ounces (but always check with your pediatrician to determine the safe amount for your child).
2. Drink More Water
While most people have heard the “more fiber” natural home remedy for constipation, getting more fiber is only part of the equation when it comes to natural constipation relief through diet. What most people fail to do when increasing their fiber intake is also ensuring to increase their water intake. Drinking water adds necessary fluid to your entire body, including your intestines, which helps bulk your stool and makes your bowel movements softer and easier to pass. As if you needed more incentive to drink more water, it’s important to note that you actually increase your risk of experiencing constipation when you increase your fiber intake but do not take in enough fluids.
In addition to getting enough water throughout your day (talk to your doctor about how much is right for you based on your body and diet), some people swear by starting their day with a glass of warm lemon water.3 In the morning, try squeezing half of a medium sized lemon into 8 ounces of warm water and drinking it on an empty stomach. The citric acid naturally found in the lemon juice acts as a stimulant for your digestive system by inducing peristalsis (the involuntary muscle contractions in your intestinal walls that get things moving) and the water helps up your fluid intake first thing in the morning. Just be sure to rinse your mouth with plain water immediately after drinking your lemon water and wait at least thirty minutes before brushing your teeth as the brushing action and abrasive substances in your toothpaste can damage the enamel softened by the acidic drink.
3. Get Moving
Another excellent natural way to relieve constipation is by getting more exercise.4 Experts aren’t exactly sure why being more active is an effective remedy for constipation, but when you’re in motion, other internal parts of you tend to self-regulate. Exercise may aid constipation by decreasing the time it takes food to move through your intestines, which reduces the amount of water in the stool that is reabsorbed into the body (leading to harder stools). It’s also possible that general muscle movement stimulates the smooth muscles within the colon to move.
An after dinner run might sound like just what you need to get your bowels moving, but most healthcare professionals recommend waiting about an hour after a big meal before any rigorous physical activity. After eating, the blood flow to your stomach and intestines increases to help you digest. If you exercise immediately after eating, the blood will flow toward the heart and muscles instead. So give your GI tract a little time to use that extra bloodflow before getting your heart rate up.
An after dinner walk can be a great way to get in some moderate exercise each evening, but there are many who swear by the natural constipation relieving powers of yoga. For step-by-step instructions for five constipation relieving yoga poses, check out this great guide. You can also try a gentle digestive aid flow by following along with this great video.
4. Healthy Oils
Ingesting healthy oils is another way to help keep your digestive system functioning smoothly – and regularly.5 Oils like pure olive oil can get things moving again and better yet, help prevent constipation in the future. Taking one tablespoon of olive oil on an empty stomach may be all that’s needed to reboot your system. You can take it on its own or along with a teaspoon of lemon juice, which is another natural constipation remedy and detoxifying agent.
Another healthy oil that can help to combat constipation is flaxseed oil. When ingested, flaxseed oil can line the intestinal walls and stool to increase bowel movement frequency. Try taking one tablespoon of flaxseed oil on its own on an empty stomach or with lemon juice or orange juice for added help and taste.
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the historic oil cures of all constipation cures: castor oil and mineral oil. Both can be a powerful laxative, so it’s no wonder your mother or grandmother may have tried to force it down your throat as a child. Like other common laxatives, however, neither should not be used long-term. Overuse of laxatives like castor oil can hurt your body’s ability to absorb nutrients and even effect the efficacy of some medications. Even more concerning, these oils can damage the bowel muscles, nerves, and tissue if overused.
5. Blackstrap Molasses (or Magnesium)
Molasses, in particular blackstrap molasses, has naturally aided constipation sufferers for decades. Blackstrap molasses, a by-product of the refining of sugarcane into sugar, contains high concentrations of vitamins and minerals like magnesium. Unlike the highly refined sugars most Americans are familiar with, blackstrap molasses contains large amounts of essential nutrients like vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, and iron along with very little sugar. In fact, one tablespoon of this viscous liquid can provide up to 20% of the recommended daily value of these nutrients!
Just one teaspoon can help to get your pipes moving again, but you can increase the dosage as needed up to about a tablespoon. Since the majority of the sweet sucrose from the original sugarcane juice has been crystallized and removed by the time you get blackstrap molasses, the taste is much more robust and bitter. If the bitter taste is less than pleasing, you can dilute it with warm water.
Some naturally-minded constipation sufferers turn to magnesium supplements as an easier to swallow alternative to molasses in addition to increasing their fiber and water intake.6 In addition to aiding constipation, magnesium can be beneficial for many health concerns, particularly for headaches and migraines.
In order to take magnesium in supplement form, it must be bound to another substance meaning that there is no such thing as a pure, 100% magnesium supplement. Ultimately, the substance used in the combination will alter the effects the magnesium has on your body. To naturally relieve mild to moderate constipation, try one of these forms of magnesium: magnesium citrate (laxative properties) or magnesium oxide (stool softening properties). Though magnesium sulfate and magnesium hydroxide (better known as milk of magnesia) have historically been used as a magnesium-based laxative, they can be easy to overdose.
6. Good Ol’ Coffee (in Moderation)
Caffeine is a stimulant for more than just the brain and mood; it can also stimulate the digestive system to get moving again. If you enjoy coffee, you can use it as a natural constipation prevention measure. However, users of this caffeine-based method should stick to one to two cups per day, as too much coffee can actually induce constipation due to dehydration. An excess of caffeine from any source acts as a natural diuretic, which can lead to dehydration and a hardening of the stool.7 Even if you’re only the cup or two a day kind of coffee connoisseur, be sure that you’re drinking enough water to stay hydrated (see home remedy #2 above). Your bowels – and the rest of your body – will thank you.
Probiotics – the beneficial bacteria found in your gut – have long been touted for their ability to ease digestive woes and maintaining this balance of healthy gut flora is essential to keeping your digestive system working properly – among other related systems like your immune system. Being mindful to keep this good bacteria in your body plentiful and balanced will help prevent and ease constipation8 among other countless benefits. If you decide to opt for a supplement, choose one that contains a variety of bacterial strains and at least 1 billion or more active cells. We like this one (they are small, once daily capsules with an extremely high number of colony-forming units and a diverse combination of 34 raw probiotic strains!). Of course, you can always opt for foods to get your daily dose. Try incorporating cultured or fermented foods like plain Greek yogurt, unsweetened kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, or kombucha into your diet for a natural probiotic boost!
8. Try Squatting
While the modern day toilet is clean and convenient, it has one major design flaw: it requires you to sit when you poop. While naturopaths and various holistic healthcare professionals have raised their concerns with the modern sitting toilet for years, recent clinical studies have begun to back up the claim that the natural squat position improves human’s ability to eliminate efficiently, completely, and healthfully. Ultimately, it is believed that better, more natural elimination may help relieve many of the common bathroom-related ailments we experience from hemorrhoids to constipation.
While getting rid of your porcelain throne is probably not advisable, you can modify it to help you get into proper pooping position. Enter the bathroom product that everyone has been talking about recently, the Squatty Potty. Need a visual? Check out this great, informative video from the makers of the Squatty Potty (or go for the more entertaining version).
We here at NAR have a Squatty Potty footstool in every bathroom, and we enthusiastically encourage all of our visitors to try it – knowing that they’ll be hooked after just one go (plus what better way to solidify a relationship that sharing your most clandestine bowel secrets?). You can get the Squatty Potty in a variety of styles and heights, but we suggest going for the two-pack which includes the most popular 7-inch and 9-inch models.
If you want to try out the squatting concept before making a purchase, you can always use a child’s step stool or other sturdy surface under your feet the next time you go.
The Bowel Movement Bottom Line
While for many people a laxative is the go-to solution for constipation, this method can eventually take its toll on the body without providing lasting relief. The best solution is to use natural home remedies and lifestyle changes as your first line of defense. The eight home remedies for constipation listed here can help to get you started on the road to being “regular” and feeling good again, so why not give them a try?
What natural remedies do you turn to in times of constipation? Leave your story in the comments below!
- Chronic Constipation: An Evidence-Based Review – http://www.jabfm.org/content/24/4/436.full ↩
- Randomised clinical trial: dried plums (prunes) vs. psyllium for constipation – http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2036.2011.04594.x/abstract ↩
- Constipation – http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/physicalsideeffects/dealingwithsymptomsathome/caring-for-the-patient-with-cancer-at-home-constipation ↩
- Chronic Constipation: An Evidence-Based Review – http://www.jabfm.org/content/24/4/436.full ↩
- The short-term effects of olive oil and flaxseed oil for the treatment of constipation in hemodialysis patients – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25238699 ↩
- Association between dietary fiber, water and magnesium intake and functional constipation among young Japanese women – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17151587 ↩
- Constipation – https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases_conditions/hic_constipation ↩
- Probiotics may ease constipation – http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/probiotics-may-ease-constipation-201408217377 ↩