Constipation is characterized by less than three healthy bowel movements per week however everyone is different and constipation can simply be losing the frequency that you ‘go’, abdominal bloating, hard and difficult bowel movements can also be considered to be constipation.
Constipation is a very common issues affecting about 20% of Americans and resulting in over 8 million doctors visits each year (source)
Often constipation is caused by the food you eat, lifestyle choices, medication or some diseases.
For some people with chronic constipation, the cause can be unknown. This is known as chronic idiopathic constipation.
Constipation can have very serious and negative effects on daily quality of life, as well as your overall health (1,2,3,4). However there are natural ways to relieve constipation without the need to see a doctor.
Ten Tips To Naturally Relieve Constipation
Drink More Water
Becoming dehydrated is one of the main causes of constipation as fluids help to form a healthy, easy to pass stool. Prevention is the best method, so it’s important to drink enough water in order to stay hydrated. Here is an online water calculator for active people. Or here is a more generic calculator.
I covered the juice fast diet in more detail in another article, but for mild constipation you won’t need to undergo an extreme diet like that to relieve your constipation.
From personal experience and from the feed back of friends and family, a glass or two of freshly juiced vegetable juice will get the bowels moving. There will be multiple reasons why this happens but I would say the biggest contributing factor will be the high vitamin c content, as a bonus you will be adding more micronutrients into your body.
Chia seeds have gained a lot of popularity in recent years, you can find out more about them here. Whats great about them being so popular is that they are widely available and wallet friendly, they use to be found only in health food stores but now you can also find them in supermarkets.
What I do is add a tablespoon or two (slowly build up to that amount if trying for first time) to a glass of water and stir a few times and allow to sit in water for at least an hour. That will turn the seeds into a jelly making it easier for the body to absorb. The bowel clearing effects can be attributed to the high vitamin C and fiber content.
Eat More Fiber
The reason we are told to increase our fiber intake is because it increases the bulk and consistency of bowel movements, making them easier to pass.
This study concluded that up to 77% of people with chronic constipation positively benefited from supplementing with fiber.
However there have also been some studies that find increases in fiber intake have made the problem worse.
Essentially, while dietary fiber increases the frequency of bowel movements, it doesn’t solve the other issues associated with chronic constipation like stool consistency, pain, bloating or gas (source).This is thought to be because the type of dietary fiber that you add to your diet is very important.
Dietary fibers fall into two categories:
- Insoluble fibers:this is what adds the majority of bulk to your stool and allows the waste to pass quickly and easy through your intestinal tract. It is normally found in wheat bran, vegetables or whole grains.
- Soluble fibers:This type of fiber absorbs water and forms a paste in the stool which helps with softness and improved consistency. It is normally found in oats bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils and peas, as well as some fruits and vegetables.
To prevent constipation, you should consume a mixture of both soluble and insoluble fibers with the daily recommended fiber intake being 25 grams for the average women and 38 grams for the average man (11,12).
Increase Your Exercise
Studies on the effectiveness of exercise for relieving constipation have expressed both negative and positive results.
This randomized controlled study focusing on constipated people with IBS found that exercise significantly reduced symptoms.
Weather exercise has an impact on your constipation seems to depend on the individual, however exercise is good for your health and should be done regularly regardless of weather you are constipated or not.
Eat Pre-biotic Foods
We’ve already discussed how dietary fiber works to increase stool consistency and bulk to improve frequency of bowel movements.
Some fibers help to treat constipation through positive effects on digestive health. Pre-biotic fibers work to feed the ‘good’ or ‘friendly’ bacteria that live in your gut and are essential for good health (13,14).
Foods that are good sources of pre-biotic fiber are garlic, onions and bananas.
Eat Loads Of Prunes
We have all heard of prunes and their juice as natures remedy for constipation, and for a good reason – they really do work. They are high in fiber but they also contain a natural laxative called sorbitol, a sugar-alcohol responsible for the laxative effect (19,20).
Eating 14 medium sized prunes in two servings throughout the day is thought to be an effective dose (23,24) however if you are on a low FODMAP diet or have chronic IBS you should avoid prunes due to the sugar-alcohol.
Try Upping Your Coffee Intake
The caffeine in coffee stimulates the muscles of your digestive tract which can increase the urge to go to the bathroom, specifically by stimulating the motor activity of the colon, helping to move stools along in the body (source).
This study found that caffeinated coffee provides the same stimulation to your gut as eating a meal does. In fact this effect is 60% stronger than drinking regular water and 23% stronger than drinking decaffeinated coffee.
The natural herbal laxative Senna is a commonly used supplement to relieve constipation. It is harmless and often available over-the-counter at health stores or pharmacies, and can be taken either orally or rectally depending on the type of constipation you are experiencing. Drinking Senna Tea is what I would recommend.
Senna is effective because it contains a quantity of various plant compounds named glycosides. These stimulate the nerves inside your gut to contract and release. This process helps to speed up your bowel movements (28,29).
It is considered completely safe for adults to use the herbal supplement Senna for short periods of time however you should visit your doctor if your symptoms don’t go away after a few days as constipation for long periods of time can be serious.
Senna is not recommended for people who are pregnant, breastfeeding or have certain health conditions, like inflammatory bowel disease or IBS as it can worsen symptoms.
Tamarind contains both soluble and insoluble fiber which is known to aid in digestion. Therefore it is a good option to use in conjunction with or instead of the above mentioned natural remedies for constipation. Here is a guide to using tamarind as a laxative as well as additional information to relieve constipation naturally.