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13 home remedies for constipation

Various home treatments can help manage constipation, such as drinking more water and eating fiber. If home remedies do not help, over-the-counter and prescription medications are available.

Constipation affects around 20% of people in the United States, resulting in 8 million doctor visits per year.

People may experience constipation due to the foods they eat or avoid, their lifestyle choices, the medications they take, or the medical conditions they have. For many, the cause of their chronic constipation is unknown. This is known as chronic idiopathic constipation.

Constipation is characterized by the following symptoms:

  • fewer than three bowel movements per week
  • hard, dry, or lumpy stools
  • difficulty or pain when passing stools
  • a feeling that not all stool has passed

Constipation can have a serious negative effect on quality of life, as well as on physical and mental health.

There are many natural ways to help relieve constipation. People can do these in the comfort of their own homes, and most of them are supported by science.

Here are 13 natural home remedies to relieve constipation.

1. Drink more water

Being dehydrated regularly can make a person constipated. To prevent this, it is important to drink enough water and stay hydrated. 

When a person is constipated, they might find relief from drinking some carbonated (sparkling) water. This can help them rehydrate and get things moving again.

Some studies have found sparkling water to be more effective than tap water at relieving constipation. This includes in people with indigestion, or dyspepsia, and people with chronic idiopathic constipation.

However, drinking carbonated drinks such as sugary soda is not a good idea, as these beverages can have harmful health effects and may make constipation worse.

Some people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) find that carbonated drinks worsen their symptoms, so these individuals may wish to avoid sparkling water and other carbonated drinks.

Bottom line: Dehydration can cause constipation, so be sure to drink enough water. Sparkling water may be even more effective at relieving constipation.

2. Eat more fiber, especially soluble, non-fermentable fiber

To treat constipation, doctors often tell people to increase their dietary fiber intake.

This is because increasing fiber intake increases the bulk and consistency of bowel movements, making them easier to pass. It also helps them pass through the digestive system more quickly.

In fact, one 2016 review found that 77% of people with chronic constipation benefited from supplementing with fiber.

However, some studies have found that increasing fiber intake can actually make the problem worse. Others report that dietary fiber improves stool frequency but may not help with other symptoms of constipation, such as stool consistency, pain, bloating, and gas.

This is because different types of dietary fiber have different effects on digestion.

There are many different dietary fibers, but in general, they fall into two categories: insoluble fibers and soluble fibers.

Insoluble fibers — present in wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains — add bulk to stools and may help them pass more quickly and easily through the digestive system.

Soluble fibers — present in oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and peas, as well as some fruits and vegetables — absorb water and form a gel-like paste, which softens the stools and improves its consistency.

Non-fermentable soluble fibers, such as psyllium, are the best choice for treating constipation.

One 2020 review found psyllium to be 3.4 times more effective than insoluble wheat bran for constipation.

Studies examining the effects of insoluble fiber as a treatment for constipation have yielded mixed results.

This is partly because insoluble fiber can make the problem worse in some people with a functional bowel problem, such as IBS or chronic idiopathic constipation.

Some fermentable soluble fibers may also be ineffective at treating constipation, as they are fermented by bacteria in the gut and lose their water-holding capacity.

To prevent constipation, people should aim to consume a mix of soluble and insoluble fibers. The total recommended fiber intake per day is 25 grams (g) for females and 38 g for males.

Bottom line: Try eating more high fiber foods. Supplementing the diet with soluble non-fermentable fiber, such as psyllium, can also help.

3. Exercise more

Various research studies have reported that exercise could help improve the symptoms of constipation.

Studies have linked sedentary lifestyles with an increased risk of constipation. Because of this, some healthcare experts recommend increasing exercise to get the stool moving.

That said, not all studies agree that exercise treats constipation. Therefore, more research is needed.

Other studies have reported that although exercise did not always improve the number of times people went to the bathroom, it did reduce some symptoms and improved people’s quality of life scores.

In people with IBS, moderate exercise (brisk walking) can improve digestive symptoms and quality of life scores. However, vigorous exercise (jogging) could make symptoms worse for some.

Try doing some gentle exercise — such as going for regular walks, swimming, cycling, or jogging — to see if it helps.

Bottom line: Exercise may reduce the symptoms of constipation in some people.

4. Drink coffee, especially caffeinated coffee

Drinking coffee may help relieve constipation
Drinking coffee may help relieve constipation

For some people, consuming coffee can increase the urge to go to the bathroom. This is because coffee stimulates the muscles in the digestive system.

In fact, one 1998 study found that caffeinated coffee can stimulate the gut in the same way that a meal can. This effect was 60% stronger than drinking water and 23% stronger than drinking decaffeinated coffee.

Coffee may also contain small amounts of soluble fibers that help prevent constipation by improving the balance of gut bacteria.

That said, the bowel-stimulating qualities of caffeine may be stronger in people with IBS. It could also make digestive symptoms worse. 

People with IBS can try removing caffeine from their diet to see if it helps.

Learn more about foods and beverages that can relieve constipation here.

Bottom line: Coffee can help relieve constipation by stimulating the muscles in the gut. It may also contain small amounts of soluble fiber.

5. Take Senna, an herbal laxative

Senna is a popular safe and effective herbal laxative that helps treat constipation. It is available over the counter and online, in both oral and rectal forms.

Senna contains plant compounds called glycosides, which stimulate the nerves in the gut and help speed up bowel movements.

Doctors consider Senna safe for adults for short periods of time, but people should consult a doctor if their symptoms do not go away after a few days.

Doctors usually do not recommend Senna for pregnant women, those who are breastfeeding, or people with certain health conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease.

Bottom line: The herbal laxative Senna is a popular remedy for constipation. It stimulates the nerves in the gut to speed up bowel movements.

6. Eat probiotic foods or take probiotic supplements

Probiotics may help prevent chronic constipation. Probiotics are live, beneficial bacteria that naturally occur in the gut. They include Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus

People can increase their levels by eating probiotic foods.

Some people who have chronic constipation have an imbalance of bacteria in their gut. Consuming more probiotic foods could help improve this balance and prevent constipation.

One study mentioned in a 2019 review found that taking probiotics for 2 weeks can help treat constipation, increasing stool frequency and stool consistency.

They could also help treat constipation by producing short-chain fatty acids. These may improve gut movements, making it easier to pass stools.

Alternatively, try a probiotic supplement. Some studies have found that people started to feel the benefits of these supplements after 4 weeks. 

Try taking probiotic supplements, which are available online, or eating more probiotic-rich foods to see if this helps with constipation. Prebiotic foods include:

  • yogurt
  • sauerkraut
  • kimchi

Bottom line: Probiotics may help treat chronic constipation. Try eating probiotic foods or taking a supplement.

7. Over-the-counter or prescription laxatives

A person can speak to a doctor or pharmacist about choosing an appropriate laxative. Different types have varying methods of action, but all are effective for constipation.

A doctor may recommend one of the following types:

  • Bulking agents: These are fiber-based laxatives that increase the water content of stool.
  • Stool softeners: These contain oils to soften stools and ease their passage through the gut.
  • Stimulant laxatives: These stimulate the nerves in the gut to increase bowel movements.
  • Osmotic laxatives: These soften stool by pulling water from the surrounding tissues into the digestive system.

However, people should not take most of these laxatives on a regular basis without speaking to a doctor.

Bottom line: Laxatives are effective for relieving constipation. Speak to a doctor or pharmacist about the best ones to use.

8. Try a low FODMAP diet

Constipation can be a symptom of IBS. The low FODMAP diet is an elimination diet that helps treat IBS and may relieve IBS-related constipation.

FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. 

The diet involves limiting high FODMAP foods for a period of time before reintroducing them to determine which ones the body can tolerate.

In people with constipation-predominant IBS, the low FODMAP diet alone is often not enough.

Such people will probably need to pay attention to other aspects of their diet, such as getting enough water and fiber, to experience relief from their symptoms.

Bottom line: A low FODMAP diet may help relieve IBS-related constipation. However, that alone may not provide sufficient relief.

9. Eat shirataki noodles or take a glucomannan supplement

Glucomannan is a type of soluble fiber from the roots of the konjac plant. Some research suggests that it is effective against constipation.

As well as improving bowel movements, glucomannan may act as a prebiotic to improve the balance of good bacteria in the gut.

One review on the effect of glucomannan in children concluded that glucomannan moderately increases defecation but does not increase stool consistency or benefit treatment overall.

However, another controlled study found no significant effects.

People can get glucomannan from supplements or by eating shirataki, or konjac, noodles. 

Glucomannan supplements are also available. They vary in their benefits by brand, so it is best to compare brands before making a purchase. Glucomannan supplements are available online.

Bottom line: Glucomannan may help treat constipation in some people. Sources include supplements and shirataki noodles.

10. Eat prebiotic foods

Prebiotics are an indigestible carbohydrate fiber. Prebiotics include oligosaccharide and inulin.

Although dietary fibers reduce constipation by improving the consistency and bulk of stool, prebiotics have their effects by improving digestive health.

Prebiotic fibers improve digestive health by feeding the beneficial bacteria in the gut, which boosts probiotics and improves the balance of the gut bacteria.

In fact, some prebiotics may help increase the frequency of bowel movements, as well as make stools softer.

Prebiotic foods include:

  • chicory
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • garlic
  • onions
  • bananas
  • leeks
  • chickpeas

However, garlic and onions are not included in a low FODMAP diet as these foods can trigger symptoms in people with IBS.

Bottom line: Foods that contain prebiotic fibers can improve digestive health and the balance of beneficial gut bacteria. Prebiotics may help relieve constipation.

11. Try magnesium citrate

Magnesium citrate is a popular home remedy against constipation. It is a type of osmotic laxative that people can buy over the counter or online.

Taking moderate amounts of magnesium supplements can help relieve constipation. Doctors use higher dosages to prepare and clean out the bowel before surgery or other medical procedures.

Bottom line: Taking magnesium citrate, an over-the-counter supplement, can help relieve constipation.

12. Eat prunes

Prunes are a natural Laxitive
Prunes are a natural Laxitive

People often tout prunes and prune juice as nature’s remedy for constipation — and for good reason. Prunes may be the most accessible natural solution available.

In addition to fiber, prunes contain sorbitol. This is a sugar alcohol that has a laxative effect.

Some studies have shown that prunes may be more effective than fibers such as psyllium.

The effective dosage may be around 50 g, or seven medium prunes, twice per day.

However, people with IBS may want to avoid prunes, because sugar alcohols are high FODMAP foods.

Learn more about prune juice for constipation and other juices for constipation here.

Bottom line: Prunes contain the sugar alcohol sorbitol, which has a laxative effect. Prunes can be a very effective remedy for constipation.

13. Try avoiding dairy

In people with an intolerance to it, eating dairy can cause constipation due to its effect on the gut’s movements.

This includes children who are intolerant to cow’s milk protein and adults with lactose intolerance.

If someone suspects a dairy intolerance, they can see their doctor for diagnosis. The doctor may recommend temporarily removing dairy from the diet, while increasing other calcium-rich foods, to see if it improves the symptoms.

Bottom line: Dairy or lactose intolerance may cause constipation in some people. In these people, removing dairy from the diet can help relieve symptoms.

Takeaway

Constipation is uncomfortable and has a number of potential underlying causes. However, many home remedies and natural methods can help.

If constipation persists, a person can talk to their doctor to identify the cause and find an effective treatment.

That said, many of the natural home remedies in this article can provide significant relief.

Source: Medical News Today


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