Most people experience constipation at some time in their lives. This common problem affects almost 20 percent of Americans, resulting in 8 million doctor visits every year (1, 2). This means approximately 63 million people in America suffer from constipation.
The common causes for constipation include low fiber diet, lack of exercise, imbalance of gut bacteria, nutritional deficiencies and psychological stress.
In addition to difficult bowel movements, constipation can also cause other symptoms that last through the day. These include gas, bloating, low back pain, anxiety, and fatigue.
While there are many over the counter laxatives available, you can also relieve constipation through natural home remedies such as drinking enough water, eating high fiber foods, exercising, etc.
Read on to learn what may be causing constipation and how to alleviate it through natural home remedies.
What is constipation?
Constipation is the condition of the digestive system where the individual has hard feces that are difficult to expel. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, constipation is a condition in which you have fewer than three bowel movements in a week; stools that are hard, dry, or lumpy; stools that are difficult or painful to pass; or a feeling that not all stool has passed (3).
What are the main causes of constipation?
Poor diet, dehydration and lack of exercise are some of the most common causes of constipation. Many other medical causes can lead to constipation.
1. Poor diet
A diet that is high in processed foods, refined carbs, and unhealthy fats can lead to constipation. This diet is low in fiber which can make it harder to produce regular bowel movements.
2. Lack of exercise
Exercise helps stimulate intestinal activity. It helps to keep the food waste moving through the digestive system. Lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle can lead to constipation.
Over-exercising is equally bad for the digestive system. Exercising causes your body to sweat, which may cause your body to lose water. As a result of this, the intestines try to recover the water from the stool moving through the digestive system.
This process may make the stools hard and unable to pass through the rectum.
Stress can alter hormone and neurotransmitter production in the body, which can lead to inflammation, muscle tension, changes in enzyme production and digestive health.
An underactive thyroid gland can slow down the metabolic process. When the system slows down, the digestive contents have to be absorbed by the colon for longer, and this leads to decreased frequency of stools and harder stools.
Some medications like antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, heartburn drugs, and blood pressure medications can lead to side effects that include constipation. Over the counter, painkillers can also cause constipation.
6. Bad bathroom habits
You shouldn’t hold in your stools as this too can lead to constipation. When you hold it in, you confuse the muscles in the rectum and anal sphincter. When the stools remain longer in the colon, they lose water and become harder and more difficult to pass.
Rushing the time spent in the toilet and not sitting in a comfortable position can also lead to constipation.
Calcium and iron supplements can sometimes lead to constipation. So, don’t use these supplements unless you need them.
Natural remedies for constipation
Dehydration is a common cause of constipation. So, drink enough water through the day to stay hydrated.
Warm liquids, especially when consumed the first thing in the morning, help stimulate the digestive process. Herbal teas, warm water with lemon, bone broth, or mild coffee are some excellent options to keep the bowel movements regular.
Some studies have also found that sparkling water is better than regular water at relieving constipation (4).
Avoid sugar-laden carbonated drinks as they may make constipation worse.
2. Eat more high-fiber foods
According to a 2016 meta-analysis, 77 percent of the patients of constipation benefited when fiber was added to their diet (6).
According to some other studies, though fiber can increase the frequency of bowel movements, it does not help with other symptoms of constipation like bloating, pain and gas. This may be because you are not adding the right kind of fiber to your diet.
You must have a mix of both soluble and insoluble fiber in your diet to prevent constipation.
3. Leafy greens
Green leafy vegetables are an excellent option for relief from constipation. Not only are they rich in fiber, but they are also an excellent source of magnesium.
Magnesium is beneficial in relieving constipation as it draws water into the intestine and works as an osmotic laxative.
Leafy greens are rich in nutrients and have high-water content, which makes them a healthy addition to your daily diet.
4. Eat prunes
This dried fruit has rightfully earned a reputation as nature’s remedy for constipation. In addition to fiber, prunes also contain sorbitol, which is a natural laxative.
According to a study published in 2012, dried plums and their products ( prune juice and dried plum powder) contain bioactive compounds like sorbitol that can prevent constipation and colon cancer (7).
During a 2011 study, 40 people with constipation were given either 50 grams of prunes or 11 grams of psyllium for three weeks. The results showed that prunes were safe, palatable and more effective than psyllium for the treatment of constipation (8).
5. Eat probiotic foods
People who have chronic constipation also have an imbalance of bacteria in their gut. Probiotic foods can correct this imbalance and prevent constipation.
Foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and yogurt are some good options for probiotic foods that you can add to your diet. You can also take a probiotic supplement containing at least 15 billion live and active organisms.
Aloe vera juice is considered an effective remedy for gastrointestinal complaints. It helps reduce inflammation and improve the frequency of bowel movements.
While using limited amounts can help reduce constipation, an overdose of aloe vera juice can lead to diarrhea and cramping.
7. Chia and flax seeds
This makes stools softer and easy to pass. Flaxseed oil also helps to lubricate the colon.
8. Apple and pear
Apples and pears contain a special kind of insoluble fiber called pectin, which helps the stool to get bulky and allow it to pass easily through the digestive system.
These fruits also contain sorbitol and fructose which also help improve the frequency of bowel movements. To get maximum benefits from apples and pears, you must eat them raw and with their skin intact.
9. Psyllium Husk
Psyllium husk works by increasing the bulk of stools. This encourages your bowels to move the stools through the digestive tract, which helps relieve constipation. It also helps regulate high cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood sugar levels.
10. Exercise more
Exercise helps ease constipation by lowering the time it takes food to move through the large intestine. This limits the amount of water that the body absorbs from the stool and prevents hardening.
Aerobic exercise speeds up breathing and heart rate, which helps to stimulate the natural squeezing of the muscles in the intestine.
Running, jogging, swimming, yoga, and even walking can help keep the digestive tract healthy.
11. Reduce stress
Stress can disrupt regular bowel movements and contribute to constipation. Stress increases muscle tension, increases the levels of cortisol, alters appetite and changes the gut environment.
Yoga, meditation, warm baths, essential oils are some of the ways to relax and relieve stress.
12. Avoid certain food
Some foods can slow down the digestive process and cause constipation. These foods include –
- Processed foods
- Fried foods
- Pasteurized dairy products
- Refined flour
When should you visit the doctor about constipation?
In most cases, constipation can be managed at home by following natural remedies for constipation. However, in some cases, it is best to consult with a doctor.
- If your constipation has lasted for more than two weeks, you must consult with your doctor to ensure there is no serious underlying cause for it.
- If you have sudden constipation with pain in the stomach and cramping, you must visit your doctor.
- If you notice any blood in your stool, you must consult with your doctor.
- If constipation occurs along with diarrhea, it may be a sign of food allergy.
- Long-term constipation can lead to hemorrhoids. It can also lead to fecal impaction of the colon, which can lead to death if left untreated.
If you have less than three bowel movements in a week, you are considered to be constipated. Research shows that around 20 percent of Americans suffer from constipation.
Poor diet, lack of exercise, stress, lousy bathroom habits, certain medications, and supplementation can lead to constipation.
However, there are several natural remedies like drinking more water, eating high fiber foods, drinking aloe vera juice and exercising that can help provide relief from constipation.