Natural Constipation Remedies

Herbal tea for constipation
Trinette reed/Stocksy United

Many people think that they should be having a bowel movement every day to avoid constipation, but the truth is that the normal frequency varies widely from person to person, ranging from several times a day to three times a week. Constipation is defined as passing hard, dry stool or having fewer than three bowel movements a week.

One of the most common digestive complaints in the United States, constipation affects most people at some point in their lives.

Some people experience short-term constipation, caused by temporary changes in diet, travel, stress, or surgery, while others have chronic constipation (persisting for several weeks of longer). If you have chronic constipation, you likely know how it can significantly affect the quality of your life.

Although constipation can affect anyone, it is more common in women and in people over age 65. It also tends to occur during pregnancy or after childbirth, and it could be the result of an underlying condition or the side effect of medications (such as opioid pain medication).

Natural Constipation Remedies

A number of studies suggest that certain foods and remedies may offer some benefits:

1) High-Fiber

A diet low in fiber may play a role in constipation. Insoluble fiber, which passes through the body almost unchanged, gives stools bulk and a soft texture, making them easier to pass. Food that is high in insoluble fiber includes whole grains, fruit, and vegetables.

Try bran, brown rice, or whole grain bread.

Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance in the intestines. Prunes and figs can be added to breakfast or eaten as a snack.

Another option is to sprinkle one teaspoon of ground flaxseeds over any meal. They can be found in packages at the health food store or some grocery stores.

They have a mild, nutty taste.

Related: Foods for Constipation

Fiber supplements are also available, the most popular being psyllium supplements such as Metamucil. Guar gum and acacia fiber are also popular. Adding fiber to your diet gradually can help avoid bloating and gas. Also, be sure to drink enough water otherwise fiber can have the opposite effect and be constipating.

2) Exercise

Essential for regular bowel movements, exercise stimulates the contraction of the intestinal muscles, speeding the passage of stools. A regular exercise regimen, which may involve a daily walk, yoga, or swimming, can help the digestive system.

Exercise also helps you manage stress, which can improve your digestion.

3) Adequate Fluid Intake

Making sure you drink enough fluids such as water may help some people with constipation. Fluids make bowel movements softer and easier to pass. Most healthy people can meet their hydration needs from normal drinking behaviors (such as drinking beverages at meals) and by letting thirst be their guide. If you are adequately hydrated, drinking additional water may not help relieve your constipation.

We don't just get fluids from water. Coffee, tea, juice, fruits, vegetables, fluids used in recipes, and other foods and drinks all count towards your daily intake.

4) Probiotics

Probiotics, such as Saccharomyces boulardii, Bifidobacterium longum, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, and Lactobacillus acidophilus, are live microbial organisms that are naturally present in the digestive tract. Some of the ways they are thought to promote health include suppressing the growth of potentially harmful bacteria, improving immune function, enhancing the protective barrier of the digestive tract, and helping to produce vitamin K.

Some preliminary evidence suggests that probiotic supplements may improve constipation. One study, for instance, looked at the effect of a probiotic beverage containing a strain of beneficial bacteria called Lactobacillus casei Shirota (65 milliliters a day) or a placebo in people with chronic constipation.

The probiotic drink resulted in significant improvement in severity of constipation and stool consistency.

Another study examined the effectiveness of another strain of probiotics on constipation in children and found no effect. Eighty-four children between two and 16 years of age with constipation took lactulose (a laxative) plus a probiotic supplement containing lactobacillus GG or lactulose alone. After 12 and 24 weeks, lactobacillus was not more effective than lactulose alone at treating constipation.

5) Stimulant Laxatives

Many herbal laxatives and "dieter's teas" are stimulant laxatives, or anthranoid laxatives. They include herbs such as:

Some of these herbs, such as senna, are approved as over-the-counter treatments for constipation. Although they are meant to be short-term treatments, in reality, people may become dependent on them and use them for weeks, months, or even years at a time in order to have a regular bowel movement.

It's important to talk with your primary care provider before taking them, and they shouldn't be used for longer than a week unless under medical supervision. Prolonged use may cause the bowels to lose the ability to move on their own, and has been linked to chronic diarrhea, liver toxicity, potassium depletion leading to muscle weakness, heart function disorders, and kidney or liver impairment. There has also been debate about the safety of long-term use of senna and its role in colorectal cancer.

6) Biofeedback

Biofeedback therapy may help people with constipation resulting from pelvic floor dysfunction, a condition in which the pelvic floor muscles do not function properly. It occurs as a result of conditions such as obesity, an enlarged prostate, or after childbirth.

Biofeedback therapists teach how to better coordinate muscles used for defecation (anorectum and pelvic floor muscles). 

Although biofeedback has only been explored as a treatment for this type of constipation relatively recently, results are promising. For example, one study compared biofeedback (one session a week for five weeks) to laxatives (polyethylene glycol 14.6 to 29.2 grams per day) plus education in people with chronic, severe pelvic floor dysfunction. All participants had previously tried fiber supplements plus enemas or suppositories but hadn't responded.

After six months, biofeedback sessions were more effective than laxatives, with 43 of 54 (80 percent) of the biofeedback patients versus 12 of 55 (22 percent) laxative-treated patients reporting major improvements. Benefits appeared to last at least two years.

7) Acupressure

Acupressure is a traditional healing practice that involves the application of finger pressure to specific acupuncture points on the body.

A point that is often recommended by acupuncturists for constipation is "Large Intestine 4". Although it hasn't been studied for constipation, it is a simple home remedy that may work for some people. The point is at the highest spot of the muscle between the thumb and index finger when they are brought close together. Caution: this point is typically avoided during pregnancy.

With your thumb or middle finger at a 90-degree angle to the skin, apply gradually increasing pressure. Hold for three minutes. The pressure shouldn't be painful or uncomfortable.

The Takeaway

if you feel the urge to have a bowel movement, don't put off the urge. The longer you delay when the need to have a bowel movement strikes, the more water gets absorbed from stool and the harder it becomes to have a bowel movement.

There are many remedies said to help with constipation, but it's important to speak with your healthcare practitioner before using any remedy to be sure that it's right for you.

Sources:

Banaszkiewicz A, Szajewska H. Ineffectiveness of Lactobacillus GG as an adjunct to lactulose for the treatment of constipation in children: a double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized trial. J Pediatr. 146.3 (2005): 364-369.

Chiarioni G, Whitehead WE, Pezza V, Morelli A, Bassotti G. Biofeedback is superior to laxatives for normal transit constipation due to pelvic floor dyssynergia. Gastroenterology. 130.3 (2006): 657-664.

Koebnick C, Wagner I, Leitzmann P, Stern U, Zunft HJ. Probiotic beverage containing Lactobacillus casei Shirota improves gastrointestinal symptoms in patients with chronic constipation. Can J Gastroenterol. 17.11 (2003): 655-659.

Murakami K, Sasaki S, Okubo H, Takahashi Y, Hosoi Y, Itabashi M. Association between dietary fiber, water and magnesium intake and functional constipation among young Japanese women. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2006 Dec 6.

Stessman M. Biofeedback: its role in the treatment of chronic constipation. Gastroenterol Nurs. 26.6 (2003): 251-260.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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