If you’ve ever had to deal with the annoyance of constipation, you’re far from alone. It’s so common, in fact, that an estimated one in five people in the United States has to deal with it at one time or another.1 It can lead to serious discomfort and other symptoms, including bloating and pain.
Thankfully, though, there are many remedies designed to help eliminate constipation, without having to get medical help. Here are just a few ways to finally find that constipation relief you’ve been looking for:
Drink More Water
Not getting enough water can lead to dehydration. And dehydration is a contributing factor to constipation.2 If you’re all of a sudden finding it difficult – if not impossible – to pass stool, a lack of water might be the culprit.
There is some research that suggests sparkling water might be a more effective remedy than plain tap water. This seems to especially be the case for people who have chronic constipation or irritable bowel syndrome.3
Up Your Fiber Intake
Increasing your consumption of high-fiber foods may not only help increase the consistency of your stool, it might also make it easier to pass through your colon, so that you can have a successful bowel movement.4 According to the results of one study, nearly 80 percent of people suffering from chronic constipation may be able to benefit from adding fiber.5
Exercising on a regular basis is obviously good for your overall health. And there is also evidence it could reduce some of the symptoms associated with constipation.6 Before you start a new exercise regimen, however, talk to your doctor first, to make sure it will be completely safe.
Drink More Coffee
Coffee stimulates the muscles of the digestive tract, helping to move stool through the colon.7 Research shows that caffeinated coffee has a similar effect on the digestive system as eating a meal. According to the results of one study, this effect is 23 percent stronger than drinking decaf and a whopping 60 percent stronger than drinking water.8 So, a cup of morning Joe might just go a long way toward helping you find constipation relief.
Some people turn to over-the-counter or herbal laxatives when trying to find constipation relief. Of course, it is always best to consult with a medical professional before trying a laxative — there may be underlying medical conditions that need attention. But if your doctor gives you the go-ahead, try gentler herbal laxatives first.
Many herbal laxatives contain glycosides. These are compounds found in plants that help stimulate the nerves in the gastrointestinal tract, or “gut.” This stimulation may help you achieve a bowel movement.9,10
Talk to your doctor about what types of laxatives may be best for you. They may recommend laxatives with bulking agents to help increase the amount of water in your stool, or your doctor might suggest a stool softener. You may even be better off trying osmotic laxatives which work by pulling water into the digestive tract from nearby tissues. Just make sure you get your doctor’s permission before trying any sort of laxative.11
Change Your Diet
There are certain foods you should avoid when you’re constipated. These are typically foods that have little or no fiber, such as potato chips, meat, ice cream, some frozen or microwave dinners, and hot dogs.12 There are some instances where dairy products could play a role in causing constipation.13
If your doctor suggests that you try cutting back on dairy, just make sure you eat other foods that are high in calcium. You don’t want to run the risk of not getting enough of this vital mineral.
Eat Probiotic Foods
One way in which altering your diet might help bring constipation relief is to eat more foods that are high in probiotics. You might not think willingly consuming bacteria is a good idea, but probiotics are incredibly beneficial bacteria that help support the health of the gut and colon.
You have trillions of microbes in your body. If the bad microbes outnumber the good, that can make you susceptible to many types of digestive problems, including constipation.14
There are many foods that are rich in probiotics. These include yogurt, sauerkraut, tempeh, and sourdough bread. The good bacteria in these products help to provide constipation relief by stimulating bowel movements.15 You can also find many types of probiotic supplements in capsule form.
Don’t Forget Prebiotics
As important as probiotics are in helping to ensure gut health, prebiotics are just as vital. Prebiotics are, in a nutshell, fibers that the human body can’t digest. These substances help to feed the good bacteria in your digestive system, so they can thrive. You can find them in foods such as bananas, onions, and garlic.16 Prebiotics have not only been shown to be an effective stool softener, they may also help increase bowel movement frequency.17,18
Prunes, or dried plums, have long been associated with constipation relief. They not only contain fiber, but also sorbitol, which is a natural laxative.19,20
Research shows that consuming about seven medium-sized prunes once a day can be an effective way to get over your constipation symptoms. As with any dietary change, get medical clearance before you start eating prunes, and if you’re unsure about the effects, start slowly, with just 1-2 prunes… all 7 may be too much.21
When to See a Doctor About Constipation
As frustrating as this condition can be, constipation is usually not serious. It will typically subside within a few days. However, there are some instances where symptoms become so severe that medical help is necessary. Here are some signs that you will need to see a doctor:
· There is blood in your stool, or your stools are black.
· You have anemia, or a lack of iron in your blood.
· You unexpectedly lose weight.
· Your symptoms last for three weeks or more.
· You experience severe stomach pain when passing stool.22
The Final Word
Hopefully, you’ll find constipation relief from one of the remedies suggested above. But if you don’t, and your symptoms persist for an extended period of time, don’t hesitate to see a doctor. They will need to rule out other potential health problems and then determine the best course of action to help you feel better.
For more digestion tips, keep reading here:
Best Probiotic Foods to Improve Your Gut Health
Want a Healthy Belly, Both Inside and Out? Try these 4 Foods
Constipated? Here are 5 Ways To Find Relief