Being constipated is no fun! And yet it’s a surprisingly common affliction. Around one in five people are thought to suffer from it, with up to 8 million people visiting their doctor each year for a constipation cure.
However, medication isn’t necessarily the answer. Treating the cause is the only way to prevent the problem. In most cases, it’s a simple matter of figuring out what foods might be causing your digestion to malfunction, or whether your lifestyle is to blame. Medication or certain medical conditions can also contribute. It’s usually a combination of different things: constipation is rarely caused by a single factor.
Most doctors will define constipation as having fewer than three bowel movements per week. But because everyone’s bowel movements are different, this can vary from person to person. There may be other nasty symptoms, such as pain and straining when going to the bathroom, gas, bloating, and difficulty passing stools. Stools may be dry, hard and dark.
Luckily, there are plenty of natural constipation cures that can be carried out in the comfort of your own home. Most of these ones are even backed by science!
1. Take a Top-Quality Probiotic Supplement
When you have an imbalance of healthy bacteria in your gut, your digestion can become sluggish and inefficient. This is because the overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria or yeast in your gut can trigger a response from the immune system, leading to inflammation of the GI tract and the subsequent inflammation in other parts of the body.
Imbalances in the gut like Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) or Candida overgrowth often lead to not only constipation but also inflammation, intestinal permeability and other symptoms.
High-quality probiotic supplements are effective for both preventing and treating constipation. They deliver a quantity of live bacteria directly to your intestines, which is where your body breaks down food in a special process called fermentation. Here’re some recommendations: 7 Best Probiotic Supplements (Recommendation & Reviews)
Probiotics are ‘friendly’ bacteria which work with your digestive enzymes in your intestines, helping your body to break down the food matter and absorb the nutrients within it. When your body lacks the right type of bacterial strains, your digestion can be slowed or impaired. This can mean the food you eat sits in your intestines for longer, ultimately leading to constipation.
Two of the most effective probiotic strains for relieving constipation are Bifidobacterium infantis and Lactobacillus plantarum. Look for a probiotic that contains these strains, as well as a high CFU count and lots of other probiotic strains.
Fermented foods can also be an excellent source of probiotics, but keep in mind that they can cause temporary constipation after you start eating them. This should pass fairly quickly.
2. Drink More Water
One of the most obvious causes of constipation is also the last most people think of: hydration!
When you don’t drink enough water, your body quickly becomes dehydrated. This means any waste in your intestines will become hard and sluggish, simply because your body can’t add enough moisture to your stools. If this is the case, your stools will be small, hard, dry and difficult to pass.
Try to drink at least 2 liters of clean, filtered water daily. The easiest way to do this is by carrying a drink bottle with you everywhere, so you can sip it regularly. This will help to move food and waste through your body and keep everything flowing naturally.
Water can increase your metabolism and help you to lose weight too!
3. Eat More Soluble Fiber
Soluble fiber is the type that can be dissolved (i.e., it is “soluble”) in water. When soluble fiber comes into contact with liquid, it absorbs the liquid and forms a gel-like substance. It acts like a sponge, absorbing fluid and making your stools softer. This allows your body to move them out of your digestive tract more easily.
Good sources of soluble fiber include oats and oatmeal, legumes (peas, beans, lentils), barley, fruits and vegetables (especially oranges, apples and carrots). Psyllium husk is an excellent source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. It’s a good remedy for constipation due to the way it stimulates bowel movements. Inulin is another good type of soluble fiber that you can buy from your health food store.
A study involving IBS patients found when they were given supplements containing soluble fiber (mainly psyllium husk), their symptoms improved significantly.
Insoluble fiber may also help to ease constipation by increasing bulk in the stool and improving motility, but it can be too taxing on a sensitive gut.
Non-fermentable soluble fiber is much easier to tolerate because it increases the water-holding capacity of the stool, softening it and making its movement through the intestines easier.
3. Get Active
Studies have shown that being sedentary is a common lifestyle factor in those with sluggish bowels.
An investigation into the link between constipation and sedentary behavior in adolescents found that constipation was often due to low physical activity and long periods of sedentary behavior. In most cases, when the adolescents were made to be more active, their constipation was far less frequent.
Your colon responds to physical activity. The abdominal wall muscles and the diaphragm all play an important role in the process of moving waste out of the body. Good muscle tone helps to keep your bowel movements regular.
Any form of physical activity that moves your lower body can help. This includes running, walking, swimming and even trampolining!
4. Drink Caffeinated Beverages
Many people swear by coffee for making them need to go to the bathroom. As a stimulant, coffee triggers muscles in your digestive system, encouraging peristalsis (the wave-like movements in your intestines that push waste through to your colon).
One study showed that coffee has much the same effect on your gut as a meal and is 60% more effective than just drinking water. It’s also 23% more effective than decaffeinated coffee.
However, because coffee is also a diuretic, it can cause dehydration – which will only make your constipation worse! Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day as well.
Non-caffeinated drinks like these herbal teas can also help to reduce digestive discomfort and alleviate constipation.
5. Eat More Green Kiwi
Also known as kiwifruit and Chinese gooseberry, the kiwi is a very helpful constipation cure.
One medium-sized kiwi contains around 2.5 grams of fiber, along with a variety of nutrients. But the most important thing about kiwi is that it contains a protease enzyme called actinidine. Actinidine has been found to stimulate motility in the upper gastrointestinal tract, which helps to push waste along the intestines.
Another valuable nutrient in green kiwi is a peptide called kissiper. Kissiper has been found to work with specific ions to aid good digestion and improve peristalsis. One study showed that when adults with constipation ate just two kiwis a day, their bowel movements increased.
Kiwi is also a rich source of natural phytochemicals that can support the health of the gut. Because it’s technically a berry, you can even eat the hairy outer peel for extra roughage!
6. Try Senna
The herbal laxative Senna is commonly used to relieve constipation. It is available over-the-counter or online, and can be taken as pills or capsules, or drunk as a tea.
Senna contains a variety of plant compounds called glycosides, which stimulate the nerves in your gut and encourage faster bowel movements.
It’s important to drink plenty of fluids or electrolyte replacement solutions while taking senna, as it can cause a rapid emptying of the bowels. Extra hydration will help to prevent you from losing too much fluid or electrolytes.
Although safe to use every now and then, prolonged use is not recommended. Talk to your doctor or a natural health practitioner if your constipation continues. Senna is not recommended for those who are pregnant, breastfeeding or have inflammatory bowel conditions.
7. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are tiny black and white seeds from the plant Salvia hispanica. They’re rich in omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium.
The great thing about chia seeds is that they’re rich in soluble fiber, so they form a lubricating gel-like consistency when they absorb water. This gel can help to improve the formation of your stools, making them moist and easier to pass. The omega-3 fatty acids are also beneficial for their anti-inflammatory properties, which can help an irritated gut.
The soluble fiber in chia seeds is much gentler on the gut and should be a part of your daily diet. It’s easy to add chia seeds to cereals, baked goods, smoothies and yogurt for a fiber-rich snack or meal.
8. Prune Juice
Prunes have long been known for their ability to keep you regular. They’re absolutely packed with fiber and they are extremely effective in moving waste through your gut.
The other great thing about prunes is that they contain a type of sugar called sorbitol. Because sorbitol can’t be broken down by your body, it passes through your colon undigested and draws water into your gut. This helps to bulk up your stool and stimulate a bowel movement.
Studies show that sorbitol is a safe and effective remedy for constipation, and it’s often a favorite with older adults. Prunes can increase the frequency of your bowel movements and improve consistency. If you really have no idea of what to eat when constipated, a handful of prunes could be the easiest remedy in the book.
Take care not to overdo the dried prunes though – they CAN cause some gas and bloating!
The Bottom Line
Chronic constipation can seriously impact your life. It can also take a toll on your physical and mental wellbeing. Feeling uncomfortable is only the part of the problem; your body will also suffer due to poor nutrition and sluggish digestion.
With the above natural constipation cures, you will feel better and can even prevent constipation.
Featured photo credit: Michael Jasmund via unsplash.com
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