Gut Health

Struggling with Constipation? Check Out These Natural Remedies

By Justin Fowler-Lindner

Constipation is an uncomfortable problem that affects roughly 16 percent of the adult population.

Women and adults over the age of 60 are especially at risk, but constipation can occur in children too.

It’s normal to have occasional constipation, but if it happens often, it can lead to gas, bloating, lower back pain, and daily fatigue.

Over-the-counter laxatives are okay in the short-term, but overuse can cause unwanted side effects.

Ultimately, it’s best to treat and prevent constipation naturally.

Here are some of the best natural remedies for constipation:

  • Gut-friendly vegetables
  • Magnesium supplements
  • High-fiber fruits
  • Aloe vera
  • Probiotics

Let’s take a closer look at all the natural ways to support healthy bowel movements:

What Is Constipation?

Constipation is a condition characterized by difficult and infrequent bowel movements, usually accompanied by hardened stools.

Causes and Risk Factors of Constipation

Constipation can be caused by a variety of factors, but nutrition is the most important.

If you have chronic constipation, a low fiber diet and dehydration could be to blame.

For example, the modern Western diet includes a lot of fat and lean protein but little fiber from fruits and vegetables.

Without fiber, there isn’t enough dense matter to form a solid stool, and it can take longer to empty the colon.

Poor posture, lack of exercise, and stress can also slow the time it takes for food to move through the digestive tract.

Here are some of the most common risk factors of constipation:

  • Poor diet: processed foods high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and trans fats can make constipation worse. Combined with alcohol, caffeine, and a lack of vegetables, these foods are the perfect recipe for constipation. 
  • Lack of exercise: physical inactivity decreases blood flow and weakens the muscles in the digestive system that help control stress
  • Stress: stress can damage the gut, slow digestion, and influence enzyme production. Plus, it can boost cortisol production and increase inflammation
  • Bad bathroom habits: people who sit in awkward positions or try to poop too fast may increase the risk of constipation. 
  • Magnesium deficiency: magnesium is an electrolyte that’s essential to muscle function, including the smooth muscles that move the stool along the GI tract. Low magnesium can also contribute to muscle tension and poor peristalsis. 
  • Imbalanced gut microbiome: the microbiome is the collection of bacteria, fungi, and other organisms that live in the gut. They need to be properly balanced in order to promote smooth bowel activity. 
  • Medications: opioids slow the involuntary movements involved with digestion. Other medications, like antidepressants and anticholinergics can dehydrate the body and contribute to constipation. 
  • Irregular sleep: most peoples’ bowel movements coincide with their sleep cycle. However, if your sleep gets thrown off due to stress or travel, your bowel movements may become irregular. 
  • Hormone imbalances: thyroid disorder and other causes of hormonal problems can affect appetite and digestion.

The older you get, the more likely you are to experience constipation. At the same time, people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are also at a greater risk.

Signs and Symptoms of Constipation

Some experts define constipation as having less than three bowel movements a week.

However, it really depends on what’s normal for you.

For example, if you normally have only one bowel movement every two days, then going two days without pooping is nothing to worry about.

However, if you usually poop twice a day, then going two days without a bowel movement might require treatment.

The real question, though, is whether or not the stool is small, hard, dry, and difficult to pass.

Bloating is another common sign of constipation.

If you’re experiencing most or all of these symptoms, then you might need a natural laxative to make the stool easier to pass.

Natural Remedies for Constipation

Here are five of the best natural remedies for constipation:

1. Gut-Friendly Vegetables

Dense, green, leafy vegetables contain fiber to add bulk to your stools.

They’re also a fantastic source of magnesium, which is essential to the function of the digestive muscles. 

In a 2007 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers analyzed the diets of 3,835 Japanese dietetic students to see if they could find a relationship between magnesium, water intake, and rates of constipation.

They found that, “Low intakes of water from foods and magnesium are independently associated with an increasing prevalence of functional constipation…”

Spinach and kale are two of the best green, leafy vegetables for constipation because they’re so high in magnesium and water. As a result, they help draw water in from the gut to effectively hydrate and soften the stool.

Cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli and cauliflower are also high in magnesium and other electrolytes, plus, they’re an ideal source of prebiotic fiber for healthy gut bacteria.

2. Magnesium Supplements

Although dietary sources of magnesium are best, sometimes it’s okay to use magnesium supplements to treat occasional constipation.

Magnesium citrate and magnesium oxide are the best forms of magnesium for constipation.

These compounds act as osmotic laxatives, meaning they pull water from the intestines, relax the bowels, and loosen the stool.

In a 2011 study, 120 children with constipation were treated with either a placebo or magnesium oxide for one month. The magnesium oxide group had significantly greater serum magnesium concentrations than the control group.

However, magnesium-containing laxatives are not recommended for patients with cardiac or renal problems due to the risk of electrolyte imbalance.

Never take more than the recommended dose to avoid the risk of magnesium overdose.

3. High-Fiber Fruits

Vegetables aren’t the only produce that can improve constipation—fiber-rich fruits can too.

Some of the best fruits to relieve constipation include:

  • Berries (raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries)
  • Cherries
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Prunes
  • Figs
  • Avocados
  • Bananas

Adding these foods to your diet can be a tasty way to promote gut motility.

Overall, prunes and figs are some of the best natural fruit laxatives, just try not to eat too many because they are also relatively high in sugar. Eating too much sugar can lead to bacterial imbalances and promote inflammation.

Berries are the healthiest fruit laxatives because they’re packed with antioxidants, low in sugar, and high in anti-inflammatory compounds.

Pears and apples are also great options because they contain pectin fiber, which is known to stimulate the bowels.

Try to get between 25-40 grams of fiber a day.

4. Aloe Vera

Aloe vera juice is one of the most effective natural laxatives.

Plus, it contains over 75 active nutrients, including a full mineral profile of…

  • Potassium
  • Manganese
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium
  • Selenium
  • Chromium
  • Sodium
  • Zinc

Aloe vera’s laxative compounds are found in its latex: the thin inner layer of yellow color underneath the skin of the leaf.

Aloe latex contains compounds called anthroquinones, including aloin and emodin, which promote bowel movements by pulling water from the intestines, stimulating intestinal contractions, and increasing mucus secretions.

Plus, anthroquinones possess antibacterial, antiviral, and pain-relieving properties.

In one human study, the aloin in aloe vera was more effective at reducing constipation than the stimulant laxative phenolphthalein.

A 2018 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility found that aloe vera can be a safe and effective treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (a common cause of chronic constipation). 

5. Probiotics

Probiotics are healthy gut bacteria that you can take as supplements or eat as food.

Fermented products like kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, and kombucha contain probiotic organisms that support a well-balanced microbiota. The healthy bacteria they contain can guard against digestive problems like constipation and diarrhea.

Here’s what the research has to say about probiotics and constipation:

  • A 2014 meta-analysis of 14 studies concluded that, “Probiotics may improve whole gut transit time, stool frequency, and stool consistency, with subgroup analysis indicating beneficial effects of B. lactis in particular.”
  • A 2017 meta-analysis of six studies on the effects of probiotics and adolescent constipation found that, “Probiotics increase stool frequency and have beneficial effects in Asian children.”
  • A 2018 A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial found that, “Probiotics significantly ameliorated stool consistency in patients with chronic constipation.”

Natural remedies for constipation like probiotics and high-fiber produce are the healthiest ways to manage long-term constipation.

At the same time, it’s also important to drink plenty of water and exercise regularly.

With that said, there may be times when it’s appropriate to use an over-the-counter stool softener for short durations.

Olive oil is another natural remedy that may be worth a shot. It works by softening the stool and lubricating the walls of the intestines.

Castor oil, however, is a stimulant laxative with substantial side effects and should be used sparingly.

Always consult with your doctor if you have a history of gastrointestinal issues before experimenting with natural remedies for constipation.

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