Natural Remedies

25 best Natural stool softeners

Learn all about constipation and how natural stool softeners can help relieve it.

Story Highlights

  • Constipation is defined medically as fewer than three bowel movements per week.
  • While chronic constipation is more common, it can be treated fairly easily with a diet change and exercise.
  • If left untreated, mild symptoms can develop into more serious bowel complaints and serious medical conditions.
  • Stool softeners are a type of laxative used for softening the collective waste in your body.
  • Natural stool softeners are long lasting and safe to use.
  • Buy Psyllium Husk and Probiotics.

Constipation is a chronic problem that affects people worldwide. Defined medically as fewer than three bowel movements per week, it is more a symptom than a disease. Constipation typically occurs when waste moves at a slow pace through the digestive tract or has difficulty being effectively eliminated from rectum. Common causes of constipation are: diets low in fiber, insufficient water consumption, inactive lifestyle and medications. Medical conditions and other disorders can additionally cause constipation. Extreme cases will require medical attention, but chronic constipation can be managed using cost effective natural stool softeners to relieve symptoms. In some cases it can be a significant health problem for the elderly, young children and pregnant women. However, for the majority of the population, constipation is more of an aggravating ‘condition’ than life threatening or debilitating one.

Constipation symptoms

Generally, people will experience constipation when they only have three or fewer bowel movements in a weeks’ time. Yet, it can also involve painful straining, difficulty passing hard and/or small stools or a sense of incomplete evacuation after a bowel movement. It will be important to identify whether or not your constipation is acute (recent onset) or chronic (long duration). While chronic constipation is more common, it can be treated fairly easily with a diet change and exercise. Acute constipation that starts suddenly and lasts for a few days can be due to changes in diet, travel, stress, prolonged inactivity, drug treatment, neurological or metabolic conditions or, in rare cases, colon cancer. 1 Acute constipation requires urgent assessment because a serious medical illness may be the underlying cause.

Symptoms

  • Infrequent bowel movements
  • Straining to pass a bowel
  • Passing hard and/or small feces
  • A feeling of incomplete emptying after pooping
  • Discomfort in the lower abdomen and/or gas
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Lower back pain
  • Rectal l bleeding or fissures caused by passing hard stools

I wish that being famous helped prevent me from being constipated.
― Marvin Gaye

Causes of constipation

The two most universal causes of constipation are a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle. However, laxative abuse, certain medications and simply ignoring the urge ‘to go’ can all contribute to constipation as well. Unhealthy diets lacking a sufficient amount of water and fiber, along with a lifestyle devoid of exercise can not only result in constipation, it can also cause problems for your overall digestive health. While physical exercise along with a high fiber diet and increased water intake can help an occasional ‘bout’ of constipation, there are also endocrine/metabolic conditions, neurological and gastrointestinal disorders and mechanical obstructions that can also increase your risk of becoming constipated.

Endocrine/metabolic conditions
Uremia
Diabetes
Hypercalcemia
Hypothyroidism

Neurological disorders
Stroke
Multiple sclerosis
Spinal cord injuries
Parkinson’s disease
Chronic idiopathic intestinal pseudo-obstruction

Gastrointestinal disorders
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Gallstones
Celiac Disease
Crohn’s Disease
Ulcerative Colitis

Can constipation lead to serious medical conditions?

Constipation is generally considered a benign, easily treated condition that can be corrected with short-term treatment. However, if left untreated, mild symptoms can develop into more serious bowel complaints and serious medical conditions that can affect a patient’s health-related quality of life. 2

Fecal impaction– is a medical condition that occurs when hardened stool becomes stuck in the rectum or lower colon. Fecal impaction is a result of chronic constipation that requires a medical diagnosis and treatment by a physician. Symptoms include stomach cramping, bloating and possible stool leakage.

Varicose Veins– Having chronic constipation can promote varicose veins. A person who spends a considerable amount of time straining and bearing down to expel difficult bowel movements creates enormous pressure in leg veins. This action, resulting from chronic constipation, produces sagging and bulging veins.

Hemorrhoids (Piles) – Defined as swollen veins in the anus and lower rectum area, they are a common complaint associated with being constipated. A diet low in fiber can cause a person to strain when moving their bowels- this increases the pressure in the blood vessels. The pressure then creates hemorrhoids which swell and engorge with blood. Symptoms include painless bleeding during bowel movement, itching or irritation in the anal area, pain and discomfort.

Anal Tears and Fissures– Anal fissures/tears are associated with constipation because the strain of passing a bowel movement causes a small tear in the thin tissue that lines the anus. Symptoms often include severe pain during and after bowel movements, bright red blood on the stool, itching and irritation, as well as a visible crack in the anus skin area.

A Prolapsed Rectum– Rectal prolapse occurs when part of the large intestine’s lowest section (rectum) starts pushing through the anus. A prolapse is typically caused by years of experiencing constipation, resulting in a feeling of having a ‘bulge’ in the anus area. Cases range from mild to severe; if left untreated, severe cases will require surgery.

Diverticular Disease– is classified as a condition that occurs when small bulging pouches develop in the digestive tract. A diet lacking in fiber can cause the colon to work harder in order to push the stool forward and out the rectum, the pressure causes weak spots along the colon which can become a serious and painful medical condition.
Laxatives versus stool softeners

Constipation treatment

One of the quickest ways to treat constipation is to take an over-the-counter laxative or stool softener. Although both can help alleviate constipation, it will be important to know the difference between the two and how each one works. Basically, laxatives are substances that can help induce a bowel movement; whereas stool softeners are a type of laxative used for softening the collective waste in your body.

Laxatives- come in many forms: oral capsules, granules, tablets and liquid, rectal suppository and rectal enema.

Bulk-forming – comprised of psyllium, methylcellulose, and calcium polycarbophil, bulk laxatives form a gel in the stool that increases water absorption. Stool then becomes larger stimulating movement to pass through the intestine more quickly.

Lubricant– mineral oiled based, it coats the stool and intestine preventing water loss; lubricates to move more quickly through your system.

Hyperosmotic– with polyethylene glycol and glycerin as the active ingredients, it draws more water into the intestines as it softens stool to pass more easily.

Saline– comprised of both magnesium citrate and magnesium hydroxide, it draws water to the intestine, softens stool and stimulates movement to pass through the intestines

Stimulant – the bisacodyl and sennosidesin in a stimulant laxative work to stimulate and increase movement of the intestines

Stool softeners– are specifically targeted to soften the stool, making it easier to pass. They are available in soft gel capsules and oral liquids- or as a rectal enema.

Side effects of over the counter/prescription stool softeners

Generally speaking, people can use a number of over-the-counter stool softeners/laxatives, as well as ones prescribed by a physician without experiencing side effects. And yet, some side effects are possible because different people will experience various reactions to the active ingredients and how they work within the body. For instance, certain oral laxatives have the ability to interfere with your body’s absorption of some medications and nutrients. Taking laxatives for a prolonged period of time can also lead to an electrolyte imbalance– which can cause abnormal heart rhythms, weakness, confusion and seizures. 3 Below are some types of laxatives and their side effects:

Oral osmotics-Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia, Miralax
Side effects- Bloating, cramping, diarrhea, nausea, gas, increased thirst

Oral bulk formers- Metamucil, Citrucel, FiberCon, Benefiber
Side effects- Bloating, gas, cramping or increased constipation if not taken with enough water

Oral stool softeners-Colace, Surfak
Side effects- Electrolyte imbalance with prolonged use

Oral stimulants- Dulcolax, Senoko
Side effects- Belching, cramping, diarrhea, nausea, urine discoloration

Rectal suppositories -Dulcolax, Pedia-Lax
Side effects- Rectal irritation, diarrhea, cramping

Natural stool softeners

Natural stool softener remedies are the ideal treatment for a majority of constipation sufferers. Unlike convenient, chemical infused laxatives that can produce side effects and offer only short-term relief, natural stool softeners are long lasting and safe to use. Moreover, natural relief remedies for constipation are easy on the digestive system and provide a number of health benefits.

How do natural stool softeners work?

Ingested on a regular basis, natural stool softeners work with your body to help you poop easier. There are a number of foods, supplements and herbs that can improve your digestive system so you can manage or even prevent constipation altogether. A healthy diet consisting of fiber rich foods, drinking more water and the use of natural supplements (such as magnesium and castor oil) can all aid in keeping a healthy digestive system functioning at optimal levels. Consuming foods rich in soluble fiber and healthy fats can help you absorb more water to form your stool properly. Leading an active lifestyle with exercise, along with routinely practicing stress reduction techniques such as yoga can also help a body’s natural process of passing stool through the intestines and rectum much more easily.

Natural stool softener for toddlers

  • Increase water consumption
  • Routine ‘potty’ training to avoid retaining stool
  • Fiber rich foods- whole grain foods & high fiber fruits and vegetables
  • Fruit juice- Prune/Pear/White grape/Apple
  • Flax seed powder
  • Yogurt
  • Ginger, mint, or chamomile tea with a half teaspoon of raw honey
  • Exercise

Natural stool softener for babies

  • Castor oil
  • Prune juice
  • Fennel Seeds- ground finely-added to breast milk or formula
  • Herbal and organic lubricants
  • Warm bath

The 25 best natural stool softener foods

Fiber

A dietary intake of fiber is recommended for anyone who suffers from constipation. While both insoluble and soluble fiber can be found in plant based foods, they have slightly different functions when ingested. Soluble fiber attracts water so it helps slow digestion as it absorbs the nutrients from food; whereas insoluble fiber adds substance or bulk to the stool aiding in passing more quickly through the intestines.

Daily recommended intake of fiber – According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, people should consume adequate amounts of dietary fiber from a variety of plant foods. 4 Research studies show an increased fiber intake benefits a number of gastrointestinal disorders including the following: gastroesophageal reflux disease, duodenal ulcer, diverticulitis, constipation, and hemorrhoids. Fiber enhanced diets provide similar benefits for both children and adults. The recommended total dietary fiber intake for adults should be 25 to 30 grams a day from food, not supplements and for children between ages one and eighteen- 14 to 31 grams of fiber per day (depending on their age and sex). 5

psyllium-husk-constipationPsyllium Husk– is an edible soluble fiber and prebiotic. Studies indicate that Psyllium Husk has a gut-stimulatory effect, which may complement the laxative effect of its fiber content. 6 Working quickly upon ingestion, Psyllium Husk promotes easy elimination by sweeping waste out of the colon naturally and efficiently. Taken with plenty of water or fruit juice, it is usually effective within 24 hours, but may take 2-3 days of regular treatment. For pregnant women, bulk forming laxatives (psyllium, sterculia) are considered safe to use as they can increase bulk and moisture in stool, stimulating bowel activity. Psyllium Husk is not associated with problems for the unborn or breastfed baby. 7

Acacia fiber– Prepared from the sap of the Acacia Senegal tree, this natural herb provides enough roughage to help ease constipation. Rich in soluble fiber and beneficial bacteria, with continued use, it can help maintain a healthy digestive system. According to studies by the University of Michigan, one ounce of Acacia powder provides a healthy 25 grams of fiber. After consuming for a few days, effects will be fast acting in aiding the bowels to get back on track. 8 It is considered safe as a dietary supplement for adults; however, not enough is known about the use of Acacia during pregnancy and breast-feeding- so pregnant women and nursing mothers should avoid use.

Baking soda

Also known as sodium bicarbonate, baking soda is an old-fashioned, home remedy for constipation. Ingested with water, baking soda acts as a neutralizer of stomach acid, re-alkalizing the gut and helping things pass through easier. 9 As bicarbonate, baking soda can help to relieve pain and alleviate the pressure that builds up with gas. One teaspoon of baking soda in ¼ cup of warm water will work quickly to help pass your stool easily. The use of baking soda for pregnant and nursing mothers is relatively safe as long as you are not on a sodium-restricted diet.

Epsom salt

epsom-saltAlso, known as magnesium sulfate, Epsom salts can help in two ways: adding a cup or two to a nice warm bath and immersing yourself in it; or adding two teaspoons of Epsom salt in one cup of water or juice and drinking it. While bath water with Epsom salt will relax you and help with any discomfort, consuming it will encourage bowel movement within 3- 4 hours of ingesting it. The salt’s mechanism works by drawing the water into the intestines- to soften the stool. 10 Magnesium in the salt helps the bowel muscles contract which makes passing stools easier. For children, it’s recommended the dose be lessened to only half a teaspoon with water or juice. Although Epsom salt can be consumed to treat digestive problems such as heartburn and constipation – expectant and nursing mothers should avoid consuming it without first consulting with their doctor.

Whole grains

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, eating 6 ounces of grain foods daily (based on a 2000-calorie diet) and getting at least half or 3 ounces of that grain intake from 100% whole grains is essential for digestive health. 11 By keeping the stool soft and bulky, the fiber in whole grains helps prevent constipation, a common, costly, and aggravating problem. It also helps prevent diverticular disease (diverticulosis) by decreasing pressure in the intestines. 12 Whole grains can be effective over time by incorporating into your diet on a daily basis. Any member of the whole grain family (Barley, Brown Rice, Buckwheat, Corn, Rye, Oats, Amaranth, Sorghum, Wild Rice) consumed in moderation is safe for children, adults and pregnant/nursing women.

Leafy green vegetables

green-leafy-vegetablesFoods like spinach, kale, chard, dandelion greens, collards, mustard greens, and cabbage are extremely rich in dietary fiber, making them an excellent natural laxative to treat constipation. Rich in magnesium, green leafy vegetables are optimal for metabolic function. 13 To effectively improve movement of bowels through the digestive track, the recommended dietary intake for dietary fiber is 25 to 38 grams per day. Green leafy vegetables also have high levels of calcium, iron, vitamins K and A, and folate—so they are known as the super-foods for both pregnant and breastfeeding women. However, kale and mustard greens may cause bloating and gas, so the daily intake should be scaled back if any discomfort occurs.

Legumes

Foods in the legume family include nuts, seeds, beans, peas and lentils. Legumes are rich in good quality protein, potassium, folic acid (vitamin B9), iron, magnesium and a great source of fiber. Any type of legume is ideal to add to your diet because they are considered a class of naturally-occurring protease inhibitors which have potential health-promoting properties within the gastrointestinal tract. 14 Although not a quick cure, legumes should be consumed on a frequent basis for its effectiveness in helping move bowels through your system. Consumption is safe for adults and children; they are a natural ‘powerhouse’ for pregnant women. Controversial for nursing mothers- some lactation experts claim that traces of gas from legumes can pass into breast milk, while others say they remain in the mother’s digestive tract and don’t effect breastmilk.

Fresh Fruits

fresh-fruitsFruits such as grapes, pears, berries, apples, papayas, peaches, kiwi and guava are rich in water, sorbitol, fructose, fiber, and phytochemicals- so they are effective in treating constipation. For instance, in clinical studies kiwi can work extremely quickly (within 24-48 hrs. of consumption) because it has the ability to significantly increase defecation frequency, stool volume, softness of bowel motion associated with the ease of defecation. These mechanisms occur because of the fiber content- 2-3g of dietary fiber per 100gm per kiwi and a protease enzyme called Actinidine, which can stimulate upper gastrointestinal tract motility. 15 All fresh fruits are safe and useful for treating constipation in children, adults, expectant and nursing mothers.

Dried fruit

Although dried fruits can help anyone relieve constipation, the AGS Foundation for Health in Aging recommends the consumption of dried apricots, raisins prunes and figs for the elderly. Having an abundance of fiber makes them particularly helpful for encouraging bowel movements. For instance, just one cup of dried apricots provides 9.5g of fiber. Berries, peaches, plums and rhubarb also can be found in dried form and all are known to be effective in relieving constipation. Safe for everyone to consume (including expectant and nursing mothers) dried fruits are delicious powerhouses full of fiber and essential nutrients. Studies show that consuming 100g of dried prunes per day over a 3 week period can dramatically improve stool frequency and reduce the onset of constipation. 16

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are an effective remedy for constipation relief because they contain water, fiber, magnesium, and vitamin B6. Water and fiber will both hydrate and push out waste in our system, while magnesium and vitamin B6 have a softening effect on the bowels because they trigger peristalsis (constriction and relaxation of the muscles of the intestine). Just one medium baked sweet potato with skin has 3.8 grams of fiber. Sweet potatoes are ideal because they are a safe fiber-enriched food for adults, children, pregnant and nursing moms to consume. They are so the perfect choice to mash up and give to babies who suffer from constipation. Sweet potatoes work quickly to alleviate constipation (within 24-48 hours of ingestion).

Water

drink-waterSince constipation is related to dehydration in the colon, drinking lots of water is essential. When your body is properly hydrated, less water will be withdrawn from the colon; thus making your stool soft and easy to pass. Fluid losses induced by diarrhea and febrile illness alter water balance and promote constipation. Studies show fluid intake and magnesium sulphate-rich mineral waters improve constipation symptoms in healthy infants. 17 Drinking the recommended 8-10 eight ounce glasses per day will help maintain a healthy digestive system on a regular basis-especially if you eat a variety of foods that are high in fiber. Consuming water is safe for everyone.

Warm liquids

Any drink that is consumed at room temperature or slightly warmed can be a natural stimulant for digestion- especially first thing in the morning. Tea, coffee, broth even warm water with lemon can work within a couple hours (if not sooner) to help you pass a bowel movement. According to board-certified gastroenterologist, Dr. Felice Schnoll-Sussman- “The warm liquid acts as a vasodilator, it widens blood vessels in the digestive system and helps increase blood flow and GI activity.” If you want a quick way to bring on a bowel movement, 2-3 cups of warm liquid will do the trick. It is recommended pregnant and nursing mothers limit their intake of coffee.

Sparkling water

Just as drinking tap water can keep you hydrated to avoid constipation; sparkling water can have the same effect- especially because it has been used for centuries to help settle the stomach. A study conducted on effects of carbonated water intake on constipation in elders suggests that drinking carbonated water is an effective method for the intervention of constipation in elderly patients with CVA (cerebrovascular accident). 18 For sparkling water to be effective, the recommended intake is 1 quart of water for every 50 pounds of body weight, or 3 quarts a day for a 150-pound person. Pregnant and nursing women have increased mineral and hydration needs, so consuming carbonated water is ideal for a natural stool softener. Consumption of 4-6 glasses a day is recommended to avoid higher levels of sodium found in sparkling water.

Coffee

The caffeine found in coffee is a natural stimulant for the digestive system. The physical mechanism of coffee has the ability to stimulate the distal colon. 19 Studies have found that chlorogenic acid, a compound found in coffee, has the ability to trigger stomach acid levels, as well as boost the production of gastric acid. It is this action that aids in digestion and causes the stomach to relieve waste more quickly than usual. Not recommended for children, adults should limited themselves to 1-2 cups per day- because as a diuretic, excessive consumption of coffee can cause you to urinate often and become dehydrated. The effect of drinking coffee in regard to bowel movement is expedited soon after consumption. Although drinking coffee is considered safe during pregnancy and while nursing, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2-3 cups per day.

Magnesium

magnesiumMagnesium is a natural stool softener found in a variety of fiber enriched foods. Dietary sources are: legumes, whole grains, vegetables, seeds, and nuts. Coffee and water with a high mineral content also provide a great source of magnesium. When consumed, it works in the stomach to neutralize acid as it helps move stools through the intestine. Many patients find it effective for constipation relief; with physicians using it in preparation of the bowel for surgical or diagnostic procedures. 20 Magnesium works quickly in the system to alleviate constipation, typically 1-4 hours following consumption. Recommended safe doses: for adults less than 350 mg daily; less than 65 mg for children 1-3 years, 110 mg for children 4-8 years, and 350 mg for children older than 8 years. For pregnant and nursing mothers, magnesium is safe in doses less than 350 mg daily.

Mineral oil

Commonly used as a laxative, ingesting mineral oil can ease constipation by lubricating the stool.
It can also be applied in the rectum as a lubricant. Mineral oil mechanisms work in two ways- helping your stool retain water and coating the lining of your intestines. It helps prevent your stool from hardening so your poop can slide through the digestive system and pass more easily. Fast acting, when taken orally, it can produce a bowel movement in six to eight hours. Mineral oil enemas will produce stool in 15 minutes or faster. Considered a safe natural stool softener for adults (men women, pregnant and nursing mothers), it is recommended children under 6 not be treated with mineral oil for constipation. You should always speak with your doctor before treating constipation with mineral oil. Long-term use has been linked to significant health risks, including vitamin malabsorption and aspiration pneumonia. 21

Aloe Vera

aloe-veraAloe Vera is a plant grown throughout the world that produces two substances- gel and latex. Studies show that the latex (found just under the plant’s surface), when ingested orally, has the properties of a strong laxative. It can also be used to reduce itching and inflammation caused by hemorrhoids. Although Aloe Vera is one of the few herbal medicines widely used in Western society, with the manufacturing of Aloe Vera extracts being one of the largest botanical industries worldwide it may not be safe to take orally. 22 The FDA reports that ingestion of aloe latex may increase risk for cancer and cause interactions with prescription drugs. Patients, as well as pregnant and nursing mothers considering using Aloe Vera should always consult with a medical professional prior to using.

Flaxseed

Flaxseed is an excellent source of dietary fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. Found in the seed coat, researchers believe the flaxseed’s fiber binds with cholesterol in the intestine and prevents it from being absorbed. Eating flaxseed muffins seems to increase bowel movements in young adults, while eating flaxseed infused yogurt seems to increase bowel movements in elderly people. 23 Flaxseed is effective for numerous conditions related to the gastrointestinal (GI) tract: constipation, colon damage due to overuse of laxatives, diarrhea, diverticulitis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Flaxseed is safe natural stool softener for most adults when taken by mouth and should be taken with plenty of water. Adding ground flaxseed (a daily dose of 40-50 grams) to the diet in the form of muffins or bread will likely increase the number of bowel movements each day. 24 Taking flaxseed during pregnancy is can be unsafe for expectant mothers. Although there is no reliable clinical evidence documented about the effects of flaxseed on pregnancy, it may act like the hormone estrogen which can stimulate menstruation and contractions. The effect of flaxseed on breast-fed infants is unknown as research is limited. It is strongly recommended if you are pregnant or breast-feeding to consult with your doctor prior to using flaxseed as a natural laxative.

Flaxseed oil/linseed oil

Derived from the pressing of flaxseeds, the oil becomes an excellent source of polyunsaturated fatty acids such as alpha-linolenic acid. By acting as a lubricant in the colon, flaxseed oil offers a quick acting natural treatment for those who having difficulty moving bowels out of their system. According to a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, flaxseed oil is effective in relieving constipation and stopping diarrhea. Subsequently, the oil from flaxseeds has dual benefits for your digestive system. 25 Recommended dosage is between 40-50 mg per day-about 1 tablespoon per day taken with water. Pregnant and nursing women should not take flaxseed oil or mineral oil unless it’s approved by their doctor.

Castor Oil

Produced by pressing ripe castor beans/seeds, the oil is an effective and potent stool softener. For centuries castor oil has been used as a laxative for constipation and to start labor in pregnancy. When taken orally, castor oil works extremely quickly in reducing constipation. Studies indicate the effect of castor oil as a remedy for constipation has the properties to increase intestinal motility and fluid volume. 26 Short term use is recommended at doses less than 15-60 mL per day for adults and doses less than 15 mL per day for children. It is not safe for pregnant women who are not at term because it can induce labor. Although castor oil is known to promote the flow of breast milk, not enough research has been done to determine whether it is safe for nursing infants- so breastfeeding mothers should consult with their physician prior to use.

Senna

Senna is an FDA-approved nonprescription laxative that contains chemicals called sennosides. These chemicals work to stimulate the lining of the bowel, which causes a laxative effect. Taking Senna orally is effective for short-term treatment of constipation and its effects can be felt within 2-3 days from initial use. Senna can be used to treat constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), hemorrhoids and also to clear the bowel before diagnostic tests such as colonoscopy. Senna is effective for treating constipation when used in combination with psyllium or docusate sodium-especially in elderly patients. Senna is safe to use for adults and children over age 12 when taken by mouth- but only in the short term (approx. 2 weeks). The recommended dose is 17.2mg for adults and 8.5 mg daily for children. 27 Pregnancy and breast-feeding: research indicates the use of Senna is safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding, as a long as a mother uses Senna in doses recommended by a physician (28 mg in 2 divided doses).

Peppermint

peppermintMany herbal remedies can be useful for constipation, but peppermint seems to be one of the most effective. Known for its natural properties that help promote healthy digestion, peppermint contains menthol. This ‘ingredient’ possesses antiplasmodial effects that relax the muscles along the digestive system. 28 When consumed as tea, peppermint is a natural solution to bloating, stomach aches, and constipation. Studies at the University of Maryland Medical Center have also found that peppermint calms the muscles of the stomach and improves the flow of bile, which the body uses to digest fats. As a result, food passes through the stomach more quickly. 29 Peppermint can also be effective in treating the symptoms of IBS, because it help relaxes muscles in the intestinal tract. Peppermint is not recommended for infants or small children. The effects of ingesting peppermint to aid in the relief of constipation can be almost immediate when consumed (3-4 hours). Some experts even recommend modest amounts of peppermint tea to help alleviate nausea during pregnancy, however, it is not recommended for if you are breastfeeding.

Prebiotic foods

Certain foods such as asparagus, bananas, onions, garlic, artichokes, leeks, chicory root, bran and seaweed are powerhouse fuels for the body. They promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. When consumed, these foods assist the gut bacteria in producing nutrients for the colon; which in turn leads to a healthier digestive system. 30 High in soluble fiber, it is recommended prebiotic foods be eaten raw to gain the full benefit as fiber content can be altered during cooking. Incorporated into a daily diet, effects will become immediate. Prebiotic foods provide the perfect ‘ingredients’ to improve gut function naturally so they are safe for adults, children, expectant mothers and women who breastfeed.

Probiotic foods

A probiotic rich diet is essential for the digestive system to function properly. Consuming probiotic foods with live bacteria and yeasts such as: yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh and apple cider vinegar can encourage healthy bowel movements and create good gut flora. Probiotics help move food through your gut while acting as a barrier against harmful (pathogenic) bacteria as they coat the gastrointestinal tract. Many of these foods can be helpful in reducing symptoms of IBS, as well as constipation. Certain bacterial strains found in probiotic foods have mechanisms capable of reducing gut transit time, stool frequency, stool consistency and bowel symptoms. In fact, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are types of bacteria that have been found to be lacking in patients with chronic constipation. Moreover, a study conducted with elderly nursing home residents show that a diet consisting of foods with both these types of bacteria significantly reduced the effects of constipation. 31 Generally, probiotic foods are considered safe for consumption. If you have a compromised immune system or other serious health issues you should consult with a doctor first- as should pregnant or nursing mothers because of the possible side effects of upset stomach, diarrhea, gas, and bloating.

Lifestyle changes that can help relieve constipation

The unfortunate truth is a majority of the population has (or will) experience constipation during their lives. Whether it is temporary or chronic, it is a condition that can undeniably affect your quality of life. Making small changes in your lifestyle can have a tremendous impact on your digestive system and your overall health. Exercise, incorporating more fiber rich foods and learning to manage stress can help you maintain a healthy digestive system and restore your bowel function to a more comfortable level.

Start with small changes in your daily routine

  • Drink 8-10 eight oz. glasses of water daily
  • Make more meals with fiber enriched foods
  • Eat meals at the same time each day
  • Incorporate more whole grains in your breakfast food
  • Exercise daily- take the stairs at work, walk across the parking lot to your office, or take a 10-20 minute walk during your lunch break
  • Snack on fresh or dried fruits
  • Get enough sleep
  • As soon as you get the urge to poop- go right away- don’t wait
  • Practice yoga or spend just a few moments of quiet mindfulness

A fiber-rich diet

Eating more foods that provide insoluble and soluble fiber into your diet is essential for good digestive health. And yet, the effects of fiber in relation to constipation will depend on fiber type and an individual’s symptoms. For instance, many patients who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) find many high fiber foods seem to make their constipation symptoms worse. A diet low in fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs) is often recommended to manage functional gastrointestinal symptoms in patients with (IBS) because it limits the choice of foods they can eat to reduce their sensitivity. 32

Dairy free diet

Lactose intolerance from the consumption of milk and dairy products is comparable to a digestive disorder. Being intolerant means the body cannot process lactose, a complex sugar that is found primarily in milk products. Processing the sugar requires the production of the lactase enzyme. If your body is deficient in this enzyme you can become lactose intolerant. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence and diarrhea. 33 In children, chronic constipation can be a result of consuming cow’s milk which many dairy products are made from. Studies indicate that with the elimination of cow’s milk in their diet children experience a decrease in constipation symptoms. 34

Exercise

exercise-running-joggingOne of the easiest ways to alleviate your risk of becoming constipated is to engage in physical activity on a regular basis. In older patients, studies indicate a link between low physical activity levels to constipation. In one study of 140 adults with constipation, those who exercised more reported higher quality of life than those who were not as active. 35 Although research is inconclusive as to whether or not exercise directly influences constipation risk or symptoms, there is evidence physical activity is very helpful in reducing stress, which is strongly linked to the symptoms of IBS. It is recommended that healthy adults aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week- with pregnant and nursing women consulting with their physician.

Yoga

Yoga is an excellent way to revitalize the body and increase the flow of blood and oxygen in the system. Since many of yoga positions involve pelvic movement, practicing yoga can help massage your digestive organs, aid the process of peristalsis, and move stools through your system more easily. Techniques like the Asanas and Pranayama can help you physically stretch and contract the muscles of organs like the stomach, intestines, and colon. Whether you take a yoga class or follow a yoga routine on DVD at home, just a few minutes of practicing yoga daily can improve bowel movements, prevent straining while pooping, reduce stomach bloating and relieve painful gas- keeping you free from constipation in a healthy, fun way that can enhance your overall well-being.

Avoid medications that cause constipation

There are approximately 200 prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications that can cause even an occasional bout with constipation. It’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the ones that are associated with constipation. You should also consult with your doctor about any medications you are taking whether they are prescribed, over-the-counter, supplements or herbal.

NSAIDS: Ibuprofen, Motrin, Aleve, Naproxen
Antihistamines: Benadryl, Zyrtec, Allegra, Claritin
Antidepressants: Amitriptyline, Zoloft, and Effexor
Opioids: Codeine, Morphine sulphate, Oxycodone, Methadone, Tramadol, Fentanyl.
Iron supplements: ferrous sulfate ferrous fumerate and ferrous gluconate
Blood pressure medications: Diltiazem and Verapamil Nifedipine
Cholesterol lowering agents: Cholestyramine, Simvastatin, Atorvastatin, Rosuvastati

Avoid foods that cause constipation

It goes without saying that a healthy diet can go a long way in terms of maintaining healthy digestive system with frequent bowel movements. Many foods that are binding, low in fiber or simply have no nutritional value can increase the onset of constipation.

  • Fried foods
  • Fast food
  • Chocolate
  • Persimmons
  • White bread, white flour and white rice
  • Milk and Dairy Products
  • Unripe bananas
  • Alcohol
  • Foods containing gluten
  • Red meat
  • Potato chips, crackers
  • Processed foods- deli meats, frozen dinners etc.
  • Cookies, cakes

Summary

Constipation is a very common condition that affects millions of people around the world. Whether it is temporary or chronic, it is a condition that can undeniably affect your quality of life. Making small changes in your lifestyle and including the recommended foods can help you relieve constipation. Exercise, incorporating more fiber rich foods and learning to manage stress can help you maintain a healthy digestive system and restore your bowel function to a more comfortable level.


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