You’re bloated and blocked. You strain on the toilet, but … nothing. You’re constipated.
Constipation is common. For some people, constipation is a chronic condition. For others, it’s a brief occurrence caused by stress, medications, a poor diet, lifestyle choices, a medical condition, or surgery. But no matter the cause, you can find relief — it’s just a matter of how.
It’s generally simpler–and healthier–to prevent constipation altogether than to treat it once it occurs. And there are some basic lifestyle and diet choices you can make part of your regular routine that will help.
Avoiding constipation relies on three things: more fiber, more fluids, and more exercise. Hydration is especially important with a high-fiber diet. Water works with fiber to keep digestion working efficiently and to create regular bowel movements.
Sometimes, the Solution is Simple
Most cases of acute constipation happen because you are not eating enough of the right foods, drinking enough water, or getting enough exercise. So the fixes are simple: Move more, drink more water, and add fiber to your diet (or take it as a supplement) to add bulk to your stool. Some people have success taking probiotics, too, which can change the composition of the bacteria in the gut. Defecating in the correct position can also prevent and relieve constipation. For instance, putting your feet on a step stool in front of the toilet can improve the angle of the pelvic floor muscles and thus result in improved evacuation. Yoga and exercise (especially aerobic) is another potential remedy for constipation. However, sometimes these simple remedies don’t help, and one needs to turn to other home remedies or even over-the-counter and prescription medications.
Other Constipation Home Remedies
Prunes and Prune Juice: People often speak about prunes and prune juice as a natural remedy for constipation, and there is a very good reason for this. In addition to fiber, prunes contain the sugar alcohol sorbitol, which has a laxative effect. Prunes can be a very effective remedy for constipation and may be the most accessible natural solution available. Some studies have shown that prunes may be more effective than fibers such as psyllium.
Magnesium: Magnesium citrate is a popular home remedy against constipation. It is a type of osmotic laxative that people can buy over the counter or online.Taking moderate amounts of magnesium supplements can help relieve constipation. Doctors use higher dosages to prepare and clean out the bowel before surgery or other medical procedures.
Eating Foods with Prebiotic Qualities: Foods that contain prebiotic fibers can improve digestive health and the balance of beneficial gut bacteria. Prebiotics may help relieve constipation. Prebiotic foods include onions, garlic, leeks, and chickpeas. Studies have shown that some prebiotics may help increase the frequency of bowel movements as well as make stools softer, thereby relieving constipation.
Probiotics: A 2019 review found that taking probiotics for two weeks can help treat constipation by increasing stool frequency and improving stool consistency. Probiotics could also help treat constipation by producing short-chain fatty acids. These may improve gut contractions, making it easier to pass stools. Although there is no definitive proof for the efficacy of the use of a probiotic supplement, some studies have found that people started to feel the benefits of these supplements after 4 weeks.
Caffeine: Studies have demonstrated that drinking caffeine can stimulate bowel movements. In one study, the effect of drinking regular coffee was 60% stronger than drinking water and 23% stronger than drinking decaffeinated coffee. Coffee may also contain small amounts of soluble fibers that help prevent constipation by improving the balance of gut bacteria.
Enemas and Suppositories: Enemas and suppositories are used to clean out the rectum. They must be used correctly and are only intended for occasional use.
Exercise: If you want to keep the stool moving, keep your whole body moving. Exercise helps food to move more quickly through the large intestine which helps prevent dry hard stool by decreasing how much water is absorbed from it. Exercise also naturally boosts your heart rate and breathing rate which makes muscles in the intestines contract to move stools out.
Avoiding Dairy: In people with an intolerance to it, eating dairy can cause constipation due to its effect on the gut’s contractions.
Laxatives: Laxatives are effective for relieving constipation. However, it is important to speak to a doctor or pharmacist about the best ones to use in your particular situation. There are different types of over the counter options:
- Bulking agents are fiber-based agents that increase the water content of stool.
- Stool softeners contain oils to soften stools and ease their passage through the gut.
- Stimulant laxatives stimulate the nerves in the gut to increase bowel movements.
- Osmotic laxatives soften stool by pulling water from the surrounding tissues into the digestive system.
Laxatives are not a long-term solution and should be used with care. If you have tried laxatives and other constipation remedies mentioned above without lasting relief, you may be experiencing chronic constipation. Consult your healthcare provider–there are other solutions available.
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