Natural Remedies for ConstipationOctober 14th, 2016
There’s no question that modern medicine has helped humans in numerous ways over the years, creating vaccinations and cures for many diseases that have helped to extend lifespans. But while the medical community continues to be important to our existence, natural remedies continue to have validity, too.
What was once thought as “old wives’ tales” are now regaining traction as feasible treatments as more and more people look for non-chemical ways to treat a variety of ailments. While some can be cosmetic in nature (like using olive oil for better hair care), others are targeted to physical health.
Anyone that has ever experienced a bout of constipation knows that trying to find an at-home solution is a much more comfortable and convenient option. Although your doctor should always be consulted if your case is ongoing or causing more severe symptoms, there are some other steps you can take to try and clear up the situation.
What is constipation?
Constipation is a health issue where bowel movements become very infrequent, or when stools are difficult to pass through the body. The bouts can be sporadic or chronic in nature; individuals that have three or fewer bowel movements in a week over a period of time are considered to have chronic constipation.
Some of the common signs that might indicate you are constipated include:
- Infrequent stools, especially when less than three a week occur
- Lumpy, hard stools that are difficult to pass
- Having to strain to force a bowel movement or feeling as though you can’t complete a full movement
- Lower stomach pain
Again, if you’re experiencing these issues on a persistent basis, you should consult a medical professional. While the natural remedies below can help, talking to a doctor to ensure there isn’t a more serious underlying medical condition is important and allows you to take the best steps to resolve your health issue. If it’s determined that you have non-frequent constipation, there are a few treatment options available, such as laxatives and stool softeners, as well as herbs and fiber-rich foods, as discussed below.
The causes of constipation
Constipation is basically when stool moves too slowly through the digestive tract and becomes more difficult to expunge from the body. There are numerous causes. Here are some of the most common:
- Poor diet
- The use of certain medications
- Infrequent physical activity
- Overactive thyroid
- Weakened pelvic muscles, perhaps if you’ve recently been pregnant and given birth
Though more rare, the root cause may also be tied to another medical issue, such as:
- Narrowing of the colon or bowel obstruction
- Parkinson’s disease
- Colon cancer or another form of abdominal cancer
- Spinal cord injury
Pinning down one specific issue may be difficult to do without the help of a doctor. However, if he or she determines there are no underlying medical conditions causing your constipation—and, in some cases, even if there are—using natural remedies could provide relief.
Why natural remedies are worth trying
Constipation can be painful as well as uncomfortable, and even daily life can be impacted in a big way. While certain medications can help, at-home remedies may be preferable to some for any number of reasons.
- You may be able to get relief without having to use harsh man-made chemicals or drugs
- With most naturopathic remedies, there are usually no side effects, which can be a risk posed with traditional medicine
- It can be more affordable to use natural remedies—most are less costly than even over-the-counter options
- Natural options can also save time and let you avoid any embarrassment you may feel about discussing the problem
The natural remedies to try
Here are just a few options you might consider. Most are relatively easy, cost-effective, and should provide relief relatively quickly.
Changing your diet
The first thing to look at when trying to conquer constipation the natural way is your diet. There are various foods that can make constipation even worse, and several that can help make movements more regular (thereby avoiding the issue in the future).
Here are the main foods to avoid eating when trying to control constipation:
Fried foods are high in trans fats, which can clog up the digestive tract and present a barrier for passing any materials through.
Empty calorie foods
The average American diet is filled with foods that have a large amount of calories but few nutrients. Fast foods, cold cuts, chips, candy bars, packaged foods, even sugar-loaded beverages can be culprits. Eating meals heavy in these types of options can lead to nutritional imbalances that then create major constipation issues.
Alcoholic beverages dehydrate the body and play a large role in compromising digestive efficiency. Drink liquor and beer in moderation, and always follow each glass with a good amount of water.
Milk-based products can present issues for those that are lactose intolerant. But even those that don’t have ongoing problems with dairy may become more constipated as a result of overdoing it.
Caffeine is a tricky drug. For some people, it actually acts as a diuretic and can help improve bowel movements. In others, it can lead to dehydration and constipation. Moderate caffeine use is important, as is being cognizant of the foods and drinks that contain this stimulant—it’s not just coffee and tea.
There are also some foods that can help constipation, too:
Staying hydrated is one of the keys to also staying regular. Water is used by the body to form stool; without it, stools can become hard and dry. Additionally, the muscles in the digestive system work more effectively when they have plenty of hydration, too.
The more fiber that’s present in your diet, the better your digestive system will fare. High-fiber diets help ensure that stools form and that the digestive tract is able to move them through easily (fiber actually works to clean out the tract as it travels). Fiber is a compound exclusive to plant-based foods, so eat raw fruits and veggies in abundance, and add in grains, nuts, and even daily fiber supplements to improve your intake over time.
Green leafy veggies
Leafy greens are the best of all worlds. They contain high levels of fiber, but also magnesium and lots of condensed water. This means that they can improve digestion and fight against constipation in a big way. Try blending a bunch of kale and spinach in a smoothie recipe for a quick fix.
Prunes and figs
Prune juice with no added sugar has long been the go-to for constipation relief, primarily because of the very high fiber content. But, the magic of prunes is that they also have a strong laxative effect on the body; eating a few each day can help to prevent constipation from occurring in the first place.
Kitchen remedies for constipation
Using the dietary blueprint above is a good start, and can help with prevention, but there are also some additional steps you can take to help get constipation relief in the moment.
- In a mug, combine one cup of warm water and squeeze in the juice of one lemon. The citric acid will help stimulate the digestive system, and the warm water will deliver hydration while also relaxing the muscles in the digestive tract, allowing for better performance.
- Consume one tablespoon of olive oil in the morning on an empty stomach. This will lubricate the digestive tract and help stimulate it to get working. If you want something a bit more palatable, you can also combine a teaspoon of lemon juice.
- Mix pure aloe gel with some fruit juice or drink aloe vera juice to help soothe the stomach and promote better digestion.
- Combine one teaspoon of baking soda with a quarter-cup of warm water, and drink quickly. The bicarbonate in baking soda can help relieve pain from gas pressure and help neutralize stomach acid, also promoting the complete digestive process.
Herbal remedies for constipation
Herbal remedies and supplements can also have a big impact on fighting constipation. Some of the below serve as laxatives while others promote better digestive health overall.
This herbal laxative actually works by irritating the colon and stimulating bowel movements. But use of it should be short-term and periodic; long-term use has the potential to lead to liver problems.
Senna is actually used by doctors and nurses to help clear the bowels before medical procedures. As a result, it’s a recognized constipation aid that can be used in a short-term situation to control this problem.
This herbal remedy stimulates nerves and helps increase mucous production within the GI tract, helping you to use the bathroom more easily. Because it also coats the GI tract, it’s important to use any medications you may need before taking slippery elm so you can digest them properly.
Combining these herbal remedies along with dietary changes is the foundation of combating constipation the natural way. The best option is to start with a review of your nutritional intake and then supplement it with the right herbal teas, home remedies, and supplemental products. Relief may be closer than you think.
Photo by Alicia Cho