You should be having a nice day right now, but you’re not: that’s what the discomfort of constipation will do, ruin this day and possibly several others. Those with chronic constipation have these days far too often, and there are many reasons why people find themselves in such discomfort. We’ll review some of those causes (in case you can control for one of them in the future), and then suggest some home remedies for constipation. It’s our hope that you can skip a trip to the doctor, avoid buying some over-the-counter stool softener, and instead find natural relief in your own kitchen.
Common Causes of Constipation
You may not often think of bowel movements as pleasurable, but when something goes wrong, you remember there’s nothing more satisfying than having a body that functions properly. Ever have a full bladder and nowhere to pee? Awful. Stuffed up, can’t even sneeze properly, let alone breathe through the night? Infuriating. Even vomiting is desired sometimes, if you eat something that’s gone bad, and you can tell as soon as it hits your stomach: it would feel better to throw that food out through the door it came in, rather than wait for it to process through your digestive system, causing you a day or more of discomfort along the way.
One of the worst symptoms of constipation is the distracting and sometimes overwhelming pain it causes you to endure. Pain in your abdomen and gut can be among the most severe types of pain. Closing your fingers in a door or even breaking your leg is nothing compared to childbirth, a burst appendix, or severe stomach and intestinal pain. Your body instinctually understands that a limb or two is disposable, and will make that decision for you if you’re ever in freezing conditions: goodbye fingertips and toes, because the priority is organs first, then brain, then the rest.
There are a few causes for constipation you can somewhat control, and others that you can’t control. Knowing the cause of your constipation is the quickest way to guessing what the best remedy might be, so let’s begin with what might have started your issue:
- You’ve had a sudden change in diet or exercise. Your body wants to be a simple machine, same food in, same waste out, and no funny business. But say you move to a new job in a new state or a new country? Now you’re not only busier than usual, you’re possibly in a whole new time zone, with food and grocery stores you’re unfamiliar with. That’d do it.
- There isn’t enough water or fiber in your diet. If you’re out of balance one way or the other, the traffic starts to jam.
- You’re eating a lot of dairy products. Ice cream, cheese, milk, and other dairy products have a reputation for “binding” (i.e. constipating foods). This is due to the high-fat and low-fiber content of many dairy products, which can cause constipation in anyone but might particularly affect toddlers (sub out ice cream for popsicles if you notice this kind of discomfort in your little one, or water instead of milk with dinner).
- You’re resisting the urge to poop. The phrased “backed up” comes to mind. If you resist nature’s call you might impact the process. It’s better to obey the urge to go to the bathroom if you can.
- You’re under a lot of stress. People in high-stress situations might lose hair, break out in rashes, or yes, find themselves in unexpected digestive discomfort.
- You take certain medications (narcotics, antidepressants, iron pills). Maybe your medication dehydrates you, maybe it disrupts your gut bacteria’s balance, maybe you’ll never know why, you just know the meds you need cause this uncomfortable side effect.
- You’re pregnant. The changes in your body’s chemistry, the new division of incoming nutrients between you and the growing baby, the fact that all your organs (including your intestines) are being moved around by your swelling womb…these are all reasons why constipation is a common issue during pregnancy.
Some of these conditions you can control, and some you can’t. You’d like to be unstressed in a comfortable environment where you can take all the bathroom breaks you please—wouldn’t we all! You’d like to not need your antidepressants, or for pregnancy to take more like two weeks instead of nine months or more: tough…well, you know.
Home Remedies for Constipation
Barring miracles that make all digestive issues for whatever their cause just go away, here are the natural remedies you can use now to alleviate or mitigate the problem of constipation.
1. More Fiber
Not the fastest way to help if you need to go right now, but making sure there’s a regular source of fiber in your diet will help treat constipation and keep you regular going forward. Fiber moves through your digestive tract like a chimney sweep’s brush, acting as a pipe cleaner that picks up waste particles and soaks up water, packaging it all together at a reasonable and comfortable density. That density is what’s needed so that the muscles of your GI tract can grasp the stool and move it along painlessly.
Try for 20-35 grams of fiber per day to stay regular, which can be had naturally via high-fiber foods like whole grains (oats/oatmeal), fortified cereals, bran muffins, as well as beans, lentils, plenty of veggies, and fruit (fresh or dried). If you find trouble fitting enough dietary fiber into your day, there is always the option of a fiber supplement, but just remember that with more fiber you’ll need more water, and when it comes to liquids, the next entry on this list can help hydrate as well as bring its own home remedy contributions.
2. Ginger Tea
Ginger root may help in situations where constipation stems from poor digestion. Ginger is a “warming” herb, a natural herbal laxative that can help stimulate sluggish digestion. Additionally, ginger tea can also act as a mild appetite stimulant and strengthen the stomach, working to aid all aspects of digestion.
3. Sesame Seeds
Eating sesame seeds on a regular basis is another good home remedy for constipation. The oily composition of sesame seeds helps to more or less lubricate the intestines, which can be beneficial if dry stools are the cause of the problem. Include them in your breakfast oats, find them in whole grain breads, or add their crunch to a salad.
4. Blackstrap Molasses
The magnesium in blackstrap molasses can aid with constipation relief by helping the bowel contract. Take it before bed so it will work while you sleep. Regular molasses does not contain the vitamins and nutrients of blackstrap molasses, and due to the way its made, blackstrap molasses is actually good for you (it can even help women with painful menstrual cramps).
5. Lemon Water
A welcome addition to your morning routine, water to help boost your fluid intake and lemon to allow the citric acid to act as a natural laxative stimulates your digestive system just enough to get it moving. Moreover, lemon often goes well with tea, like the above-mentioned ginger tea, and can be added there as well. Making a glass of lemon water a priority along with eating extra fiber will make sure neither one overtakes the other and leaves you unbalanced.
Good news: a coffee a day can be a great way to stay regular, sometimes working so well that it’ll be time to visit the bathroom before you get to your third sip. Decaffeinated coffee also works to relieve constipation symptoms, but not as well as it does with caffeine. Also keep in mind that coffee is a diuretic, great for flushing your whole system overall, but if you’re urinating more due to coffee, and increasing your fiber intake, you’ll need to make sure you drink even more water to avoid dry stools. Coffee is great for some; others, however, might prefer the hydration and lack of caffeine in ginger tea instead.
Raisins are high in fiber and contain tartaric acid, which has a laxative effect. In a study, researchers found that people who ate about 4 ounces (120 grams) of raisins per day had a speedier digestive process than those who did not. Cherries and apricots are good for this too, rich in fiber and easy to include with the right probiotic yogurt. However, maybe no fruit has a better reputation for bowel regulation than the next on this list.
8. Prunes and Prune Juice
Not unlike raisins, prunes, prune juice, and figs can all contribute fiber and act as digestion aids because they contain a compound that triggers intestinal contractions and gets your tract moving. Even better, while the fiber helps bulk up your stools, the sorbitol in prune juice helps soften them, making them easier to press through your body. Prune juice is also a good source of iron and vitamin C.
9. Castor Oil
This may well be your grandmother’s home remedy, as it’s been handed down for generations. Just 1 or 2 teaspoons of castor oil on an empty stomach should help get you results in about eight hours. There is a component in castor oil that stimulates both your large and small intestines, and gets them moving.
10. Exercise and Squat
If all else fails, it’s time to get physical. A lack of exercise can cause constipation, so a brisk walk can help untie that knot, and if you make a walking routine a habit, you can also enjoy the benefit of increased fitness.
Also keep in mind this little secret: we’re used to sitting on toilets to pass waste now, but our bodies weren’t built for these thrones: we built them and have come to think of them as natural, but it’s just not the case. Our bodies are designed to squat when having a bowel movement (like a bear in the woods). When your knees are above your hips, it aligns your body at the optimal angle to pass waste with the least amount of strain or pressure. Try putting a step stool under your feet at the toilet, or go old school and get a chamber pot.
Digestive Health Habits
In cases of severe constipation, you might be beyond the help of home remedies and need either prescription laxatives or even a doctor-assisted enema. If that’s the case, it’s important that you get the help you need, and don’t strain so hard that you risk injury on top of constipation. Short of disaster, however, these constipation remedies might help you avoid such drastic circumstances, and get you into the best habits for maintaining digestive health going forward.