Home Remedies for Constipation
If you struggle with constipation, which is, unfortunately, more common than you might think, then you’ve probably been given the simple advice: eat more fiber, drink more water, and if that doesn’t work, take laxatives. I know this because this is something I personally struggled with for years (before getting to the root causes) and have worked with many patients on. Sometimes, these home remedies for constipation are exactly what people need! But, sometimes, it goes much deeper than simply eating more fiber. Constipation can be related to a myriad of underlying conditions, for which treatment really depends (no, not that kind of Depends – that’s a different problem!).
Originally published at gathernourishgrow.com. Updated: August 30, 2023.
Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only and should not be used as medical advice or individual recommendations. For individual recommendations and advice, work with a dietitian.
In this article:
- What is constipation?
- What causes constipation?
- Home remedies for constipation
What is constipation?
Constipation is defined by having difficulty emptying the bowels, which typically presents itself by having less than 3 bowel movements per week (1). Regardless of frequency or difficulty passing stools, however, if you don’t feel regular and you feel backed up, it’s not fun.
I won’t go into much detail, but I spent the years from 2012 to 2017 feeling constipated.
There were many times I didn’t want to do anything at all because I felt so backed up, heavy, and fatigued. Often times I didn’t even want to eat anything even though I knew I was hungry. My doctor said this was likely because stool was backing up into my small intestine, which was pushing on my stomach, causing it to feel full. I spent many nights crying myself to sleep, hoping I would wake up in the morning and have a bowel movement.
On the other hand, I knew others who were suffering from the opposite issue (diarrhea), and I was jealous. No one should ever wish they had diarrhea, that’s not fun either.
I tried everything. First, it was x-rays and sitz markers to make sure my intestines were, indeed, packed with stool (they were). Then it was dietary changes: drink more water, eat prunes, have more vegetables. Then supplements: probiotics, miralax, magnesium citrate, milk of magnesia. Then it was drastic action: ducolax (brand name for bisacodyl, the medication used for colonoscopy preparation – not fun, very painful), enemas (ugh!), Linzess (medication for irritable bowel syndrome)…I just wanted to poop!
The trouble was, all of these treatments only quelled the symptom. I wanted to know WHY I was constipated in the first place. Throughout those five years I researched and researched, and spent time working with dietitians who specialized in gastrointestinal (GI) issues. I wanted to become an expert, too, so that I could better understand the GI system and help prevent people from going through the same suffering as I did.
At some point I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), but, this is only a group of symptoms and can be triggered be a number of issues including stress, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), infection, and food intolerance(s). It still did not solve the underlying issue.
What causes constipation?
It could be many things!
- IBS (which has multiple triggers as mentioned above)
- Changes to normal routines and eating habits, like traveling or starting a diet
- Conditions with hormonal changes like hypothyroidism, which slows down metabolism
- Not eating enough, which also slows the metabolism and likely doesn’t provide enough fiber to form a stool
- Physical inactivity, which slows movement of stool through the GI tract
- Colorectal problems
- Not drinking enough water
- Eating a low-fiber diet
- Overuse of laxatives
- Celiac’s Disease
- Conditions that affect the nervous system, like Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s Disease
- Pregnancy, which causes hormonal changes, physical changes (uterus pressing on intestines), and potentially changes in diet and physical activity (1).
Eventually, my chronic constipation got better over time as I started figuring out what foods my body liked and didn’t like, worked on healing my gut, made sure to get enough exercise, and decreased stress as I realized this was a major trigger for me. My constipation was the worst during the most stressful periods of my life: starting college, during my junior year of college (always the hardest), and starting my dietetic internship. It was really only after I became a dietitian that this huge weight of stress was lifted from me. This thing I had been anxious about for the past five years had finally been achieved and I could live my life now without worrying about so many little things.
Yes, non-school life has its own stressors too, and don’t get me wrong, I feel those, but for whatever reason this was very unique for me. I feel like I can take on most things knowing I at least achieved this big, life goal of mine.
Okay, so, maybe we’ve identified the cause of constipation (if you’re struggling with this, it may be a good idea to work with a dietitian), but how do we treat it?
Home remedies for constipation:
These are the steps I would try in order of least invasive to most invasive, but it will really depend on the cause.
For example, eating more fiber is not always the answer. Sometimes, you are eating plenty of fiber, but not drinking enough water, so your stool is bulked up, but hard as rock and it’s having a difficult time exiting your colon.
1. Water, water, water!
Water is the most important nutrient. Make sure you are well-hydrated, otherwise your stool will be very dry and hard. Drinking warm water may also be beneficial.
The general recommendation is roughly half your ideal body weight in ounces, or more if you’re physically active and losing a lot of fluid. But, generally, no need to go overboard here, just get enough. Ex. a 150lb person would strive for about 75 oz of water per day.
Eat Mindfully & CHEW YOUR FOOD
You’d be surprised how often simply chewing your food solves many digestive issues. Eating mindfully in general is one of the best practices for health and healthy eating. If you eat really quickly, slow down. Make sure you are chewing your food well and making your meal last 20-30 minutes. This will ensure everything you eat is digested properly. It was also prevent you from overeating, which can put undo stress on your digestive system.
Try to limit distractions while eating as well and just focus on the meal. Research shows our digestive ability decreases by 30%-40% when we are distracted while eating.
Make sure you are digesting your food properly. When and if you do have a bowel movement, check to see if there are any undigested pieces of food in it. If there are, again, CHEW YOUR FOOD. You can also try drinking warm water with 1 tsp to 1 Tbs lemon juice and/or apple cider vinegar, ginger tea, or chew on raw ginger root 10-15 minutes before a meal. This will help produce the digestive enzymes you need to break down your food.
Hum Or Gargle Before a Meal
Something called the vagus nerve runs from the brain and down the spine. It has tons of nerves connected to the intestines. This is why what’s happening with our gut impacts our mind and vise versa. Stimulating the vagus nerve through humming or gargling can help stimulate digestion.
Fiber is essential to a healthy BM because fiber is what makes up a lot of our stool! Fiber is something we do not actually breakdown, but instead it feeds the healthy bacteria in our colon. When bacteria consume fiber, they produce something called short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These SCFAs feed the cells in our intestinal tract and keep them healthy.
There are two main types of fiber: Insoluble and soluble.
Insoluble fiber is necessary for moving stool through the digestive system and aiding constipation, while soluble fiber is great at bulking up the stool as it is water-soluble and absorbs liquid. Soluble fiber aids both constipation and diarrhea. You need both to have a perfect poop. A number 3 or 4 on the Bristol Stool Chart (Photo source) is what we’re after.
Sources of insoluble fiber include:
- Non-starchy vegetables
- Fruit or vegetable skins (like apple or potato skins)
- Nuts & seeds
- Whole grains (like wheat bran, if tolerated)
Sources of soluble fiber include:
- Fruits, especially berries (raspberries in particular), apples, apricots, kiwifruit, and figs.
- Starchy vegetables
- Beans & Legumes
- Hydrated chia seeds*
- Hydrated flax meal*
- Whole grains, especially oats, buckwheat, and quinoa
- Dark chocolate (at least >75% cocoa)
- Psyllium husk powder (also a supplement)
*Chia seeds and flax meal are very water-soluble, so if you eat them without hydrating them first, make sure you drink LOTS of water, otherwise, they will steal water from the stores in your body, dehydrating you as they hydrate, or cause a very hard stool. Hydrated seeds, though, are fantastic for good bowel movements.
How much fiber do I need?
The average adult women needs a minimum of 25 grams per day, and men need a minimum of 38 grams each day. It is possible to get too much fiber, however, so do not go overboard. If you need help with HOW to get more fiber, work with a dietitian.
Getting enough fiber is easier when focusing on whole foods and following a balanced plate.
Other foods that feed friendly gut bacteria:
- Fish & Shellfish
- Olives & Olive Oil: The antioxidants feed bacteria, but monounsaturated fats also help lubricate the intestines to help move stool through and pull water into stool to help soften it (2).
- Resistant Starch: Overnight oats, cold rice, cold potatoes, cold pasta, green bananas – this type of starch is resistant to digestion, so it helps feed friendly bacteria.
- Coffee: Antioxidants in coffee help feed healthy bacteria
Foods that feed unfriendly bacteria or inhibit growth of friendly bacteria:
- Saturated fats: Coconut oil, palm oil, butter, animal fats
- Refined starches: White flour, products made with white flour (bread, crackers, cookies, etc.)
- Refined sugar: White, table sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, etc.
4. Addressing specific foods
Some major contributors to constipation are wheat and/or gluten and dairy (especially cheese). Try eliminating one or both of these foods for 2 weeks to 1 month to see how you feel, then add them back in. It may be these foods themselves that cause issues, or they simply take up a large part of the diet, displacing healthier, higher fiber foods. If you eat wheat-containing products, make sure they’re whole grain, and use cheese as an accent to higher fiber foods, like sprinkling on roasted broccoli.
If you suffer from IBS, you may be reacting to specific foods high in Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disacharides, Monosaccharids And Polyols (FODMAPs), which are certain sugars in food that are easily fermented by bacteria in the small intestine – often a result of Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), a common cause of IBS symptoms.
High-FODMAP foods are those such as garlic, onions, beans, sugar alcohols, and gluten-containing grains (wheat, barely, and rye). Following a low-FODMAP diet may be recommended by your healthcare provider if you have IBS, but it should be followed closely with the guidance of a dietitian.
This is something that I struggled with for a long time before I knew what was going on. During my freshman year of college I went vegan (I’m not anymore) and I was bloated so much that my stomach looked about 7 months pregnant and felt like I had a balloon inside! I’ve now been able to add most foods that were causing me issues back into my diet.
5. Lifestyle Shifts
The following are home remedies for constipation that involve shifting habits with movement, stress, and sleep.
Use a Squatty Potty® or pull your knees up when going number 2: This helps align your colon, making it easier for stool to exit your body. When we sit at a 90° angle, we create a kink, which makes it harder for stool to move through.
Aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 days a week – walking and other physical activity helps stimulate the intestinal tract as well as promotes the growth of healthy bacteria.
Perform these lying down, especially along the colon: This will help stimulate the intestines to move stool along. I love to do this prior to going to bed.
Supine Spinal Twist
Lay on your back and pull your right leg across your body, hold for as long as you like. Repeat with the left leg.
On your hands and knees, inhale as you tuck your stomach in and hunch your back, then exhale as you arch your back.
Stress causes the body to be in “fight-or-flight” mode, which shuttles blood to vital organs and limbs, preparing the body to either battle, or flee. It shuttles blood away from the intestines because the last thing the body wants to do in that situation is pause to go number 2. When we are tensed and stressed, we can feel like we are holding things in, including stool.
The opposite can be the case, though. Sometimes stress and anxiety cause the bowels to evacuate before an event, which more often leads to loose stools. We want to be in “rest-and-digest” mode more often in order for our bodies to have healthy BMs.
Stress management looks different for everyone, so do what works for you. For me, there are two things that work really well. One is spending quiet time in the morning in the word of God. I relax knowing I can take comfort in Him, which is not something I realized way back when I was having issues. I had put everything on myself. The other is playing word games on my phone while drinking coffee in the mornings. These take my full attention, so don’t think about stressors, which helps me relax, and the coffee helps move things along.
Get enough sleep
Sleep ultimately affects every system in the body. It’s a way for our bodies to recover and is vital to overall health. A good night’s sleep get’s us in “rest-and-digest” mode. Poor sleep increases the stress hormone, cortisol, sending us back into “fight-or-flight” mode.
6. Supplements & Natural Stimulants
Always talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before beginning any supplements. The following are home remedies for constipation, but may require a trip to the grocery store or pharmacy if you don’t have these on hand. The point is not to try all of these things, but to have options.
- Prunes: Contain a sugar alcohol called sorbitol, which pulls water into the stool, having an oxmotic laxative effect. They also contain fiber.
- Coffee: Stimulates the intestinal muscles and helps move stool through the GI tract.
- Probiotics: Probiotics are bacteria. If for some reason you don’t have enough friendly bacteria in your colon (ex. after taking antibiotics), supplementing may be beneficial. Food sources include fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, and kimchi. For supplement sources, consult your doctor or dietitian. Commonly recommended supplements include Culturelle and Align. Keep in mind: probiotics won’t do much without prebiotics (food for the bacteria), so be sure to eat enough fiber-rich foods as well.
- Psyllium husk powder or Metamucil: A very water-soluble powder that helps bulk up stool.
- Natural Calm (magnesium citrate), Milk of Magnesia, or Magnesium Citrate: magnesium helps calm and relax muscles and has an osmotic laxative effect. Be careful though, too much can lead to diarrhea.
- Miralax: Has an osmotic laxative effect. Usually works overnight.
That’s it! That is my comprehensive guide to home remedies for constipation. I hope this helps! If you are still having issues with constipation, consult your doctor and/or make an appointment with a dietitian.
1. Felman, Adam. Constipation: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments, and more. Medical News Today. Nov. 13, 2019. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/150322#children.
2. Berry, Jennifer. Olive oil and Constipation: Remedies, other treatments, and causes. August 16, 2018. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/313416#treating_constipation_with_olive_oil.