Constipation causes difficulty passing stools and may even lead a person to strain too much to empty the excessively hard stools. Some of the main causes of constipation are poor diet, insufficient water intake, irregular defecation habit, lack of physical activity, weakness of abdominal muscles, hemorrhoids, stress, intake of certain medications, and laxative abuse.
There are a number of things you can do to relieve constipation, from adjusting your diet to trying a few over-the-counter medications. If you want to know how to relieve constipation and stop feeling uncomfortable, just follow these steps.
Change Your Diet to Relieve Constipation
Hydrate well. Constipation can also be caused by insufficient hydration. Generally drink a minimum of 33-66 ounces (1.5-2 liters) per day, or more depending on your size, the weather, or amount of exercise. Constipation results from a lack of liquid in your stools, and hydrating can help this problem.
- If you are having a bout of constipation, increase your water consumption for 3-4 days, starting with a big glass in the morning and drinking regularly throughout the day.
- In general, you should be drinking at least 10 glasses of warm water daily. Water is one of the best liquids that wash waste and toxins out of the body.
- Other drinks, such as juice and soda, cannot compare regardless of how healthy or natural they are, because they tend to contain excessive sugar that could actually exacerbate constipation.
Add more fiber-rich foods to your diet. Fiber-rich foods are known to help stimulate your bowels. Unfortunately, these foods, such as many fruits and vegetables, often get overlooked in a person’s daily diet. Don’t think of veggies or fruits as optional side dishes, but as crucial parts of every balanced meal. Not only will these foods relieve constipation, but they will also promote digestive health by improving your diet. You should aim for at least 24-38 grams of fiber a day. Here are some foods to add to your diet:
- Avocado, split peas, broccoli, kale, green peas, and lentils.
- Bran cereal, oatmeal, brown rice, and flax seeds.
- Black beans, kidney beans, lima beans, navy beans, pinto beans, and soybeans.
- Raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries, blueberries, and oranges.
- Cabbage and cauliflower.
- Almonds, dried figs, and olives.
- Papaya and peaches.
Take a fiber supplement. Consider taking a fiber supplement even if you think you are able to get that much fiber from your daily meals. Though these supplements aren’t guaranteed to work, they have helped people relieve constipation in some cases. Some processed or synthetic fibers such as Citrucel, Metamucil, or Perdiem can do the trick.
Increase the intensity of fiber. If adding a few fiber-rich foods to your diet doesn’t improve your problem, you can try a three-day fast of a high-fiber vegetable, or substituting one or two of your meals for foods that are entirely fiber-rich. This is not a good long-term solution because a balanced diet does require proteins and carbohydrates as well, but the three-day method can work in a pinch.
- Cabbage is particularly good because it’s not only high in fiber, but it has enzymes which encourage the entire digestive tract to “flush.” This is also a good liver cleanse for a build-up of liver toxins.
- Cabbage can be prepared in a number of ways, including skillet frying, if the oil used is grape-seed oil or olive oil. You should vary your recipes so the three-day fast becomes enjoyable.
Avoid alcohol. Like caffeine, alcohol can dehydrate you and make you more constipated. Limiting or stopping your intake of alcohol can help you relieve your bowels.
Avoid caffeine. Though caffeine can help you relieve your bowels as a quick fix, a long-term use of caffeine can actually cause dehydration and exacerbate your problem.
Avoid foods that cause constipation. Constipation results from over consumption of fats, refined sugar, and dairy in comparison to fiber from whole grains, bran, fruits and vegetables. Avoid foods that are high in sugar, like candy or cookies, as well as too much cheese, white bread, white rice, and hard boiled eggs. You don’t have to cut these foods out of your diet completely, but you should cut down on these foods if you’re having trouble evacuating your bowels. Here are some other foods to avoid:
- Chips and crackers.
- Frozen dinners, which are often high in fat and low in fiber.
- Unripe bananas.
- Fried foods like fries, doughnuts, and onion rings.
- Heavily breaded foods.
- Dairy products like butter, ice cream, cheese, or yogurt.
- Red meat.
Home Remedies for Constipation
Add prunes or prune juice to your diet. Prunes are especially high in fiber and contain sorbitol, a stool-loosening sugar that naturally helps relieve constipation. Sorbitol is a mild colonic stimulant that helps reduce transit time of stool and thus decrease the risk of constipation. If you don’t like the wrinkly texture or unique taste of prunes, prune juice may be a more palatable alternative.
- Prunes are more effective for relieving constipation than prune juice. Prunes have 14.7g of sorbitol per 100g, whereas prune juice has 6.1g per 100g. You will have to drink more prune juice to achieve the same health benefits because the prunes are processed, and you will have to take in additional sugars.
Use lemon. Lemons, or more specifically the juice from lemons, can treat constipation as it stimulates the digestive system and gets things moving . This is one of the simplest and most effective treatments that you can try at home.
- Extract the juice of half a lemon and add it to a glass of warm water. You can also add a pinch of rock salt or one-half teaspoon of table salt and a little honey to it.
- Drink the lemon water first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. You can also drink a glass of this solution in the evening.
- Follow this remedy daily and expect results within a few days.
Take a spoonful of castor oil. Castor oil is a thick, yellowish liquid that has been used to relieve constipation for thousands of years. A spoonful helps the bowels start moving very quickly, and it’s safe for use by both adults and children as long as the recommended dosage is not exceeded. Follow the directions on the bottle or speak with your doctor about the right dosage for you.
- It’s wise not to take castor oil just before bed, since it’s pretty fast-acting. Take it in the morning so you’ll have plenty of time to clear your bowels.
- Castor oil can be chilled and mixed with juice to make it more palatable.
Consume honey. Honey is highly beneficial in relieving constipation as it acts as a mild laxative. You can have it daily to prevent as well as treat constipation.
- Consume two teaspoons of honey three times a day.
- You can also mix one tablespoon each of honey and lemon juice in a glass of warm water. Drink it every morning on an empty stomach.
Consume omega-3 oil. Oil helps to lubricate your intestines, making your stool pass through more easily. Eating plenty of cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, halibut, tuna, and herring is a great way to consume enough fish oil. Fish oil supplements, which come the form of capsules filled with oil, are another good way to make sure you’re getting enough omega-3 oil.
- Unfortunately, some fish that contain beneficial oils also contain high levels of mercury. Salmon and tuna should be eaten in moderation for this reason.
- Check with your doctor before taking fish oil supplements if you have underlying blood-related conditions or you’re on blood-thinning medication.
Eat spinach. Spinach is really good for the digestive tract, especially when you are suffering from constipation. Raw spinach has various components that can cleanse, reconstruct and regenerate the whole intestinal tract.
- To get rid of constipation, you must include spinach in your diet. You can eat it either raw or cooked, depending on how you like it.
- If you have severe constipation, drink a mixture of one-half glass of raw spinach juice and one-half glass of water, twice daily. Within a few days, you will get much relief.
Eat yogurt for breakfast. It contains live bacterial cultures that create the right environment for your digestive system to stay healthy and run on a regular schedule. More study is needed to provide conclusive data that it works, but the cultures in yogurt are thought to alter the microflora in the gut and reduce the amount of time it takes for your food to be digested and move through your system. Try adding a cup of yogurt to your daily diet.
- Check the label on your yogurt to make sure it contains the beneficial bacteria. Not all commercially-produced yogurt has it.
- Other fermented and cultured foods such as kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut also contain beneficial bacteria that may aid in digestion and relieve constipation.
Make barley water. Barley is high in fiber, and you can make a soothing drink called barley water to relieve constipation. Barley water is particularly helpful when you’re so constipated you don’t feel like eating. To make barley water:
- Place 1/2 cup of organic barley in a pot.
- Cover the barley with cold water.
- Bring it to a boil and let it boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Add 2 cups of fresh boiled water to the pot.
- Remove the pot from heat and strain out the barley, keeping the water.
- Add the juice of 3 lemons and sugar to taste.
Drink a dose of epsom salt. The main ingredient in epsom salt is magnesium sulfate, which is a laxative. It helps to draw water into the bowel and soften the stool so it can move through your intestines. Look for epsom salt powder, which can be mixed with water and easily dissolved.
- Talk with your doctor before taking epsom salt if you’re on any kind of medication, since it contraindicates with certain medicines.
- If the epsom salt causes nausea or vomiting, cease using it and talk to your doctor about other options.
Use fenugreek powder. Fenugreek is a seed that acts as a laxative because it contains so much fiber. When it comes into contact with water, it expands, increasing the volume in the bowel and stimulating the intestines to contract and pass the material. No studies have been conducted to give conclusive evidence that fenugreek works.
- Talk with your doctor about dosing. The average dose is 10 to 30 grams taken three times daily, but it depends on the severity of your constipation, your body type, and other factors.
- Side effects can include gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
Make a cup of dandelion tea. Dandelion root that has been dried and made into tea has been an herbal remedy for constipation for centuries. There are no conclusive studies that prove it is effective, but many have found relief from mild constipation when they drink cups of dandelion tea every day. Since dandelion is a safe and beneficial herb, drinking this soothing tea might be worth a try.
- Look for an organic dandelion tea that has been prepackaged, and drink 2 cups per day.
- Alternatively, you can buy loose dried dandelion root and make your own tea. Put a tablespoon of the root into a cup, and pour a cup of boiling water over it. Let it steep for 5 minutes, then strain and enjoy. Add a little honey to counteract the grassy flavor if you’d like.
Lifestyle Changes for Constipation
Stay active. When you’re going through a bout of constipation, try some light exercise instead of sitting down. Just taking a 20 to 30 minute walk can help stimulate your digestive tract. Any form of exercise can help your body promote healthy bowel movements.
- Though you may not have time to go on a bike ride during a bout of constipation, plugging exercise into your weekly routine can help ease your constipation over time.
Heed the call. If your body is telling you that it’s time to have a movement, don’t put it off. Even if it’s only a mild suggestion, you should spend some time in the bathroom, even if you’re in the middle of a busy day. If you ignore your body when it’s telling you to have a movement, this can cause constipation later in the day. You may be ready to have a movement later, but your body won’t be.
Schedule time each day for a bowel movement. Scheduling a time to have a bowel movement promotes regularity and can trigger your body to have a bowel movement. Make time for a bowel movement, whether it’s in the morning, after your afternoon meal, or several times a day that are convenient for you. If you don’t have a regular schedule, your body can be confused and unready to have a movement.
Squat on the toilet. When you sit on the toilet, don’t put your feet on the ground. Instead, lift them up so you’re squatting into the toilet a bit more, or place them on a footstool. This position is ideal for moving your bowels.
Do yoga. Yoga has been known to relieve stress and improve overall digestive health. There are also a few yoga poses that can stimulate the bowels, and holding these poses alone can be effective in relieving your constipation. Here are some poses to try:
- The shoulder stand. Lie on your back and raise your legs straight up in the air, so they’re perpendicular to your torso. Then place your hands on your lower back, using your arms to support your legs as you straighten your spine.
- The wind-relieving pose. Lie flat on your back. Bend one knee and extend it to your chest, holding it for ten seconds. Then switch and do this with the other knee. Alternate between knees at least five to ten times.
Do daily acupressure. Massaging or pressing a few key pressure points in your body with a free hand or just two fingers can help stimulate your colon and relieve constipation. Try applying pressure to the following points:
- The outer end of the elbow crease.
- The highest spot of the muscle on the back of the hand that sticks out when you bring your index finger and thumb close together.
- Directly below the bellybutton.
Find something about knee-high with handles you can grab. Position it so the handles are right above your toes. Two tall, wooden stools might work. Grab the handles and press down for stability and strength while trying to move your bowels.
How to Relieve Constipation in More Difficult Cases
Use a rectal glycerin suppository. This suppository works by drawing water into the intestines. This usually results in a bowel movement within 15 minutes to an hour. This method is not meant to be used often, but is a measure to be taken in more extreme cases. Follow the directions on the label and don’t use it more often than recommended.
Take a stimulant laxative. Some stimulant laxatives, such as Ex-Lax, can also help relieve constipation. However, these should only be used in a pinch, and for no longer than two weeks without consulting your doctor. Regular use of laxatives can actually cause dependence, weaken your bones, and may even cause constipation.
Take a saline (osmotic) laxative. You should not take these types of laxatives if you’re on a sodium-restricted diet or if you have high blood pressure or kidney problems. Some saline laxatives include Fleet Phospho-Soda, Milk of Magnesia, lactulose, and Miralax. These laxatives don’t irritate the colons or cause dependence like stimulant laxatives can.
Be wary of painkillers. Painkillers, especially narcotic ones such as hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lorcet, Norco) and oxycodone (Percocet and Oxycontin), can cause constipation. Though you shouldn’t stop taking painkillers just to relieve constipation if you really need them, talk to a doctor about alternatives.
Know when to talk to your doctor. Though constipation is a common problem that can affect 15-20% of Americans, if your constipation lingers for three weeks or more, you should see a doctor because it could be a sign of more serious digestive conditions. Here are some other reasons to see your doctor:
- You have severe constipation and have never been constipated before.
- You have blood in your stools.
- You’re bleeding frequently from straining.
- You’ve lost weight without trying.
Related Video: How to Relieve Constipation Naturally
- Never hold it when you need to go. The worst thing to do is keep it in your body.
- Some anti-depressants can cause constipation. Prozac, for instance, is known as being a source of constipation problems for a number of its users.
- Some episodes of constipation can signal serious intestinal or colonic problems. Long-lasting constipation should be referred to a doctor.
- Laxatives can be too harsh and stressful for your body to take on a regular basis, may cause stomach cramps. Consult your medical provider for guidance before using.
- Drink lots of water, eat vegetables, and exercise daily.
- Have a warm bath! Lie in it and relax.
- Eat a high fiber diet.
- Avoid eating food high in fat and sodium, as this makes it harder to pass stools.
- Go when you have the urge.
- Do not strain while passing motions! Try letting your body relax and clear your bowels naturally. If your body is not cooperating, take a laxative and try again later.
- Get plenty of exercise.