Passing hard, dry stool is painful. It hurts when it blocks your bowels and when it is difficult to pass. Changes to your diet and lifestyle are usually enough to soften stools, but there are other natural methods and medical treatments you may wish to try if dietary solutions don’t fix the problem.
How to Soften Stool Through Diet
Drink enough water. Dehydration can cause your body to extract more water as foods move through your digestive tract, producing hard, dry stool. Drinking enough water will soften your stool and help things move through your digestive tract more easily.
- You should drink at least 8 glasses water per day. However, that may not be enough for you, depending on your activity level.
- If you have frequent headaches, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, don’t sweat much, pass dark or cloudy urine, and don’t urinate often, you are probably not getting enough water.
Eat enough fiber. Fiber is the indigestible material in plant foods. Your body passes them through without absorbing them. This means that they help produce soft stool which is easy to pass. In order to soften your stool, you should eat 20-40 mg of fiber each day.
- Water soluble fiber turns into a gel-like material in water. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve. You need both water soluble and insoluble fiber.
- Many plants have both soluble and insoluble fiber, you can get both by eating lots of different grains and vegetables.
- You can get soluble fiber in oats, beans, peas, apples, carrots, citrus fruits, and barley.
- Insoluble fiber is found in nuts, beans, wheat bran, and vegetables like green beans and cauliflower.
- Eating more fiber can be more effective if you drink extra water.
Eat foods that have laxative effects. These foods have sorbitol. Sorbitol draws water into the stool, making it soft and easy to pass.
- Some of the foods that have laxative effects are prunes, plums, peaches, pears, strawberries, raspberries, spinach, beans, and peas.
Promote healthy digestion with supplements. Consult your doctor before using supplements, because some supplements may change how your body processes some medicines.
- Probiotic supplements: Taking probiotics may help if you are experiencing cycles of diarrhea and constipation or irritable bowel syndrome.
- Fiber supplements: Fiber supplements make your stool softer, bulkier, and easier to pass. Look for ones with psyllium, methylcellulose, calcium polycarbophil, and guar gum as active ingredients (FiberCon, Metamucil, Konsyl, and Citrucel).
Eat yogurt. Your digestive tract needs the right balance of microbes to efficiently digest your food. When this microbe community gets out of balance, it can make you constipated and interfere with the absorption of nutrients. Live culture yogurt can help restore and rebalance your gut bacteria.
- Eat a single-serving cup of yogurt each day.
- You can also add a daily probiotic supplement to your morning routine.
- Other foods rich in probiotics include kefir, sauerkraut, and Kombucha tea.
Drink a cup of coffee. Coffee can have a laxative effect, which can stimulate your bowels.
- If you already drink coffee you may either need a bit more, or your body may be too habituated for it to provide relief.
Avoid drinks that dehydrate. You should avoid drinks that dehydrate you, because even mild dehydration can harden your stool.
- This includes anything containing alcohol or caffeine.
- Avoid iced coffees and soda that contain caffeine.
- A single cup of hot coffee consumed with plenty of water can act as an intestinal stimulant, but too much caffeinated coffee can harden stools.
- You should also stay away from all wines, beers, and hard liquors.
Give yourself time on the toilet after each meal. You can simultaneously do relaxation techniques to promote bowel movements.
- Put your feet on a low stool, so your knees are above your hips. This may make the bowel movement easier.
Eat frequent small meals. Eating regularly will provide your digestive tract with continuous, low level stimulation and promote regular contractions.
- Eating too fast makes you more likely to overeat, overwhelming your digestive system. Eat slowly to give your body time to process your food.
- Chew your food thoroughly to promote easy digestion.
Avoid foods that may cause constipation. Many of these foods are high in sugar and fat, but low in fiber. This causes you to feel full before you’ve eaten enough fiber. These foods are:
- Prepackaged, processed foods
- Milk and cheese
- Pastries, puddings, candy and cake
Reduce stress. Stress can cause constipation and diarrhea, both of which may accompany hard, dry stools. Try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga and massage.
- You can also listen to relaxing music to reduce stress.
Exercise regularly. Exercise can stimulate your bowels to contract, moving food through your digestive system. Sometimes this works surprisingly quickly.
- Exercise for at least 30 minutes per day. The activity should be strenuous enough to increase your heart rate like fast walking, running, swimming, or biking.
- If you have other health concerns that might make exercise inadvisable, talk to your doctor first.
Using Medications to Soften Stool
Consult your doctor. Your doctor may recommend either over-the-counter medicines or prescribe something stronger. See your doctor right away if you have:
- Severe weight loss
- Rectal bleeding
- Severe abdominal pain
Consider stool softeners. These medications take moisture out of the intestines and use it to make your stool wetter.
- Drink an extra few glasses to water each day when you take them.
- Common stool softeners include Colace and Surfak.
Lubricate your bowels with mineral oil. Consult your doctor to determine what the right dose is for you.
- It will work within the next 6-8 hours.
- Wait at least two hours after eating because it may prevent you from fully absorbing the nutrients.
- Do not take mineral oil if you are pregnant, as it may prevent the uptake of nutrients and cause bleeding in the newborn if taken for a long time.
- Do not take it while lying in bed, because if you accidentally inhale some of it, it can cause pneumonia in your lungs.
Try stimulant laxatives. Stimulant laxatives are useful if your stool is soft enough to pass, but your intestines aren’t contracting to move it through. These medications stimulate contractions and should work within 12 hours. Common ones include:
Use osmotic laxatives. Osmotic laxatives work by generating more liquid in your intestines. This will also stimulate your intestines to contract and move stool along, though it may take a few days. Common ones are:
Remove a fecal impaction. If your rectum is blocked with hard, dry stool, you can get relief from a suppository or enema.
- An enema is a liquid medication that is introduced into the large intestine via the anus. This should be done by the doctor.
- A suppository is a capsule of medication that you put in your anus where it dissolves and is absorbed.
- Add fiber to your diet slowly since adding too much at once can cause severe discomfort and bloating.
- Do not take any medications, including over-the-counter medications without consulting your doctor if you are pregnant.
- If you are already on other medications, herbal remedies, or supplements, contact your doctor to ask if these medications could interact.
- Avoid using stool softeners and other laxatives too often. Your body can become dependent on them, which can actually lead to problems like chronic constipation.
- To prevent problems or complications, you should empty your bowels as soon as you have the urge and/or opportunity to do so.