If you suffer from hard or lumpy stools, have infrequent bowel movements or strain every time you go to the bathroom, you’re not alone.
Approximately 42 million Americans suffer from chronic constipation. This uncomfortable and sometimes painful condition is so common as to be considered normal and results in over $1 billion being spent on laxatives every year. Fortunately, constipation can often be cured at home with simple remedies and lifestyle changes.
Bump Up Your Fiber Intake
Most Americans get less than half the recommended amount of fiber per day, and constipation is a common result. Slowly increasing your intake of foods like beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, barley, and oats adds soluble fiber to your diet. This type of fiber softens stool and makes it easier to pass.
Drink More Water
As food makes its way through your large intestine during the last phases of digestion, water is drawn out. Having less water in your body means more gets absorbed from what you eat, resulting in hard, dry stools. Between eating too many processed foods and not drinking enough water, it’s easy to become dehydrated without realizing it.
Make it a habit to sip water throughout the day. Staying hydrated keeps digestion moving along smoothly and is essential if you start to take in more fiber. Too much fiber with too little water may have the opposite effect and make constipation worse.
Enjoy a Cup of Coffee
If you’re a coffee lover, this constipation remedy may come as a welcome surprise. Caffeinated coffee can be up to 60 percent more effective at relieving constipation than water alone. Caffeine acts as a stimulant to “jump start” your digestive system and move stool out of your colon. Just make sure you’re not far from a restroom if you try this remedy. It can work very quickly, especially if you’re not used to consuming caffeinated beverages.
Drink Ginger Tea
Ginger stimulates peristalsis, the contractions responsible for moving food through the digestive tract. Unlike the action of over-the-counter laxatives, ginger works gently and doesn’t cause cramps, gas, or abdominal pain. To relieve constipation, add fresh ginger root to food when cooking, or cut slices and steep them in boiling water to make a tea. High-quality bagged ginger tea can also have the same effect.
Snack on Prunes
You may have heard about this constipation treatment from your grandmother, but it’s not just a folk remedy. Drinking prune juice or eating whole prunes really does make trips to the bathroom easier. Prunes contain not only fiber but also sorbitol, a sugar alcohol with a natural laxative effect, making them a more effective remedy than fiber alone. Try drinking four to eight ounces of prune juice in the morning to relieve constipation, or snack on a serving of prunes during the day.
Break Up with FODMAPs
People who suffer from IBS with constipation or have persistent problems with bloating, stomach cramps, pain, or constipation may have an intolerance to FODMAPS. Short for fermentable oligo-saccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, FODMAPS are short-chain carbohydrates to which some people are sensitive. They’re found in foods like fruit, vegetables, dairy, gluten-containing grains, and beans. If you experience discomfort every time you eat these types of foods, try following a low-FODMAP diet for several weeks to see if your constipation resolves.
Lactose intolerance is a common condition, and symptoms can include constipation. Since it isn’t an allergy, you can’t get tested for it, but it’s not hard to identify. Discomfort comes on quickly after consuming dairy products, especially milk.
For persistent constipation, cut out all dairy products for at least two weeks and monitor how you feel. Be sure to read labels for hidden dairy. Milk will be noted as a potential allergen underneath the nutrition facts and ingredient list.
Power Up with Probiotics
Eating fermented foods like sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, or non-dairy yogurt with active cultures improves the balance of bacteria in your gut and can lead to better bowel movements. Science is only beginning to uncover the full impact of beneficial gut bacteria on health, but one known role is the fermentation of fiber.
When the bacteria in your colon break down the fiber in your food, they produce compounds like short-chain fatty acids. These improve the health of your colon, helping to promote better digestion and prevent constipation. Since probiotic supplements may not always contain the full number of live bacteria listed on the label, aim to get your probiotics from food instead.
Engage in Regular Exercise
Movement promotes increased muscle activity, including in your gut. Have you ever noticed how passing out on the couch after a big Thanksgiving meal makes you feel even more sluggish and heavy? Heading out for a brisk walk is a better choice and can help you stay comfortably regular.
Incorporate movement into your daily routine with a regular exercise regimen and occasional breaks from work to stretch or walk. This not only helps with constipation but also improves the overall health of your body.
Cut Out Junk Foods
Make room in your diet for more fiber-rich foods by eliminating processed foods, fast food, and fried food. These not only contain little to no fiber, but also have a negative effect on the health of your digestive tract. The more junk you eat, the fewer healthy foods make their way onto your plate and the more likely you are to be constipated. Junk food also tends to be high in sodium, and this can contribute to dehydration.
If constipation persists even after home treatment with one or more of these remedies, talk to your doctor. Chronic constipation can result in complications like hemorrhoids, fecal impaction, bloating, and rectal bleeding, or it may be a sign of a more serious condition. Severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and bloating along with constipation can indicate an intestinal blockage. If you experience these symptoms, skip the home remedies and head straight to the ER.