Constipation is one of the most common health complaints nutritionists hear when speaking with their clients.
So, if you’re backed up more often than you’d like to admit, don’t worry – you’re not alone!
Constipation is a digestive symptom that prevents you from daily bowel movements (BMs), and may be accompanied with abdominal pain and discomfort.
Constipation is typically linked to dietary factors, such as eating too many processed foods and sugar or not drinking enough water.
But constipation can also be caused by emotional distress.
From a natural health perspective, you’re considered constipated if you’re not having two to three quality bowel movements per day. Yes, that’s per day – not per week!
Unfortunately, rather than first looking to natural remedies, constipation is commonly treated with over-the-counter laxatives to help increase the frequency of BMs.
But using laxatives to promote BMs can actually worsen constipation – and do your colon more harm than good.
Even though laxatives can trigger a series of spasms in the colon to eject the stool, they don’t actually address why constipation is occurring in the first place.
I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for laxatives, but whenever possible, I recommend avoiding them and trying natural cures for constipation instead.
Using laxatives on a regular basis can create a dependency on them, which only makes pooping naturally more difficult.
Meet the doctors
We asked real doctors about real home remedies for fast constipation relief. In this article we have compiled their responses so that you can better understand the causes of constipation, how to prevent the problem, what you can do for relief and when to seek medical attention.
- Kristin Struble, MD, FAAP
- Talar Tejirian, MD, FACS
- Dr. Keesha Ewers
- Marianne Ryan PT, OCS
- Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
- Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT of Healthline
What are the primary causes of constipation?
Dairy. Cow’s milk and dairy products are largely responsible for our constipation epidemic. Contrary to popular belief, our bones won’t crumble without them. In fact, there are studies showing excluding them makes our bones stronger.
Medications are a big contributor as well: aluminum-containing antacids, high blood pressure medications, antidepressants, anti-seizure medication, opioids like codeine and morphine, antihistamines like Claritan and Zyrtec, iron supplements, anti-nausea medications, just to name a few.
There are many different causes of constipation. The most common cause is dietary, specifically not having enough fiber intake. However there are many other causes and contributing factors such as thyroid problems, diabetes, certain medications, increasing age and not getting enough exercise.
It is less common, but still possible to have a physical problem involving the intestines, the anal and rectal area, or the muscles that control pooping. Adding to this are the incorrect bathroom habits that have become part of our culture that contribute to the countless people that suffer from constipation.
Hormones in pregnant, menopausal and postpartum women as well as poor diet and behaviors. Incorrect defecation posture and positioning can also contribute. ~Marianne Ryan PT, OCS
Unbalanced Diet: Dairy, refined and processed foods, fried foods and others that cause occasional constipation, when consumed excessively, can lead to chronic constipation. Medications: Certain medications may cause chronic constipation. Be sure to read the side effects on labels. Inactivity and Lack of Exercise: Staying active and fit is one of the best ways to prevent and relieve occasional constipation. Altered Bowel Habits: Holding in bowel movements or just ignoring the urge to go is one of the most common causes of occasional constipation. Rarely holding it in won’t cause any long-term problems, but doing so frequently may be creating a bit of a traffic jam in your intestinal tract.
Stress: If you don’t find a way to reduce your daily stress you may end up experiencing constipation. We all encounter stress throughout our day and react to it differently. Get the stress relief you need before it becomes a compounded problem.
Constipation can have any number of root causes. A primary cause of constipation is a diet consisting of foods high in fat and sugar. This type of diet deprives the intestines of dietary fiber that helps promote bowel movements. Other dietary causes of constipation include not drinking enough fluids, or eating large amounts of dairy products. Disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), anal fissures or hemorrhoids, intestinal obstructions, and pelvic floor problems can also cause constipation. It can also be caused by a variety of medicines, such as pain medication, anti-depressives, and antacids.
Poor bathroom habits are another cause. It’s important to go poop when you first have the urge. Delaying it causes more fluids (and salts) to be absorbed out of the stool in the lower intestine, so it just gets harder. Most people get constipated if they get too busy to go to the bathroom, especially kids.
There seems to be a general consensus among our doctors about the causes of constipation. We can sum up these causes as being related to the following:
- Poop posture
When should I seek medical attention?
Make sure the medical intervention is with a functional medicine provider, otherwise you will just get a prescription for a laxative. Seek medical attention if:
- you have not passed a bowel movement in over three days
- there is blood in your stool
- you are having other symptoms such as abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, and gas.
People, especially older adults, often believe they are constipated when they aren’t. Bowel habits do change with age. The normal range for bowel movements can be from three times per day to three times per week. If you believe you have chronic constipation, consult your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
Call your doctor if:
- constipation is new for you
- constipation has persisted more than three weeks and you’re going three times a week or less
- your stool is hard and difficult to pass
- you’re losing weight without trying
- you have severe pain with defecating
- you have blood in your stool
See your doctor to rule out more serious conditions like colorectal cancer or colon inertia. Your doctor may suggest medication to help overcome occasional constipation. ~Healthline
Even though many people’s constipation is not a sign of an underlying problem, sometimes it can be. Therefore it is important to see your doctor with all your health concerns. You should never be embarrassed to discuss constipation, problems pooping, or booty problems with your doctor. Seeing a physician knowledgeable with these problems to discuss your symptoms and get a good exam is invaluable. There are some symptoms that may require additional investigating or testing. These symptoms include a change in your bowel habits (such as thinning stool, constipation, diarrhea) , blood in the stool, any problems in the anal area such as pain, bleeding, itching or a mass, no improvement in constipation with fiber and water, weight loss, or abdominal pain. Basically, anything that is a new or different problem needs to be discussed with your doctor. Additionally, if your doctor gives you a treatment plan that doesn’t work, then you need to report back and let her or him know. ~Dr. Tejirian
All of these are urgent reasons to visit a health care professional:
- if you or your family member have large stools (common clue: often large enough to clog the toilet)
- if consistently straining to go, if with wiping blood is seen on the toilet paper or in poop
- if stool consistently becomes pencil-shaped or watery diarrhea
- if the stool turns black or white
- if unintentional weight loss occurs
- if chronic abdominal pain is affecting ones quality of life
If you experience severe abdominal pain, especially if it intense enough to make you doubled over, with 10/10 pain, especially if associated with vomiting (green vomit in particular) seek emergent medical attention. ~Dr. Struble
If you are occasionally struggling to poop, try some of these home remedies. If your constipation problems are more severe and associated with intense pain or if you see blood or strange colors in your stools, it’s probably time to seek medical attention.
They say the best defense is a strong offense. Preventing constipation is always easier than treating it. But if you find yourself in the painful clutches of constipation, try some of these home remedies for fast relief. Doctor’s orders.
DISCLAIMER: As always, seek the advice of your own qualified physician or other healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding symptoms or a medical condition.
We want to say thank you to our contributing doctors and medical professionals for this article. Learn more about each one below!
Dr. Keesha Ewers is board certified in functional medicine and Ayurvedic medicine, as well as being a doctor of sexology, psychotherapist, and founder of the Academy for Integrative Medicine where she offers a certification course for those passionate about and wanting to become Integrative Medicine Health Coaches.
Talar Tejirian, MD, FACS is a board-certified surgeon and integrative proctologist. She is also the founder of BootyMD, a non-profit health education organization.
As the fastest growing consumer health information site — with 65 million monthly visits — Healthline’s mission is to be your most trusted ally in your pursuit of health and well-being. Healthline provides expert content along with genuine caring to support, guide, and inspire you toward the best possible health outcomes for you and your family. Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT was our contributing medical expert.
MARIANNE RYAN PT, OCS is a physical therapist and board-certified orthopedic clinical specialist. She is the owner and Clinical Director of Marianne Ryan Physical Therapy in New York City and award-winning author of Baby Bod – Turn Flab to Fab in 12 Weeks Flat.
Dr. Edward F. Group III founded Global Healing Center in 1998 which earned recognition as one of the largest natural and organic health resources in the world. Dr. Group is a veteran of the United States Army and has attended both Harvard and MIT business schools. He is a best-selling author and a frequent guest on radio and television programs, documentary films, and in major publications.
What Is Healthy Poop?
When you think of what healthy poop looks like, think of big brown bananas.
Poop that takes form in an “S” shape is also considered healthy, and is a sign that you’re getting enough fiber and water in your diet.
Your stool should also sink, not float. If your stool floats, it’s a sign that your body isn’t absorbing fats properly, or that you may have too much fat in your diet.
The texture of your poop should be smooth, medium-brown color in color and effortless to pass, without any pain.
If your poop is difficult to pass, resembles rabbit pellets, or has a “cracked” texture – and is only making an appearance once every few days – you have signs of constipation that can be fixed with natural remedies.
Besides, how good does it feel to have a glorious poop first thing in the morning? Talk about starting your day off right!
Here are my top three cures for constipation while improving your overall health.
More Natural Ways to Cure Constipation
As you can see, fiber, water and healthy fats are the first places to look to when relieving constipation naturally. But there are a few other ways to help promote regular bowel movements such as:
Sometimes, all it takes is a little movement to get things moving. If you’re in a sedentary position for most of the day, this is especially important.
It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you do, although aerobic exercise is the most effective way to shake things up. Even a brisk walk or taking the stairs instead of the elevator counts.
Chew Your Food
It almost sounds too simple, but a contributing factor to constipation is not chewing your food properly! After all, what good is fiber to your body if it hasn’t been chewed?
When you don’t chew your food properly, it makes its way through your digestive tract in large chunks, which creates extra work for your body to break down and eliminate.
Poorly chewed food may prevent you from having healthy bowel movements.
It’s easy to forget to chew your food properly when you’re on the go, and rushing just to get some food into your mouth.
But spending a few extra seconds with each bite goes a long way when it comes to efficient digestion. And yes, even liquids (such as smoothies) need to be chewed.
Drink Lemon Water
Not only does having a glass of lemon water on an empty stomach increase your daily water intake, but it also helps increase the release of hydrochloric acid in your stomach.
Hydrochloric acid (or HCl) is the digestive juice that your body secretes to break down food and prepare it for digestion.
For this reason, adding lemon juice to your water can be helpful for promoting intestinal peristalsis, improving digestion and encouraging regular bowel movements.
Let Go of Emotional Baggage
From a holistic standpoint, each health symptom has an underlying emotional, or psycho-spiritual, component.
It’s suggested that constipation may be a sign of holding on to old resentment, experiences, or negative emotions.
The process of finding out whether emotional pain is a contributing factor to constipation will be different for each person.
It can be helpful to begin by writing in a journal without editing or censoring your thoughts to see what comes up.
Home Remedies That Work
Want to know my 10 go-to natural remedies, that I use at home to keep me and my family healthy (and drug free)? You can download Healthy Home Remedies now – for FREE – by clicking the banner below.
First, know that regular molasses just wont cut it. Normal molasses is made from cane sugar juice boiled until it crystallizes. After boiling it three times, blackstrap molasses is the product. There are tons of vitamins and minerals found in blackstrap molasses, including the basic ability to get rid of constipation quick and fast. The mineral that helps you poop in specific, is magnesium. This compound is also very tasty, making it a prime option for those dealing with constipation. Take a teaspoon of blackstrap molasses and optionally mix it with some warm water to produce a nice drink. Start slow as to not overload your digestive tract, and eventually your constipation will be cured.
Hundreds of thousands of people require to just get through a tough Monday. Little did they know caffeine can help you poop. Simply, the smell of coffee can perk many people up and wake them up naturally. This is a great natural stool softener as it is a diuretic and causes frequent urination, which can also lead to the peak of constipation. Just drink a cup, or two if you’re used to the caffeine, and wait around 30 minutes. For some reason, whenever I drink coffee right after eating morning waffles, I have to go literally an hour later. It seems that the combination of the caffeine and high fiber and carbs works amazingly well. You may want to try this method too!
Many readers may already know about this one. To get stuff moving through your body faster, try moving your body. I’m not saying to do a bunch of cartwheels, but simply taking a 10 minute walk can help ease constipation. There isn’t a scientific reason for this, but the idea is that it helps contract colon muscles and encourages your food to move on through. There are tons of workouts and exercises to get rid of constipation immediately. Try some push up, situps, or even jogging in place. I recommend waiting longer than an hour to try these stretches after eating. Since humans have a tendency to sit for long periods of time, sometimes even just standing up can get the ball rolling.
There are tons of food which express large amounts of fiber. Tons of natural diets include these foods for the simple reason of clearing out the stomach. Not only will it improve your overall health, it will also promote great stomach digestion. Many fruits and vegetables are great at relieving constipation overnight. Grains are especially full of fiber. Fiber can lead to better digestion and eventually a trip to the bathroom. Fiber is a great herbal laxative and probably the best home remedy for constipation. Fiber acts as a sponge, sucking up the water around it, making it swell and acts as a stool softener. Many of these foods work amazingly well at reducing constipation:
Aim to eat at least of one of these foods per day to increase your bowel movements and to improve the quality of them. Many of these foods are also great for your health and longevity, which will improve your life within a few weeks. Instead of eating snack that are high in sugar and fructose, try to switch out for some of the fruits and vegetables in the list above. I find that the last 4, which happen to start with the letter “P”, work better than those at the top of the list.
What Causes Constipation in Pregnancy?
Constipation can be quite unpleasant, but unfortunately extremely common during pregnancy. As your belly gets bigger the pressure of your growing uterus on your rectum only exacerbates the issue.
There are a number of reasons that could be the cause of your pregnancy constipation.
It might even be a combination of them:
- Progesterone levels: What can’t you blame on hormones? Progesterone levels are elevated during pregnancy, and this hormone is known to relax the muscles in the digestive tract, causing bowels to pass slowly through the intestines (source).
- Iron supplements: Although iron is an important nutrient during pregnancy, constipation can be a side effect of getting too much. Iron supplements are notorious for causing GI upsets, so you may need to speak with your midwife or doctor about switching to a prenatal vitamin with less iron. You may even be better off getting iron strictly from foods if you continue to have problems.
- Dehydration: Pregnancy makes you more prone to dehydration, as your body is using more water to help form the placenta and amniotic sac. If you’re dehydrated, your body struggles to perform routine functions, and it can even lead to some severe complications.
- Lack of activity: As your belly gets bigger, it can become harder to stay active, or at least stay motivated, which is important for keeping you regular.
- Stress: Pregnancy can be a stressful time, especially as you get closer and closer to your due date. Your brain and your gut talk back and forth, and stress can start holding everything up.
There’s also a chance your constipation may not be pregnancy-related at all and could be due to a low-fiber diet, too much dairy, or a new medication.
Some foods you should stay away from if you are suffering from constipation include bananas, fried foods, potato chips, red meat, white bread, white rice, and dairy products.
What Are Some Natural Constipation Remedies?
If you find yourself having difficulty going to the toilet, you may need to try these ten pregnancy-safe home remedies to get things moving again.
- Plenty of Fluids: Drinking lots of water throughout the day will help flush things through. Make sure you’re getting at least ten 8-ounce glasses of water a day to replace lost fluids.
- Get Moving: Moving helps things get moving! Walking, swimming, and yoga are all great exercises for your pregnant body.
- Warm Bath: A nice warm soak will help relax your stomach muscles and will encourage stools to move through.
- Increase Fiber Intake: High-fiber foods help remove undigested food from your intestines and into the toilet. Broccoli, berries, beans, brown rice, and green leafy vegetables all work wonders to help you go.
- Drink Lemon Water: Take the juice from half a lemon, mix it into a glass of water, and drink before you go to bed. The water helps soften the stool, and the lemon has a high acidic content, which works on the GI tract to get things moving (source).
- Eat ‘P’ Foods: Many ‘P’ foods contain sorbitol, which acts as a natural laxative. Pears, prunes, peaches, peas, and pumpkin all work great for remedying constipation. I would drink a glass of prune juice when I would get backed up when I was pregnant with baby No. 2, and it worked every time.
- Up Your Vitamin C: High doses of vitamin C is known to loosen the bowels. Try eating foods that are high in vitamin C, like broccoli, bell peppers, and strawberries, or add in a supplement. Be sure not go over 2,000 milligrams per day though, including your prenatal vitamin (source).
- Add in Some Probiotics: The probiotic strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium encourage healthy bowels and help regulate the digestive system. Yogurt and kefir are both great options for adding in some healthy gut bacteria to your diet.
- Magnesium: Magnesium directs water to the stools, making them softer and easier to pass. Be sure you’re getting 350 milligrams per day by eating magnesium-rich foods, such as dark chocolate, spinach, nuts, and fish (source).
- Use a Squatty Potty: The angle makes all the difference when it comes to pooping, and the squatty potty puts your body into a natural squatting position that helps prevent straining, constipation, and even hemorrhoids. Plus, it also helps you with getting ready to push during labor!
Continue to drink lots of fluids, stay active, and consume foods with fiber, probiotics, and magnesium throughout your pregnancy. These are vital for a healthy pregnancy and will help prevent your constipation from returning.
Are There Any OTC Medications I Can Take?
If home remedies aren’t working for you, you may need to talk with your doctor or midwife about trying a laxative or stool softener.
Here are some over-the-counter medications that are generally considered safe to take during pregnancy and your provider may suggest (source):
- Colace (docusate sodium): Your doctor will most likely have you try a stool softener, like Colace, first before turning to laxatives. The active ingredient in stool softeners is minimally absorbed by the body, so there is very little chance it could pass to or harm your baby in any way.
- Milk of Magnesia (magnesium hydroxide): This is a mild laxative you may need to try if a stool softener alone doesn’t do the trick. Milk of Magnesia may have a yucky taste, but it works like a charm for many expecting moms.
- Metamucil (psyllium): Metamucil is another safe option your provider may suggest. It is a bulk-producing laxative that draws water into the stools, making them softer and easier to pass. It’s also used as a fiber supplement.
Bisacodyl (Dulcolax) and senna are both stimulant laxatives that have been found to be safe in pregnancy. Because they are stimulants, though, they can cause diarrhea and can lead to dehydration so use them sparingly (source).
Christine Traxler, MD, OB/GYN
What Medications Should I Avoid?
Always be sure to avoid polyethylene glycol and magnesium citrate while expecting, as these are considered category C drugs and could potentially harm your baby.
Castor oil should also be avoided, as it can cause irregular and painful contractions, which can be stressful on mom and baby, and possibly even lead to labor. It may also cause your baby to pass meconium before delivery, which often leads to complications after birth (source).