Constipation is a common problem. There is some evidence to suggest that olive oil may help to relieve it and aid bowel movements.

The definition of constipation is a person having fewer than three bowel movements per week, or their bowel movements are dry, hard, small, or difficult to pass. It is a common digestive problem that can affect people of all ages.

For thousands of years, people have used olive oil for its nutritional, health, and other benefits. Researchers link olive oil to lower rates of heart disease, cholesterol, obesity, and many other conditions.

This article explains whether people can use olive oil to relieve constipation.

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When stools are hard and dry, they do not move easily through the bowel. This is constipation. Olive oil may be a safe and healthy way to get stools moving again and relieve constipation.

The fats in olive oil can help smooth the insides of the bowel, making it easier for stools to pass. It can also help the stool hold in more water, keeping it softer.

How to use olive oil for constipation

One tablespoon of olive oil, taken on an empty stomach in the morning, may relieve constipation for many healthy adults.

However, people should not take more than one tablespoonful, as this can lead to diarrhea and cramps.

Constipation is common among people who are undergoing dialysis. An older study of 50 people published in the Journal of Renal Nutrition in 2015 found that olive oil, flaxseed oil, and mineral oil were all equally effective at relieving symptoms in this group. The people took 4 milliliters (ml) of olive oil per day.

Can children use olive oil?

Babies and children with constipation should not take olive oil.

Instead, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a small amount of apple or pear juice, Karo syrup, or pureed prunes for infants.

Toddlers and older children may get relief with high fiber foods such as prunes, apricots, and whole grain cereals.

If dietary changes do not help, children should see a doctor for additional treatment.

Learn more about olive oil.

Olive oil is helpful for constipation and appears to have other health benefits. It is a staple in the Mediterranean diet, and this diet links to a lower risk of certain diseases and longer life.

Olive oil contains phenolic compounds with anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant effects.

It may help lower the risk of degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson’s disease, as well as diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, and arthritis.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends taking olive oil for better heart health due to its heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.

Olive oil also contains vitamin E, an important nutrient that helps prevent the production of free radicals and supports the immune system, among other functions.

Although different kinds of olive oil are available in stores, extra virgin olive oil may have the most health benefits. An oil labeled “extra virgin” means pressing the fruit to extract the oil.

Other types, like “light” olive oil, use chemicals or other processes. This can refine and filter out some of the natural olive compounds.

Using oils for constipation relief is not a new trend. Castor oil has been used for years to treat constipation, though its action differs from olive oil’s mild effects.

Castor oil affects the muscles in the intestines, causing them to contract and move. This often stimulates the bowel to pass stools.

Mineral oil and flaxseed oil help soften the stool in a similar manner to olive oil.

Lifestyle choices that can help prevent constipation or improve symptoms of mild constipation include:

  • drinking more water
  • getting more exercise
  • eating more fiber

If these measures do not provide enough relief, over-the-counter laxatives may help.

Laxative medication

Many treatment options are available and work in different ways to relieve constipation:

  • Fiber supplements: These add bulk to stool and make it easier to pass. Examples include Citrucel, FiberCon, and Metamucil.
  • Stool softeners: These help get fluid into the stool and help after surgery or childbirth. Examples include docusate sodium (Colace).
  • Osmotic laxatives: These help the intestine hold more fluid rather than absorb it. This helps soften stools. Examples include Milk of Magnesia, Miralax, and Sorbitol.
  • Lubricants: These help make the stool more slippery so it can easily pass out of the colon. Olive oil is a lubricant when people use it as a laxative. Other lubricants include mineral oil, Fleet, and Zymenol.
  • Stimulant laxatives: These cause contractions and movement in the bowel. In general, people should only use these with more serious cases of constipation and under a doctor’s guidance. Examples include Correctol, Bisacodyl, and Senocot.

People should use laxatives in moderation unless a doctor says otherwise. With frequent use, the bowel can become dependent on it for stimulating its muscles.

People who feel they cannot have a bowel movement without taking a laxative should talk with a doctor. The doctor can advise on stopping laxatives and finding other ways to relieve constipation.

Treating occasional constipation with olive oil or another product may help avoid discomfort and has health benefits.

Long-term constipation can be a sign of another health problem, or it may be a reaction to certain medications.

For people whose bowel movements change suddenly, if symptoms are severe, or if stools are consistently hard, dry, or painful to pass, the individual should ask their doctor for advice.

If constipation lasts for several weeks or longer, long-term health problems can develop.

These include:

  • hemorrhoids (piles, enlarged veins in the anus that can cause pain, irritation, bleeding, and itching
  • small tears in the anus that can cause pain or itching
  • a large mass of stool becoming stuck in the rectum
  • a rectal prolapse, where the rectum slips out of its usual position

If constipation persists, it is important to seek medical help. It may be a sign of an underlying condition.

A person with constipation may have a bowel movement every day, but their stools are dry and hard. Others may only have bowel movements three times a week but have regular and soft stools.

The hardness and consistency of stool may be a better signal of constipation than the frequency of bowel movements.

Constipation is a common problem. It can happen when a person is traveling or has a change in routine. Certain foods can result in harder bowel movements in the short term.

Constipation is not usually serious, but it is often uncomfortable. It can cause stomach pain, bloating, and nausea. Short-term constipation typically goes away on its own after the person returns to normal routines and eating habits.

Anyone with long-term constipation should ask a doctor for advice.

A wide variety of factors can lead to constipation.

Some of the most common include:

  • hormonal changes, for example, during pregnancy or after delivery
  • the use of certain medications, including water pills, antacids, prescription pain relievers, antidepressants, and iron supplements
  • having too little fiber in the diet
  • a lack of exercise
  • certain health problems, such as an underactive thyroid or diabetes
  • problems with the digestive system, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • recent surgery
  • ignoring the urge to use the bathroom

Sometimes, there may be no clear cause. Constipation is more likely to affect older adults and women.

Olive oil may help constipation by smoothing the insides of the bowel, making it easier for stools to pass. Olive oil can also help stools retain water better, keeping it softer.

Anyone who experiences constipation long-term should speak with a doctor, as it may be a sign of an underlying medical condition.