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Constipation is an incredibly common problem.
People may experience constipation due to the foods they eat or avoid, their lifestyle choices, the medications they take, or the medical conditions they have. For many, the cause of their chronic constipation is unknown. This is known as chronic idiopathic constipation.
Constipation is characterized by the following symptoms (3):
- fewer than three bowel movements per week
- hard, dry, or lumpy stools
- difficulty or pain when passing stools
- a feeling that not all stool has passed
There are many natural ways to help relieve constipation. People can do these in the comfort of their own homes, and most of them are supported by science.
Here are 13 natural home remedies to relieve constipation.
When a person is constipated, they might find relief from drinking some carbonated (sparkling) water. This can help them rehydrate and get things moving again.
Some studies have found sparkling water to be more effective than tap water at relieving constipation. This includes in people with indigestion, or dyspepsia, and people with chronic idiopathic constipation (9, 10, 11).
Some people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) find that carbonated drinks worsen their symptoms, so these individuals may wish to avoid sparkling water and other carbonated drinks.
Bottom line: Dehydration can cause constipation, so be sure to drink enough water. Sparkling water may be even more effective at relieving constipation.
To treat constipation, doctors often tell people to increase their dietary fiber intake.
This is because increasing fiber intake increases the bulk and consistency of bowel movements, making them easier to pass. It also helps them pass through the digestive system more quickly (14).
In fact, one 2016 review found that 77% of people with chronic constipation benefited from supplementing with fiber (15).
However, some studies have found that increasing fiber intake can actually make the problem worse. Others report that dietary fiber improves stool frequency but may not help with other symptoms of constipation, such as stool consistency, pain, bloating, and gas (16, 17).
This is because different types of dietary fiber have different effects on digestion.
There are many different dietary fibers, but in general, they fall into two categories: insoluble fibers and soluble fibers.
Insoluble fibers — present in wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains — add bulk to stools and may help them pass more quickly and easily through the digestive system.
Soluble fibers — present in oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and peas, as well as some fruits and vegetables — absorb water and form a gel-like paste, which softens the stools and improves its consistency.
One 2020 review found psyllium to be 3.4 times more effective than insoluble wheat bran for constipation (18).
Studies examining the effects of insoluble fiber as a treatment for constipation have yielded mixed results.
Some fermentable soluble fibers may also be ineffective at treating constipation, as they are fermented by bacteria in the gut and lose their water-holding capacity (22).
To prevent constipation, people should aim to consume a mix of soluble and insoluble fibers. The total recommended fiber intake per day is 25 grams (g) for females and 38 g for males (14).
Bottom line: Try eating more high fiber foods. Supplementing the diet with soluble non-fermentable fiber, such as psyllium, can also help.
Studies have linked sedentary lifestyles with an increased risk of constipation. Because of this, some healthcare experts recommend increasing exercise to get the stool moving (23).
That said, not all studies agree that exercise treats constipation. Therefore, more research is needed (27).
Other studies have reported that although exercise did not always improve the number of times people went to the bathroom, it did reduce some symptoms and improved people’s quality of life scores (28).
In people with IBS, moderate exercise (brisk walking) can improve digestive symptoms and quality of life scores. However, vigorous exercise (jogging) could make symptoms worse for some (29).
Try doing some gentle exercise — such as going for regular walks, swimming, cycling, or jogging — to see if it helps.
Bottom line: Exercise may reduce the symptoms of constipation in some people.
In fact, one 1998 study found that caffeinated coffee can stimulate the gut in the same way that a meal can. This effect was 60% stronger than drinking water and 23% stronger than drinking decaffeinated coffee (31).
That said, the bowel-stimulating qualities of caffeine may be stronger in people with IBS. It could also make digestive symptoms worse (30).
People with IBS can try removing caffeine from their diet to see if it helps.
Bottom line: Coffee can help relieve constipation by stimulating the muscles in the gut. It may also contain small amounts of soluble fiber.
Senna contains plant compounds called glycosides, which stimulate the nerves in the gut and help speed up bowel movements (36).
Doctors consider Senna safe for adults for short periods of time, but people should consult a doctor if their symptoms do not go away after a few days.
Doctors usually do not recommend Senna for pregnant women, those who are breastfeeding, or people with certain health conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease.
Bottom line: The herbal laxative Senna is a popular remedy for constipation. It stimulates the nerves in the gut to speed up bowel movements.
Probiotics may help prevent chronic constipation. Probiotics are live, beneficial bacteria that naturally occur in the gut. They include Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus.
People can increase their levels by eating probiotic foods.
Some people who have chronic constipation have an imbalance of bacteria in their gut. Consuming more probiotic foods could help improve this balance and prevent constipation.
A 2019 review found that taking probiotics for 2 weeks can help treat constipation, increasing stool frequency and stool consistency (37).
They could also help treat constipation by producing short-chain fatty acids. These may improve gut movements, making it easier to pass stools (38).
Alternatively, try a probiotic supplement. Some studies have found that people started to feel the benefits of these supplements after 4 weeks (39).
Try taking probiotic supplements, which are available online, or eating more probiotic-rich foods to see if this helps with constipation. Prebiotic foods include:
Bottom line: Probiotics may help treat chronic constipation. Try eating probiotic foods or taking a supplement.
A doctor may recommend one of the following types:
- Bulking agents: These are fiber-based laxatives that increase the water content of stool.
- Stool softeners: These contain oils to soften stools and ease their passage through the gut.
- Stimulant laxatives: These stimulate the nerves in the gut to increase bowel movements.
- Osmotic laxatives: These soften stool by pulling water from the surrounding tissues into the digestive system.
However, people should not take most of these laxatives on a regular basis without speaking to a doctor.
Bottom line: Laxatives are effective for relieving constipation. Speak to a doctor or pharmacist about the best ones to use.
FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols.
The diet involves limiting high FODMAP foods for a period of time before reintroducing them to determine which ones the body can tolerate (45).
In people with constipation-predominant IBS, the low FODMAP diet alone is often not enough.
Bottom line: A low FODMAP diet may help relieve IBS-related constipation. However, that alone may not provide sufficient relief.
As well as improving bowel movements, glucomannan may act as a prebiotic to improve the balance of good bacteria in the gut.
One study in children found that 45% of those taking glucomannan experienced relief from severe constipation, compared with only 13% in the control group (50).
However, another controlled study found no significant effects (51).
People can get glucomannan from supplements or by eating shirataki, or konjac, noodles.
Glucomannan supplements are also available. They vary in their benefits by brand, so it is best to compare brands before making a purchase. Glucomannan supplements are available online.
Bottom line: Glucomannan may help treat constipation in some people. Sources include supplements and shirataki noodles.
Although dietary fibers reduce constipation by improving the consistency and bulk of stool, prebiotics have their effects by improving digestive health.
In fact, some prebiotics may help increase the frequency of bowel movements, as well as make stools softer (53).
Prebiotic foods include:
Bottom line: Foods that contain prebiotic fibers can improve digestive health and the balance of beneficial gut bacteria. Prebiotics may help relieve constipation.
Bottom line: Taking magnesium citrate, an over-the-counter supplement, can help relieve constipation.
People often tout prunes and prune juice as nature’s remedy for constipation — and for good reason. Prunes may be the most accessible natural solution available.
The effective dosage may be around 50 g, or seven medium prunes, twice per day (59).
However, people with IBS may want to avoid prunes, because sugar alcohols are high FODMAP foods.
Bottom line: Prunes contain the sugar alcohol sorbitol, which has a laxative effect. Prunes can be a very effective remedy for constipation.
In people with an intolerance to it, eating dairy can cause constipation due to its effect on the gut’s movements (60).
This includes children who are intolerant to cow’s milk protein and adults with lactose intolerance.
If someone suspects a dairy intolerance, they can see their doctor for diagnosis. The doctor may recommend temporarily removing dairy from the diet, while increasing other calcium-rich foods, to see if it improves the symptoms.
Bottom line: Dairy or lactose intolerance may cause constipation in some people. In these people, removing dairy from the diet can help relieve symptoms.
Constipation is uncomfortable and has a number of potential underlying causes. However, many home remedies and natural methods can help.
If constipation persists, a person can talk to their doctor to identify the cause and find an effective treatment.
That said, many of the natural home remedies in this article can provide significant relief.