It can be caused by foods you eat or avoid, lifestyle choices, medication or disease.
But for many people, the cause of their chronic constipation is often unknown. This is referred to as chronic idiopathic constipation.
Constipation is characterized by less than three bowel movements per week.
However, it can also involve other unpleasant symptoms, such as discomfort when going to the bathroom, abdominal bloating and pain due to stools being hard, dry and difficult to pass.
There are many natural ways to help relieve constipation. You can do these in the comfort of your own home and most of them are even supported by science.
Here are 13 natural home remedies to relieve constipation.
1. Drink more water
When you're constipated, you could try finding relief by drinking some carbonated (sparkling) water to help you rehydrate and get things moving again.
Some studies have found sparkling water to be more effective than tap water at relieving constipation. This includes people with chronic idiopathic constipation or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (11, 12, 13, 14).
Bottom line: Dehydration can make you constipated, so make sure to drink enough water. Sparkling water may be even more effective.
2. Eat more fiber, especially soluble, non-fermentable fiber
This is because increasing fiber intake is thought to increase the bulk and consistency of bowel movements, making them easier to pass (19).
In fact, one recent review found that 77% of people with chronic constipation benefited from supplementing with fiber (20).
However, some studies have found that increasing fiber intake can actually make the problem worse (21).
Other studies have found that while dietary fiber can increase the frequency of bowel movements, it doesn't help with other symptoms of constipation. These include stool consistency, pain, bloating and gas (19).
This is because the type of dietary fiber that you add to your diet is important.
There are many different dietary fibers, but in general, they fall into two categories:
- Insoluble fibers: Found in wheat bran, vegetables and whole grains. They add bulk to your stools and are thought to help them pass more quickly and easily through your digestive system.
- Soluble fibers: Found in oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils and peas, as well as some fruits and vegetables. They absorb water and form a gel-like paste, which softens your stools and improves the consistency.
Studies examining the effects of insoluble fiber as treatment for constipation have been inconclusive (22).
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 (25).
Bottom line: Try eating more fiber. You can also supplement your diet with a soluble non-fermentable fiber such as psyllium.
3. Exercise more
Studies on the effect of exercise on constipation have shown mixed results.
In fact, many studies have shown that exercise does not affect the frequency of bowel movements (32).
However, a recent randomized controlled study on constipated people with IBS found some interesting results. It found that exercise significantly reduced symptoms (33).
Other studies have also found similar results for this group of people (34).
While many studies have found that exercise does not affect the number of times people go to the bathroom, it seems to reduce some symptoms of constipation (35).
If you are constipated, then try going for regular walks. It's definitely worth a try.
Bottom line: Exercise may reduce the symptoms of constipation in some people, although the evidence is mixed.
4. Drink coffee, especially caffeinated coffee
In fact, one study found that caffeinated coffee can stimulate your gut in the same way that a meal can. This effect is 60% stronger than drinking water and 23% stronger than drinking decaffeinated coffee (38).
Bottom line: Coffee can help relieve constipation by stimulating the muscles in the gut. It may also contain small amounts of soluble fiber.
5. Take Senna, an herbal laxative
It's usually considered safe for adults to use Senna for short periods of time, but you should consult with your doctor if your symptoms don't go away after a few days.
Senna is usually not recommended for people who are pregnant, breastfeeding or have certain health conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease.
Bottom line: The herbal laxative Senna is a common remedy for constipation that is available over-the-counter. It can stimulate the nerves in your gut to speed up bowel movements.
6. Eat probiotic foods or take probiotic supplements
Probiotics may help prevent chronic constipation.
People who have chronic constipation have been shown to have an imbalance of bacteria in their gut.
They could also help treat constipation by producing lactic acid and short-chain fatty acids. These may improve gut movements, making it easier to pass a stool (47).
A recent review found that probiotics seem to treat functional constipation by increasing the frequency of bowel movements and improving stool consistency (48).
To include probiotics in your diet, try eating probiotic-containing foods. Examples include yogurt, sauerkraut and kimchi, which contain live, friendly bacteria.
Bottom line: Probiotics may help treat chronic constipation. You can try eating probiotic foods or taking a supplement. Supplements should be taken daily for at least 4 weeks to see if they work.
7. Over-the-counter or prescription laxatives
They may recommend one of the following types:
- Bulking agent: These are fiber-based laxatives used to increase the water content of your stool.
- Stool softener: Stool softeners contain oils to soften the stools and ease their passage through the gut.
- Stimulant laxative: These stimulate the nerves in your gut to increase bowel movements.
- Osmotic laxative: Osmotic laxatives soften your stool by pulling water from the surrounding tissues into your digestive system.
However, most of these laxatives shouldn't be taken on a regular basis without first speaking to your doctor.
Bottom line: Try speaking with your doctor or pharmacist about an effective laxative. There are many types of laxatives that can work.
8. Try a low-FODMAP diet
Constipation can be a symptom of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
FODMAP stands for fermentable oligo-saccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. The diet involves limiting high-FODMAP foods for a period of time before reintroducing them to determine which ones you can tolerate (55).
However, if you have constipation-predominant IBS, the low-FODMAP diet alone is often not enough.
Bottom line: If you have IBS, following a low-FODMAP diet may help your constipation. However, that alone may not be sufficient to provide relief.
9. Eat shirataki noodles or take a glucomannan supplement
One study in children found that 45% of those taking glucomannan experienced relief from severe constipation, compared to only 13% in the control group (61).
However, another controlled study found no significant effects (62).
As well as improving bowel movements, glucomannan has been shown to function as a prebiotic and improve the balance of good bacteria in your gut.
If you're constipated, try including more glucomannan in your diet. You can achieve this by taking a glucomannan supplement or by eating shirataki noodles, which are made with glucomannan.
Glucomannan supplements vary in their benefits by brand, so it is important to compare them before making a purchase.
Bottom line: Glucomannan may effectively treat constipation in some people. You can get it by supplementing with glucomannan or eating shirataki noodles.
10. Eat prebiotic foods
Dietary fiber increases stool consistency and bulk, both of which can improve bowel movement frequency.
Another way that some fibers may help treat chronic constipation is through their effects on your digestive health.
Bottom line: Foods that contain prebiotic fibers can improve your digestive health and the balance of friendly bacteria in your gut. This can often help relieve constipation.
11. Try magnesium citrate
Taking moderate amounts of magnesium supplements can help relieve constipation. Higher doses are sometimes used to prep and clean out the bowel before surgery or other medical procedures (70).
Bottom line: Taking a magnesium citrate supplement can help against constipation. It is available over-the-counter.
12. Eat prunes
Prunes and prune juice are often touted as nature's remedy for constipation - and for good reason.
However, you may want to avoid prunes if you have IBS, as sugar alcohols are known FODMAPs.
Bottom line: Prunes contain the sugar alcohol sorbitol, which has a laxative effect. Prunes can be a very effective remedy for constipation.
13. Try avoiding dairy
If you think that you may be intolerant to dairy, then you could try removing it from your diet temporarily to see if it improves your symptoms.
Just make sure to replace the dairy in your diet with other calcium-rich foods.
Bottom line: Being intolerant to dairy or lactose may cause constipation in some people. If you suspect dairy is a problem, try removing it for a short period of time to see if that makes a difference.
Constipation is an uncomfortable problem with a number of underlying causes.
If this is a problem for you, then you should definitely speak to your doctor to identify the potential cause and find an effective treatment protocol.
That being said, many of the natural home remedies in this article can also provide significant relief.