Doctors’ Best Home Remedies For Quick Constipation Relief
Posted on March 22, 2017 in Health
You know what they say, sh*t happens. But for over 42 million Americans, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s right, we’re talking about constipation.
What is constipation?
If we want to consult the dictionary, constipation is “a condition in which there is difficulty in emptying the bowels.” Simply put, constipation is struggling to poop. Chances are it has affected you or a loved one at some point, so we’ve all got some experience with constipation in one form or another.
Squatty Potty toilet stools have been instrumental in helping some people find relief from constipation. Our company was founded on an attempt to treat constipation after all. Squatting to poop makes a big difference. But what else can be done to find constipation relief?
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. ~Dr. Struble
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. ~Dr. Tejirian
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. ~Dr. Group
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. ~Healthline
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
What is the best way to prevent constipation?
One of the most important ways to prevent constipation is to increase fiber in your diet. Fiber is a carbohydrate that our bodies cannot digest, which is a good thing. Fiber is found in different amounts in all plants that we eat. It passes through our digestive system, absorbs water and increases the bulk of our stool making it easier to have a bowel movement.
Low fiber intake is the leading cause of most of the constipation and booty problems people experience. Keep in mind that fiber has even more benefits beyond improving bowel movements, including decreasing the risk for heart disease or type 2 diabetes, and helping you lose weight by making you feel fuller longer.
Remember that your body needs at least 25-40 grams of fiber a day. People that constipate easily need higher amounts. However the average American eats way less than half the suggested daily intake of fiber. You should come up with a daily fiber plan that works for you and leads you to have bowel movements that are quick and easy.
So how can you increase your daily fiber intake? The most obvious way is by eating a lot of fruits and vegetables. However, if you find it difficult to eat a high fiber diet (75% vegetables and fruits for meals and snacks), then adding a high-quality daily fiber supplement can help. It’ll be a welcome addition to your intestines. It is also important to make sure you drink plenty of water with the fiber because fiber without adequate water can actually worsen constipation.
Your body may produce more gas as you increase the fiber- that is why it is best to increase your daily fiber slowly. It may take a few weeks to reach your goal amount, but the benefits you will have at the end will be priceless.
It is important to note that there is a difference between fiber and laxatives. Natural fiber acts as a bulking agent to help have smooth and easy bowel movements. There are many benefits to having a high fiber diet. Laxatives, on the other hand, can increase bowel movements by stimulating the large intestine to move, drawing extra water into the large intestine, or acting as a lubricant to help the poop slide through more easily. Some foods, such as prunes, have some fiber, but they also stimulate the colon; therefore, it is this laxative effect that makes people have a bowel movement after eating prunes or drinking prune juice. Occasional use of small amounts of a laxative is typically not harmful, however, using them often can make you develop a dependence or have negative, even potentially dangerous complications. It is very important to discuss all changes in your diet or medications you plan to take with your doctor.
At the same time as increasing fiber and water intake, you need to make sure you are pooping in the way our bodies were designed to poop. Putting a stool under your feet while pooping can bring back the correct pooping position- squatting, not sitting. Our bodies are meant to poop in a squatting position, as it straightens out our rectum, which is the final storage area of the poop. Straightening the rectum allows it to empty properly. This brings up your knees, puts you into more of a squatting position and helps you to more easily pass the stool, allowing it to flow out instead of having to push it out.
Finally, it is very important not to spend more than 1-2 minutes on the toilet. Make sure you only sit down on the toilet when the poop is ready to come out instead of sitting there and waiting for something to happen. ~Dr. Tejirian
Eat More Foods High in Fiber – by increasing your intake of foods high in fiber, you can significantly reduce your chances of developing constipation and other colon-related problems.
Drink nutritional fluids – purified water, green tea, organic/homemade fruit juices.
Exercise Regularly – as you move more, your bowels move more.
Stress Less – take some time off and do something for yourself.
Take a Probiotic Supplement – probiotics will help introduce beneficial bacteria to your gut. ~Dr. Group
1. Hydrate with at least 8 cups of water a day.
2. Move your body every day.
3. Get plenty of sleep.
4. Spend time each day doing something that brings you joy and peace, such as meditation.
5. Eat a whole foods diet that contains insoluble and soluble fiber, at least 10 cups of vegetables that encompass the entire rainbow of color. ~Dr. Ewers
The best way to prevent constipation is to first adopt healthy dietary habits. Drink enough fluids (8 glasses a day), eat fiber, and exercise regularly. Try to consume about 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories. Poop when the urge comes, usually at the same time every day — most people go in the morning. Give yourself the time to poop. ~Healthline
If you want to prevent constipation make sure to eat a diet that is high in fiber and that you stay well hydrated. Regular exercise, like walking, has been show to increase the movement of the bowels and prevents constipation. ~Marianne Ryan PT, OCS
Once again we see a pretty general consensus among our doctors. In order to prevent constipation, try the following:
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet high in fiber
- Exercise regularly
- Stay hydrated
- Try to relieve stress
- Take a probiotic
- Poop in the proper posture
What are the most effective home remedies for constipation relief?
These are my 10 natural remedies for constipation.
Probiotics: Yogurt and kefir make for an excellent breakfast, whether consumed as is or mixed with your favorite breakfast cereal or grain-free granola. The probiotic strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium encourage healthy bowels which translate to easier evacuation. People who regularly consume probiotics enjoy increased frequency, better stool consistency, and a reduced digestive transit time.
Water: Staying hydrated facilitates digestion and supports muscle function. When the body receives enough water, the digestive system can process nutrients and move wastes along smoothly. But how much water is enough? Always get a drink whenever you feel thirsty for starters. Generally, you should divide your body weight in half, take that number and drink that many ounces of water. You may need to alter this based on your individual needs and activity level.
Prune Juice and Prunes: Prunes are high in fiber and sorbitol, a carbohydrate the body digests slowly. As the fiber and sorbitol move along the intestines, they collect water which softens fecal matter. Start with an 8 oz glass of prune juice or 2-3 prunes. Give them a little time to work before trying more as too much fiber and sorbitol can cause bloating, gas and diarrhea.
Magnesium-Rich Foods: Magnesium is critical to muscle health and peristalsis, or the movement of food along the digestive tract. Low magnesium consumption has been associated with increased incidence of constipation. Adequate magnesium intake directs water to the bowels, keeping the stool soft and easier to move. Nuts, fish and green leafy vegetables like spinach are high in magnesium.
Coffee: This morning brew, especially dark-roast coffee, stimulates digestion and contains fiber, oil, and water, all of which help keep the bowels moving. A cup or two will do the trick. Note that it isn’t recommended to use coffee as a continual solution to constipation.
Baking Soda and Warm Water: Mix one teaspoon of baking soda in a quarter cup of warm water. Supposedly, this mixture should relieve pain and pressure associated with constipation, and the bicarbonate is believed to reduce the symptoms associated with heartburn. The faster you drink it up, the more effective it seems to be.
Olive Oil: Try taking a tablespoon of olive oil before eating breakfast in the morning. As a nutrient-dense oil, it stimulates the digestive tract. It also lubricates the bowels and provides antioxidant protection at the same time.
Beans: Rich in fiber, a meal containing beans shares many similar benefits as one containing prunes. Fiber keeps stool soft, and the protein has added benefits for growth and repair of bodily tissues. Beans are also rich in nutrients essential for muscle health and function.
Exercise: Movement encourages muscle health and stimulates digestion, so going for a walk after eating may help get things moving. For cases of occasional constipation, pelvic floor exercises have proven more effective than laxatives. Yoga, Pilates, and even running may encourage the movement of wastes along the intestinal tract.
Herbs: Flax seed, psyllium, and fenugreek are the herbs recommended to start with when it comes to fighting constipation. These are easier on the stomach and fall under the category of bulk laxatives. Purgative herbs such as senna, aloe, and buckthorn are also useful when it comes to constipation. Just keep in mind that these herbs are not for long-term use. ~Dr. Group
You can attempt a dairy elimination diet, but you must do this for at least one month. While doing so, increase fiber with bulking laxatives like Citrucel, Metamucil and/or use an osmotic laxative like Miralax. The intestinal tract is lazy and stretched when one has suffered with constipation for an extended period of time. Therefore, your goal for stool consistency should be like soft-serve ice cream to allow the colon to shrink back to its original and natural size and also to allow the stretched nerves responsible for the moving it along, time to heal. It is important to have this stool consistency for at least a month, too. You can go up or down on the amount of these non-habit forming laxatives depending on your stool consistency( too loose, decrease; not loose enough, increase).
Once stools have been consistently loose, taper off the laxatives. Once off of these, then you can experiment with adding dairy back (I don’t recommend milk in general), but if constipation creeps back in (hard balls, nuggets, straining to go) do your best to avoid it.
Citrucel and Metamucil are fine to take on a regular basis for fiber sources, but more natural fiber can come from ground flax seeds and chia seeds. Again, avoiding highly processed foods-(i.e. anything made in a food processing lab that comes in bags or boxes like chips, granola bars, cookies, candy, protein bars, breakfast cereal, etc), will help tremendously. Go for food from the earth like those that grow on trees and in the ground.
Probiotics often can help some people achieve more regularity, too. ~Dr. Struble
The self-massage for constipation is simple and easy to perform. It consists of circular motions applied over a path of approximately ten spots in your lower abdomen, to help move the bowel content.
Note: If you are a new mom and had a vaginal delivery, you can do this abdominal massage as early as a day or so after you delivered your child. However, if you had a cesarean section you should wait for at least a month until your scars are well healed. In either case, it is best to wait until you have medical clearance from your doctor before doing this massage.
How to do Abdominal Massage
- Lie down in a comfortable spot like your bed. Place a pillow beneath your knees.
- Place 2-3 fingers in the lower right side of your abdomen, over the first massage spot (see the illustration below), and gently apply a constant and moderate pressure. If you experience pain, lighten the pressure. Maintain this pressure as you move your fingers in a clockwise, circular motion for approximately 10 seconds.
- Note: Do not use counterclockwise strokes.
- Move to the next massage spot and repeat as above.
- Gradually continue the clockwise massage circles up towards your rib cage, then across to the left side of your abdomen, and down to the inner-left side of your pelvis. Each massage path should last a total of 1 minute.
- Repeat the entire massage path from your right side to your left side 3-4 times, once a day.
~Marianne Ryan PT, OCS
1. Try a belly self-massage with castor oil every morning.
2. Triphala Plus 2 caps twice daily,
3. Magnesium 2 caps every bedtime
4. Use the Squatty Potty
5. Avoid processed food, dairy, gluten, alcohol, processed foods, caffeine, and sugar
6. Eat 1-2 TBSP ground flax seeds daily
7. Use the Gut Repair Kit ~Dr. Ewers
The best remedy for most people is to increase the intake of dietary fiber and water. Drink warm fluids such as coffee in the morning. This helps increase the muscle contractions that move digested food through your intestines, a process called peristalsis. Prunes are a good remedy and are recommended as a first option. Other good foods to treat constipation include uncooked vegetables, fruits, fruit juices, high-fiber cereals, and whole grains such as bran.
Abdominal massage can be an effective treatment for chronic constipation, and it’s a good alternative to laxatives. Biofeedback therapy has been found to reduce constipation in 70 percent of patients. Biofeedback training teaches you to relax pelvic floor muscles while pushing. Your doctor can refer you to a therapist for training. You can also find instructional videos online for both abdominal massage and biofeedback. ~Healthline
Our panel of doctors have a variety of home remedies you can try. The most common remedies were related to the following:
- Add some constipation fighting foods and supplements to your diet, including those high in fiber, magnesium and probiotics
- Give yourself a massage
- Avoid highly processed foods and dairy
- Be active and regularly exercise
- Elevate your feet on a stool to poop from a squatting position
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.
About Our Expert Contributors
We want to say thank you to our contributing doctors and medical professionals for this article. Learn more about each one below!
Kristin Struble is a practicing pediatrician in Phoenix, Arizona and author of the children’s book “How to be a Poop Detective – Squatty Potty Edition.” She is dedicated to promoting the message that a healthy diet is the very best medicine.
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.
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.