Almost everyone has an unpleasant experience with constipation at some point in their lives. Roughly 20% of Americans suffer from constipation every year, either due to illness, diet, medications, or their lifestyles. Unfortunately, most people have no idea what the cause is for their individual case. When constipation occurs repeatedly for unknown reasons, it is known as chronic idiopathic constipation.
So, how can you know if your discomfort qualifies as constipation?
If you are having trouble with your bowel movements and are experiencing less than three in a given week, it’s likely that constipation is exactly what you are dealing with. Other symptoms include bloating and pain which occurs when passing stool that has become hard and dry.
No one likes dealing with this particular digestive issue, and many people are too embarrassed to discuss these issues with anyone, even their doctor. Despite any embarrassment, it is our suggestion that you speak with our doctor if your constipation persists for a longer than usual period of time.
Natural Treatments for Constipation
Luckily, there are plenty of treatments for constipation that are completely natural and can be performed in the privacy of your home. Here are just a few of the many natural remedies you have to choose from:
Dehydration is a common cause of constipation, especially for those who are dehydrated on a regular basis. You should be sure to drink enough water every day to remain hydrated.
Some research has suggested that you can also find relief by drinking carbonated beverages. You may benefit from opting to drink sparkling water instead of flat if you are already constipated. However, you should be careful. Carbonation may relieve constipation for some, but it has also been linked to bloating and IBS. Make sure you know how carbonated beverages affect you to avoid replacing one problem with a different one. In addition, you should steer clear of sugar-riddled drinks like soda, as there are almost literally no health benefits to drinking them and they could actually make your constipation worse.
Caffeine can have beneficial effects that help stimulate digestion, especially in the form of coffee. A recent study found that caffeinated coffee helped digestion and bowel movement just as much as a full meal, which is about 23% more than decaf coffee and a whopping 60% more than water.
Coffee is well-known to help get the muscles in the digestive system moving and also contains soluble fibers that improve the balance of gut flora.
Eat More Fiber
You’ve probably heard that fiber is a good treatment for diarrhea, and that’s true. Fiber can give your stool more consistency and firmness. Fiber can also help to increase the number of bowel movements and move then through when they are stuck.
Unfortunately, the wrong kinds of fiber can cause stool to become too firm or even dry and hard. It is very important that you are increasing the right type of fiber in your diet.
Most dietary fibers fall into one of two categories, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibers are often found in oat, nut, seeds, barley, beans, and certain fruits. Insoluble fibers are found in wheat and vegetables.
Fibers also have the distinction of being either fermentable or non-fermentable. Fermentable fibers are susceptible to gut bacteria and don’t retain their absorption after digestion.
When treating constipation, the best single type of fiber to take is soluble and non-fermentable. This type of fiber will hold up in the gut and do its job, but won’t come with the unpleasant hardness of insoluble fibers. However, the absolute optimal fiber intake actually includes both soluble and insoluble fibers.
Eat Probiotic or Prebiotic Foods
One of the possible causes of constipation is an imbalance of gut flora, the bacterial makeup of the gut. This is especially true for those who suffer from chronic constipation.
The balance of gut flora can be improved with the help of probiotic supplements or foods. These probiotics raise the levels of good bacteria in your digestive system, along with producing lactic and fatty acids which can help to induce movement. Recent studies have shown that probiotics both increase the frequency of bowel movements and improve their makeup.
Along these same lines, foods containing prebiotic fibers can also be beneficial to your digestive health. In laymen’s terms, prebiotics are the food that is eaten by good bacteria that live in your gut. Because of this, increasing your prebiotic intake can have a similar effect on your digestive health to increasing your intake of probiotics. Prebiotics have also been shown o help make stools softer.
There are multiple different types of laxatives on the market that may help with your constipation. Each type is more beneficial in different situations or when dealing with different causes. Your doctor can help you choose which laxative is best for your specific situation.
The types of laxative use fibers to “bulk up” your stool by increasing their water content.
Just as the name suggests, this type of laxative softens your stool using oils to make it easier to pass.
A stimulant laxative communicates with the nerves in your gut to stimulate muscle movement.
Osmosis might make this the most interesting of the different types, in terms of how they work. Osmotic laxatives take water in the cells of the surrounding tissues and pull that water into your digestive system to help soften the stool.
There are a few herbal remedies which, along with being all natural, are also good treatments for constipation. Some of these herbal laxatives can be found in supplements, taken in their raw form, or even made into teas. If you have a strong preference for herbal remedies in your medical care, this may be the right choice for you.
Be cautious with herbal remedies if you are pregnant, nursing, or have any chronic health conditions. You should consult with your doctor before taking any herbal remedies.
Cut Down on FODMAPs
Sometimes the cause of constipation is IBS, or irritable bowel syndrome. If IBS is the cause, then you may be able to find relief by switching to a low FODMAP diet.
FODMAP is an acronym. It stands for fermentable oligo-saccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. Cutting foods which contain these components can go a long way in treating IBS, and therefore treating chronic constipation when it is caused by IBS.
However, even a permanent switch to a low FODMAP diet is often not enough. When following these dietary restrictions, you should still also be following other helpful dietary tips likes getting enough water and taking probiotics.
Eat More Prunes
If you’ve ever tried a glass of that dark juice in the back of your grandmother’s fridge, you’re probably already familiar with the taste of prunes…and you might not be too fond of it. However, there is a very good reason for it to have been there. Wisdom is a side effect of old age, which may be why many older people eventually develop a habit of drinking prune juice or eating prunes.
Prunes have a variety of health benefits, one of which is that they are a natural remedy for constipation. Prunes contain a good amount of fiber, along with a laxative known as sorbitol. Be careful, though. Sorbitol is also part of a group called sugar alcohols, which are known for causing bloating. Sugar alcohols are also on the list of FODMAPs, which you should avoid if you have irritable bowel syndrome.
As much as you may want to turn away, a handful of prunes is probably the easiest and fastest fix for constipation. Taking about 7 prunes twice a day can often stand alone as the only treatment and prevention for constipation and many other common ailments.
Don’t Tolerate Dairy
In some cases, lactose intolerance may be the cause for your constipation issues. This may also be the case for children who cannot yet properly digest the protein in cow’s milk. If you think this may be the case for you, try going a few days without eating any dairy. If this helps to treat or even eliminate your constipation, then dairy was probably to blame.
If you find that this is the case, just remember to find some other way to replace the calcium in your diet that you will not longer be getting once you stop eating dairy. Like we mentioned earlier, you don’t want to just switch one problem for another.
Constipation is a very common problem that all of us are very likely to experience at some point or another. If you feel like you have to deal with it more often than usual or it goes on for an uncomfortable amount of time, you should talk to your doctor. They can help you discover which of the many possible causes may be the culprit in your specific situation. Once you know the cause, it will be far easier to figure out what kind of treatment will be the most effective for you.
Whether you visit your doctor about your situation or not, the treatments and remedies on this list should be able to help you get moving again.