Everyone experiences mild to moderate blockage from time to time—and it’s no fun. Often due to a lack of fiber, dehydration, changes in routine (like travel), or too much dairy, constipation can cause frustrating stomach pain and bloating.
According to the University of Massachusetts, people should experience bowel movements ranging from three times per day to once every three days. If you’re struggling with a slower frequency, there are some natural aids that can help.
Ground flaxseed has been shown to promote relief from constipation and is antidiarrheal, according to the Journal of Ethnopharmacology. Flaxseed works because it’s high in fiber and mucilage. Fun fact: Mucilage is a slimy compound that provides a temporary coating along the digestive tract. It can help by bulking up your stool and pushing it along.
You can easily add ground flaxseed to smoothies, yogurt, cereal, or oatmeal.
According to Clinical Nutritionist Tara Coleman, magnesium citrate serves as a relaxant, which helps move things along: “A deficiency in magnesium can be associated with constipation. I find that the right dose of magnesium usually does the trick.” The U.S. National Library of Health suggests taking the dosage that your doctor recommends, and taking it on an empty stomach.
Note: If you have kidney disease, check with your doc before taking supplemental magnesium.
According to Harvard Health, probiotics work to promote digestive regularity because they’ve been shown to soften stool and increase the number of bowel movements a person experiences each week. Foods that are naturally high in probiotics include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and dark chocolate (yay!). You can also take probiotic supplements to promote your digestive health.
Many people say that coffee makes them go to the bathroom, but why is that the case? It’s actually not just the caffeine in coffee that inspires bowel movements, but also the compound called chlorogenic acid.
One study in the journal Gut suggests that chlorogenic acid may trigger the stomach acids that are necessary for digestion. Coffee may also stimulate the release of digestive-aiding hormones, which also speeds up bowel movements, according to the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology.
To help counteract regularity issues, be sure to eat foods filled with fiber. Fiber-rich foods include artichokes, figs, prunes, lentils, black beans, peas, bran flakes, avocado, blackberries, barley, chickpeas, and pears. The Institute of Medicine recommends that men eat about 38 grams of fiber each day, while women should aim for 25 grams. Adults over 50 require even less (around 30 and 20 grams, for men and women, respectively).
Yoga can assist with relieving symptoms of constipation, according to Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine. You can try a few simple moves to get things moving. Get into the Wind-Releasing Pose by lying flat on your back and hugging both knees into your chest. Then, to promote bowel movements, the Half Lord of the Fishes pose stimulates the digestive system.
A study in the Journal of Renal Nutrition showed that a combination of olive oil and flaxseed oil greatly increased the number of bowel movements and the softness of the stool. What’s olive oil’s role? It makes fecal matter softer and the insides of the bowel smoother. To reap the benefits, pour a bit of olive oil and flaxseed together on a salad, or mix a bit in with yogurt (for the one-two punch of the flaxseed and olive oil, plus the probiotic effect).
Not a fan of coffee? Peppermint tea and ginger tea can both assist in relieving constipation. Peppermint includes menthol, which has an antispasmodic effect that relaxes the muscles of the digestive tract. Ginger can also promote digestive health. Plus, the hot water in tea will also stimulate digestion and stool elimination.
Love the taste of lemon? You’re in luck, because the citric acid in lemon juice also stimulates your digestive system, according to the journal Food Chemistry. It’s as easy as putting a few slices of fresh lemon into a glass of water every morning, or adding lemon to your tea.