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natural tactics for constipation: woman with stomach ache

7 Natural Ways To Relieve Constipation

We all sometimes deal with the dreaded inability to relieve our bowels. Whether it’s a new medication, lack of fiber in our diet, or good ol’ stress, constipation can happen for any number of reasons, many of which are not even in our control. 

When the frustration of constipation hits, you might be tempted to turn to OTC laxatives. But laxatives can be harsh on your system, dehydrating you and even potentially creating a vicious cycle of dependence. Instead, consider these seven gentle yet effective tactics that can get things moving in a natural way. 

1. Experiment with Abdominal Massage

When you go for a relaxing massage, the abdomen is the one place that doesn’t usually get worked on. After all, it’s a sensitive area! But when you’re suffering from constipation, a little self-massage on the abdomen could provide the relief you need, suggests naturopathic doctor Katie Stage, N.D., a staff physician at Sonoran University. 

“To do this, you’ll gently massage the abdomen in a semicircular motion, from the lower right, upwards, and then down the left side,” she explains. Essentially, you’re attempting to move stool manually through the gut. Skeptical? Science is supportive: A small 2020 study found that this method effectively speeds up intestinal transit.

2. Change Your Potty Position

Unfortunately, most Western toilets aren’t designed for ideal pooping posture. Sitting with your feet on the floor doesn’t encourage the right muscles to release for a bowel movement to move through, suggests Stage. “Many people find benefit from changing their pooping position,” she says. “Leaning forward or elevating the feet (many ‘squat’ stools and similar tools can be found online) changes the recto-anal angle, making it easier to evacuate.” There’s no “wrong” way to go, so feel free to do a little potty dancing to find what works for you.

3. Munch on Fibrous Foods

No surprise: Diet and bowel health are inextricably connected. What we put in our mouths eventually makes its way to our lower digestive tract, affecting our bathroom habits for better or worse. So, a high-fiber diet is a great place to start when you’re trying to relieve constipation. 

Read More: 3 Signs You’re Not Eating Enough Fiber

Some specific foods could make a serious difference when you’re struggling. “Apples have been found to help foods move quicker in your gut,” says registered dietitian Amanda Sauceda, M.S., R.D., creator of The Mindful Gut. “They contain pectin, a type of fiber that attracts water in the colon making your poop softer.” They’re a simple, portable snack you can tote just about anywhere. If you’re constipated, toss one in your bag before you head out for the day.

While you’re focusing on fruit, grab some kiwis, too. An intriguing study from 2022 found that participants with constipation had more frequent bowel movements when they ate two kiwis per day. 

And, of course, there are prunes (a.k.a. dried plums). Their reputation for getting things moving is well deserved, Sauceda says, since they do have a laxative effect. Their insoluble fiber adds bulk to your stool, while sorbitol (a naturally occurring sugar alcohol) and antioxidants help things along, too.  

Coffee is another possibility known for its poo-inducing properties. “It’s thought that the caffeine or other compounds in coffee could make you go,” Sauceda notes. 

4. Try a Fiber Supplement

While fiber is the best nutrient to help your body go to the bathroom, it’s something many people don’t eat enough of,” says Sauceda. “A fiber supplement can help you reach your daily goals and promote better bowel movements.” Some research has shown that psyllium and pectin fibers are the most effective fiber types for constipation relief, but you can always ask your doctor or a dietitian for their recommendations.

Read More: 6 Possible Reasons Why You’re So Constipated

Just note that taking a one-time fiber supplement may not relieve constipation as quickly as you’d like. Instead, adding fiber is more of a long game. “You have to be consistent with your fiber intake, as that will produce the best results for regular bowel movements,” Sauceda says. So if you’re someone who finds yourself backed up often, consider a fiber supplement a long-term investment in regularity.

5. Hydrate

All the fiber in the world won’t do you much good if you don’t have enough fluid handy to move it through your gut. “Adequate hydration is essential,” says Stage. You don’t have to chug water constantly, but stay on top of your hydration by filling up a large bottle in the morning and sipping throughout the day. “Generally, one should drink about half of their body weight in ounces of water (that’s 75 ounces of water for a 150-pound person) per day,” Stage shares. Add a flavored hydration supplement to your H2O if you struggle with the plain flavor or electrolyte imbalances.

6. Consider Magnesium

Another supplement that might “release the hounds”: magnesium. Stage encourages discussing any new herbal or prescription meds with your doctor but says that, for most people, magnesium citrate or magnesium oxide are safe and worth a try. Both of these forms of magnesium pull water into your intestines, making it easier to go.

7. Get Your Whole Body Moving 

When your body moves, so does your gut. “Being physically active tends to help move the bowels,” Stage says. A whole body of research has confirmed this. A 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis of nine studies, for example, concluded that exercise could be a feasible and effective treatment option for constipation. Stage suggests starting with 20 to 30 minutes a day of walking, Qi gong, yoga, or more intense cardio to help get things moving and grooving.

When to Seek Medical Attention

For most of us, constipation is an occasional, passing issue. But chronic constipation (defined as fewer than three bowel movements per week) could signal an underlying condition. Such chronic conditions could include neurological, endocrine, metabolic, or bowel disorders. If you consistently find yourself constipated, it’s time for a visit to your healthcare provider. They can help you get to the bottom of what’s causing your trouble.

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