When you need to go, you need to go. But sometimes, needing to go doesn’t always mean you’re able to. Constipation is uncomfortable and can leave you feeling bloated. Taking a laxative can get things moving again, but like any medication, can come with side effects, like dependency and making constipation worse.
Next time you’re feeling backed up, try some of these natural at-home constipation remedies instead.
“My favorite advice to give patients that are constipated is to get moving,” Lisa Ganjhu, D.O., gastroenterologist and clinical associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center. “Aerobic exercise really helps with increasing gut function and motility.” Your GI tract needs movement to stimulate activity, so when you’re lazing around, your insides may not be so active either. It doesn’t have to be an intense HIIT class—simply going for a walk can wake things up and get your digestive tract moving.
“Water is paramount for having good bowel movements,” Ganjhu says. It hydrates the GI tract, which reduces friction, and helps stool move throughout the colon more effortlessly. It also adds more bulk to the stool—giving you a nice solid mass that can better push its way through your colon and out your body.
The laxative effects of a cup of joe are famous (or infamous, depending on how you see it). The combo of caffeine and a warm liquid is the perfect recipe to get your bowels churning.
4. Dietary fiber
Insoluble fiber adds bulk to the stool, and soluble fiber pulls water into the colon. Both work together to keep us regular. “In general, all fiber will increase the bulk of your stools and make you have a bowel movement,” Ganjhu says. But sometimes too much fiber can cause people to become more constipated. “Everyone has their own different sensitivity to it,” she says, so you may need to go through some trial and error to figure out what gets you going. Oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and veggies are good sources of soluble fiber. Wheat bran, veggies, and whole grains are full of insoluble fiber.
Prunes are pretty much the poster children for natural laxatives. Ganjhu says it’s both the high fiber and sugar content—specifically sorbitol—that make it a powerful mover. “You’re adding extra fiber, and the sugar itself is a little tough to digest, so it draws water back into the colon,” which stimulates a bowel movement, Ganjhu explains. The laxative effect of sorbitol also explains why prune juice helps fight constipation even though it doesn’t have fiber like the raw fruit does.
Add ground flaxseeds to smoothies, yogurt, or even on top of fresh fruit to reap the fibrous benefits (there are 2 grams of dietary fiber in every ground tablespoon). “Because it’s a seed, there’s also a little oil in there, which will help soften the stool as well,” Ganjhu notes.