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These constipation home remedies are backed by science and the experts.
Constipation, whether we like to talk about it or not, is an incredibly common health condition. Research (opens in new tab) suggests it is rife in the Western world affecting around 30% of the adult population. With many battling symptoms like trapped wind (opens in new tab) or a bloated stomach (opens in new tab) with the usual recommended natural bloating remedies (opens in new tab), without considering it to be part of a bigger (bowel) problem.
As Pharmacist Hussain Abdeh at Medicine Direct explains: “Constipation is a condition that will affect many of us quite frequently with no warning. However, there are a number of natural, simple remedies that can be used to treat occasional constipation successfully, and they can be done in the comfort of your own home. From eating kiwis or prunes to introducing more exercise into your daily life, there’s plenty of science backed remedies to help with constipation.”
12 constipation home remedies:
The good news is that it can be extremely simple to help constipation with some easy constipation home remedies. In many cases some simple lifestyle changes, and eating foods for constipation, can make a huge difference and avoid the need for medication or a visit to the doctor.
This does also mean that the best cure for your constipation might not be the same as the next person. So when it comes to constipation home remedies it’s best to try out a few of these suggestions and see what works best for you.
1. Use a toilet footstool
Type ‘toilet footstool’ into Google and you’ll be inundated with options, from a sleek wooden design, to a £3 white plastic stool. But why do we need one?
‘If you’re constipated I suggest raising your feet onto a footstool while you are on the loo. This mimics the ‘squatting’ position that is a more natural defecating position for humans than sitting on a toilet ever was. That’s what we did in the jungle and it’s what we’re designed to do,’ says Simon Smale, a consultant gastroenterologist and advisor to the IBS Network.
Giulia Enders, author of ‘Charming Bowels’, also says we’ve been going to the toilet all wrong. She told the Guardian that squatting is much more effective, and helps constipation, because the closure mechanism of the gut is not designed to ‘open the hatch completely’ when we’re sitting down: it’s like a kinked hose. We can iron out this kink by sitting with our feet on a little stool and leaning forward.
2. Drink more water
The average UK person only drinks 1.7 litres of water a day (opens in new tab) instead of the recommended 2 litres – meaning most of the population is actually dehydrated.
Simon explains: ‘Dehydration is often a contributing factor to constipation, so it is important to make sure you’re drinking enough water (opens in new tab).”
Pharmacist Hussain Abdeh (opens in new tab) agrees that H20 is important for your bowels.
“Water is essential for our stools, it helps them form and softens them, which makes it easier for them to pass through the bowel.”
He explains that when we don’t drink enough water, our body clings onto it for other purposes, preventing it from reaching our stools. This subsequently makes them both hard and harder to form, and thus difficult to pass.
“Drinking water will ensure our body does not restrict water from reaching our stools and will help them to form correctly and give them the soft texture it needs to be excreted from the body with ease,” he adds.
3. Eat lots of fibre
As Dr Deborah Lee of Dr Fox Online Pharmacy (opens in new tab) explains: “Fibre is a type of indigestible carbohydrate that passes through the gut unchanged. It has a vital role in gut health (opens in new tab), as it bulks out the stool, and the pressure of the stool on the gut wall stimulates the transit of food. It also traps water in the stool, making it softer and easier to pass.”
Pharmacist Hussain adds that there are two types of fibre you should aim to incorporate:
Soluble fibre – Found in foods such as oats, nuts, lentils, peas, fruit, and vegetables
Insoluble Fibre – Found in wheat, whole grains, and some vegetables
“Insoluble fibre helps to bulk up your stools and make them bigger,” he says. “Larger stools are moved along the bowels easier, making passing them much easier than a small hard stool.
In contrast, soluble fibre is put to work in the stomach and “produces a gel-like substance which helps your stool to pass through your bowels with less friction and resistance”.
Dr Deborah states that women should take in at least 25g of fibre a day. Whilst men should aim for 38g per day. “The amount of fibre needed increases with increasing age,” she adds.
4. Get moving
Moving = movement. So get out for a run, sign up to a yoga class or crack on with an at-home HIIT workout (opens in new tab). The experts agree that exercise can do wonders for your bowels.
“When you exercise, this increases the blood flow to the gut, and stimulates contractions in the gut wall, resulting in food passing through the intestines more quickly, with less time for water to be absorbed from the stools,” explains Dr Deborah.
She cites a 2021 study by the University of Lodz (opens in new tab) which found exercise and sport as the best non-pharmacological approach to improving constipation.
Wondering how much movement will inspire a movement?
“20 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise three to five times a week, depending on your ability, is likely to have a positive effect on your gut motility and bowel function,” says gastroenterologist Simon.
“A significant number of people avoid doing exercise because they are worried about their bowels, therefore I recommend to plan it at times of the day your bowels are more settled.”
5. Increase your fruit and veg intake
We're told our 5-a-day is important for the heart, our general health and weight loss goals. But did you know that some fruits and vegetables are also great constipation home remedies?
The high citric acid content in lemons makes them great at getting things moving in your digestive system. So try adding the juice of one lemon to a warm glass of water in the morning.
One 2016 study (opens in new tab) found that warm water had ”a favourable impact on intestinal movements”. And of course upping your fluids with a kick of stimulatory lemon will prevent dehydration triggering constipation.
There’s also a New Zealand study (opens in new tab) which found that kiwis were something of a gastrointestinal super food and natural laxative. Whilst adults in a 2017 study (opens in new tab) experienced fewer symptoms of constipation after eating 30g of raw broccoli sprouts every day for four weeks.
6. Try olive oil
Whether you cook with it or drizzle as a dressing - pure olive oil has been hailed as a natural laxative that aids good digestion.
One study in the Journal of Renal Nutrition (opens in new tab) found that olive oil and flaxseed oil helped relieve constipation symptoms in people undergoing hemodialysis.
It’s thought that the oil works to stimulate your digestive system and get things moving through your colon. So try knocking back a tablespoon first thing (before eating anything else) – you can add a little lemon juice to disguise the flavour.
7. Eat prunes
An oldie but a goodie. Who doesn’t consider prunes when toilet troubles rear their head?
Pharmacist Hussain notes that plums (fresh prunes) have very little fibre content. Whereas dried prunes are an insoluble fibre that can “contain as much as 12g of fibre”. And of course this makes a great contribution to your recommended daily fibre intake.
“Prunes also contain a natural laxative known as Sorbitol,” he adds. “Your stomach cannot digest Sorbitol. And as a result, when we eat it, our intestines retain a large amount of water which is absorbed by the stools and helps to push it through the bowel.”
Prunes are also known to contain dihydroxyphenyl isatin, a compound which gets the colon working. Researchers in one 1992 study (opens in new tab) found that this natural laxative improved symptoms of severe constipation at one Australian disability centre.
And if you really aren't a prune fan, Hussain recommends other dried fruits that should have a similar impact:
“Dates, figs, apricots, and raisins can also contain a lot of fibre and can help with constipation relief,” he adds.
8. Herbal tea
Herbal teas can lend a helpful hand when it comes to poor bowel movement.
“These are commonly used to treat constipation because many herbs have laxative properties,” explains Dr Deborah. “Many herbs contain chemical substances such as anthraquinones that have a stimulatory effect on the intestinal wall. They promote the propulsive action of the gut, to push the digested food through. They also facilitate the passage of water through the bowel wall into the GI tract.”
She recommends herbal teas such as chamomile, peppermint, ginger, dandelion and liquorice root. And stresses that these should be drunk after meals or before bedtime “for the maximum effect”.
Peppermint tea in particular showed to improve common IBS symptoms like constipation in one 2019 study (opens in new tab). It’s thought that the methanol it contains works to ease bloating and eases stools through the intestine.
So swap your builders brew for a healthier herbal counterpart and see the difference it makes.
9. Abdominal massage
The NHS recommends a self abdominal massage (opens in new tab) to improve constipation symptoms.
They state that a tummy rub can help “promote contractions of the large intestine which moves faecal matter along the gut.” Plus it can speed up the time it takes stool to move through the intestines to the anus and soften your stool in the process.
One 2011 study (opens in new tab) also advocated for abdominal massage which in individual patient cases had been effective for those with constipation.
10. Pop a probiotic
Packed with do good health benefits - the experts agree that probiotics are another remedy that will have a positive effect on constipation.
“Several studies (opens in new tab) have confirmed a benefit from the use of probiotics on constipation,” says Dr Deborah. “The microbiome has a profound effect on gut function and the best results have been with the addition of the bacteria Bifidobacterium lactis.”
She cites one 2014 study (opens in new tab) which found that probiotics increased not only gut transit time, but both stool frequency and consistency too.
There’s further good news for IBS sufferers prone to constipation.
“Patients often ask me if they should take a probiotic to help with their symptoms, and there is a growing body of evidence that probiotics may benefit symptoms of IBS, including constipation,” says Simon.
He recommends looking for a probiotic that is clinically proven though. We love Alflorex (opens in new tab) (30 capsules one month supply, £24.95)
We're used to eating our meals at a certain time and brushing our teeth at certain times - so why not make a habit of scheduling some toilet time.
According to the NHS, having a routine around your toilet trips can make a huge difference when it comes to stopping constipation:
“Work out a routine of a place and a time of day when you are comfortably able to spend time on the toilet,” they state. “Respond to your bowel’s natural pattern: when you feel the urge, do not delay.”
It’s thought that the best time to go is 20-40 minutes after eating. With the majority of doctors recommending a trip to the loo in the morning, about 20 minutes after eating breakfast.
12. Allow yourself one cup of coffee
There’s a tricky balancing act with caffeine and its effects on our digestive system.
Caffeine is a diuretic by nature, which means that having too much of it can make you wee more. And this in turn leads to dehydration, which leads to an increased chance of constipation (hence the confusion). But research has shown that in small doses it can actually aid bowel movements.
One study (opens in new tab) noted that caffeine was a natural stimulant for the colon. With results showing an increase in digestive movement within four minutes of drinking coffee - lasting for around 30 minutes. This is in addition to 63% of women surveyed in the study who claimed that coffee induced their desire to want to go.
The way to approach this natural remedy is to stick with one cup and see how your body reacts. After all everyone is different and what doesn’t work for some can do wonders for others.
What is constipation?
Constipation is when an individual experiences problems with their bowels. It can either mean you're not having regular bowel movements, or that you're unable to empty your bowel completely. And this may result in stools being hard, lumpy, or unusually large or small, which can cause pain.
Gastroenterologist Simon Smale suggests that constipation is characterised by infrequent bowel movements (less than three a week). And that these where stools are lumpy and hard causing you to strain to pass them or experience incomplete evacuation.
Constipation is much more common than you think and actually affects people of all ages (although the severity can vary from person to person).
"In 2017-18, the cost of treating constipation (opens in new tab) to the NHS was £162 million," says Dr Deborah. "Another £71 million was spent on hospital admissions due to constipation."
What are the symptoms of constipation?
There are a number of symptoms you may be experiencing if you have the condition. A usual amount of time to go to the toilet does vary from person to person - some people may go more than once a day, while for others it's normal to go only every three or four days. As a rule, passing stools may have become more difficult and less frequent than usual for you.
Other symptoms may include:
- Stomach pain and cramps
- Feeling bloated
- Feeling sick
- A loss of your appetite.
- Feeling that you still need to pass a stool after passing one
"Doctors often use the Bristol Stool Scale (opens in new tab) which is a pictorial representation of bowel movements to help accurately describe the bowel habit," adds Dr Deborah.
8 constipation foods to avoid:
- Dairy products - "Dairy products are quite troublesome when it comes to constipation," says Hussain. "Many dairy products are high fat and low fibre making them harder for the body to digest."
- Fast foods or ready meals - "It comes as no surprise to learn that processed, fried, and foods high in saturated fats will hugely increase your risk of constipation," says Hussain. With most of these containing little to no fibre, it can clog up and delay your digestive system.
- Red meat - This can also be constipating for several reasons. "It often has a high-fat content, and as fat is difficult to digest, this slows the transit of food through the intestines," states Dr Deborah. "It is also rich in iron, and iron can be constipating."
- Eggs - Yes they may be good for you, as they're high in protein. But they're low in fibre too meaning it's a good idea to add high fibre foods in with them to balance it out. Why not try making an omelette or scrambled eggs with spinach, tomato, or a slice of wholemeal bread.
- White rice, bread and pasta - "These are refined carbohydrates (opens in new tab) that have had the outer husk, the bran and the germ removed," explains Dr Deborah. "This often means they are stripped of the fibre that help keeps food moving through the intestines."
- Sweet treats - Pastries, cookies, cakes, and other treats with refined sugar are low in fiber and fluids, and high in fat which can affect digestion. You could try satisfying your sweet tooth with strawberries and yogurt, which are tasty and help to get things moving.
- Underripe bananas - "These are full of ingestible starch – otherwise known as fibre - and can cause constipation," says Dr Deborah.
- Alcohol - "This is also a cause of constipation," states Dr Deborah. "It tends to cause dehydration and slows the passage of food through the gut."