- Over the counter laxatives and stool softeners can relieve constipation.
- Foods high in fiber and water like fruit, leafy greens, and prunes can help relieve constipation.
- Drinking lots of water and having a cup of coffee can also help relieve constipation.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
Symptoms include dry, hard stools that are difficult to pass, feel uncomfortably full, and the constant feeling that you haven’t fully emptied your bowels even after going to the bathroom.
“Increasing fiber intake can help with constipation as fiber helps move food through the digestive system,” says Ayana Davis, MS, a registered dietitian nutritionist at the UCSF Cancer Center and the owner of Ayana Davis Nutrition.
You can try easily available over-the-counter laxatives for immediate constipation relief, such as stool softeners and fiber supplements. You can also encourage a bowel movement by elevating your feet on a stool.
Here are the foods you should consume and avoid and the laxatives you can take when you’re constipated.
5 OTC laxatives for constipation relief
Several types of over-the-counter laxatives can relieve constipation, such as:
- Stool softeners, like Colace or Surfak, add moisture to the stool to keep them from being too dry and hard. However, you might develop electrolyte imbalance if you use stool softeners too often.
- Fiber supplements, such as Benefiber, Citrucel, or Metamucil, increase the amount of fiber in your body, which draws water to make stool softer and bulkier. If you don’t drink enough water with fiber supplements, you may end up even more constipated.
- Osmotics, like Miralax, pulls water into the colon for easier bowel movement. Some side effects include bloating, nausea, and increased thirst.
- Stimulants or contract laxatives, such as Dulcolax or Senokot, act on the intestinal wall and increase muscle contractions to help you pass stool more easily. You may experience belching, cramping, and diarrhea as stimulants are more likely to cause uncomfortable side effects.
- Rectal laxatives, like Pedia-Lax or Dulcolax, are often used as enemas or suppositories to cause contractions in the intestinal wall or keep moisture in the stool.
Many individuals tend to overuse laxatives, which can cause your body to become dependent on them.
It’s best to avoid using them habitually because severe cases of dependence may cause damage to the tissues, nerves, and muscles of your intestines and bowels.
If you do decide to use laxatives, start with a quarter or half dose to see how it affects your body.
8 foods that naturally relieve constipation
Coffee does make you poop, but it’s not because of caffeine
Diet can be one of the main sources of constipation. Most people consume only 15 grams of fiber per day, which is about half of the recommended daily fiber intake. It’s important to eat about 25 to 38 grams of fiber daily to avoid and relieve constipation.
There are plenty of foods with high fiber content, such as:
- Fruits: Avocados, blackberries, pears, raspberries, papaya, and guavas are rich in fiber, which helps prevent constipation. Make sure to eat about two cups of fruit daily, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
- Legumes: Peas, beans, lentils, and nuts are great sources of fiber. A half-cup of legumes has about seven to nine grams of fiber, or roughly a third of your daily value.
- Prunes or prune juice: Prunes have a high sorbitol content, a type of sugar that has a laxative effect, says Davis. Eating about 50 grams of prunes, which is approximately 12 pieces, can provide about six grams of fiber.
- Leafy greens: Aside from being rich in fiber, leafy greens like spinach, kale, and lettuce also aid in the growth of healthy gut bacteria. The USDA recommends consuming about two and a half cups of vegetables daily.
- Seafood: Eat at least eight ounces of seafood because it is a good source of magnesium, a mineral that’s associated with a decreased risk of constipation.
- Flax or chia seeds: Seeds are high in fiber, and according to Davis, they also speed up intestinal movement, which increases the frequency of bowel movements.
- Water: Water aids in digesting food and helps prevent constipation, so drink at least 2.7 to 3.7 liters of water daily. “Remember, if you are increasing fiber in your diet, you need to increase your fluid intake as well,” says Davis.
- Coffee: Both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee can cause a laxative effect, possibly due to an increase in gastrin levels, the hormones that make your colon contract. It is safe to consume up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day, or about four cups of coffee.
“It is best to gradually increase fiber intake by five grams per day,” says Davis, because adding fiber too quickly can lead to abdominal cramps, bloating, or intestinal gas and can sometimes make constipation worse.
6 foods that make constipation worse
According to Elisabetta Politi, MPH, RD, LDN, a dietitian clinician at the Duke University Diet & Fitness Center, foods with low fiber content can make constipation worse, which include:
- Refined grains: Foods made with refined grains, like white bread and white pasta, have a low fiber level, which causes constipation. It’s better to eat food made with whole grains instead, such as brown rice or oatmeal.
- Fried food: When foods are fried, they lose water and absorb fat. This doesn’t help with constipation because foods high in fat slow down digestion and causes harder stools, says Davis.
- Unripe bananas: Unripe bananas contain starch, a type of carbohydrate that is difficult for the body to digest, which makes constipation worse.
- Cheese: Although cheese is a good source of protein and calcium, it can cause constipation.
- Heavily processed foods: Cold cuts, hotdogs, and sausages often contain high amounts of fat, as well as sugar and sodium. Not only are they unhealthy for the body, but they can also slow down digestion.
- Alcohol: Because alcohol dehydrates the body, it makes constipation even worse. They also cause harder stools, says Davis.
Diets that are low in fiber don’t just cause or aggravate constipation, but can also result in appendicitis and hemorrhoids as well. It’s important to meet the daily recommended fiber intake to avoid the health risks that are associated with a low-fiber diet.
When to see a doctor for constipation
You should contact your doctor if you go beyond three days without a bowel movement and this is unusual for you, says Davis.
While hormonal changes and the lack of physical activity may result in the occasional bout of constipation, chronic constipation or extremely infrequent bowel movements can have several causes, which include:
- Colonic diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis
- Abdominal mass, or an abnormal lump in the abdomen, caused by a cyst, immune reaction, or cancer
- Defecatory disorders, like insufficient relaxation of anal sphincter or impairment of rectal sensation
- Neurological conditions, like multiple sclerosis or a spinal cord injury
Fiber adds bulk to your stool and aids in digestion, so eating more fiber-rich foods such as fruits, legumes, leafy greens, and coffee may help with constipation. It’s best to gradually increase your fiber intake to avoid gas or bloating.
To relieve and avoid constipation, make sure that you exercise regularly, have a fiber-rich diet, and drink plenty of water every day. Avoid eating unripe bananas, refined carbs, or fried food, which makes your constipation worse.
If lifestyle approaches don’t help, you can turn to over-the-counter laxatives, such as Benefiber or Dulcolax, says Politi. Get in touch with your primary care provider if you’ve been constipated for more than three weeks and your bowel movements are accompanied by severe pain and blood.
The Insidexpress is now on Telegram and Google News. Join us on Telegram and Google News, and stay updated.