Like so many other things, constipation doesn't look the same for everyone. One person might normally poop twice a day while another might go every other day — both can be perfectly healthy. And when you deviate from your particular norm, you might consider yourself constipated.
Medically speaking, though, the definition of constipation is having fewer than three bowel movements in a week, Ashkan Farhadi, MD, a gastroenterologist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
You should see a doctor if you have constipation that seems to come out of nowhere, chronic constipation that does not resolve even with home remedies, severe abdominal pain or blood in your stools. But outside of that, occasional constipation doesn't always warrant a trip to the doctor.
If you're looking for some natural remedies for constipation, here are a few suggestions to help you find constipation relief.
1. Do Some Light Exercise
One sneaky cause of constipation is a sedentary lifestyle or lack of movement, according to Harvard Health Publishing. For instance, you may notice a change in your bathroom habits after taking a long trip and sitting for extended periods of time, or perhaps transitioning to remote work and becoming less active throughout the day.
So to both help relieve and prevent constipation, Dr. Farhadi recommends you get moving to the extent that you're able.
Indeed, exercise is a first-line treatment for constipation, according to a 2017 review in the Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology. And a more recent February 2019 review and meta-analysis in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology found that exercise has significant benefits when it comes to relieving constipation, although researchers noted that more rigorous studies need to be done in this area.
But be aware that the opposite end of the spectrum — lots of high-intensity workouts or long-distance running, for example — can cause problems too. If you go overboard with exercise, the release of stress hormones or dehydration could lead to constipation, Dr. Farhadi says.
The solution? Regular, reasonable activity such as walking and light exercise like yoga is best to help keep your bathroom trips consistent. For reference, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend adults get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise such as walking or biking.
2. Drink More Water (but Don’t Overdo It)
Because not drinking enough liquids is a common cause of constipation, staying hydrated is one of the simplest home remedies for constipation, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center, which recommends water and juice as the best fluids to drink.
But that doesn't necessarily mean you need to be chugging water 24/7 as some Instagram influencers would have you think. Indeed, a frequently cited August 2010 paper in Nutrition Reviews notes that increasing fluids only works against constipation in people who are dehydrated. So going beyond your body's fluid needs likely won't help you poop.
If you're going running and it's 90 degrees out, by all means, bring a water bottle along. Otherwise, stay reasonably hydrated and you should be just fine. Just like exercise, Dr. Farhadi notes that moderation in hydration is best.
3. Eat Fiber-Rich Foods
Getting enough fiber in your diet can certainly help with constipation, says Dr. Farhadi. In fact, a May 2016 systematic review and meta-analysis in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics found that 77 percent of people with chronic constipation benefited from upping their fiber.
Fiber binds with water, which increases stool bulk and frequency and reduces the amount of time stool spends in the intestines, according to a November 2015 position paper in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Because excessive fiber intake from fiber supplements has been linked to GI issues, the best course of action is to eat whole foods naturally high in fiber, such as whole grains, beans, fruit and vegetables.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends adults aim for 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories they eat. For most people, that's between 25 and 38 grams each day.
You can also add a fiber supplement to your diet, but Dr. Farhadi warns that you shouldn't overdo it. Stick to the amount recommended on the packaging, or you'll end up with excess gas and bloating and no bowel movement to show for it.
Grams of Fiber
Avocado (1 medium)
Flaxseeds (3 tablespoons)
Bulgur (1 cup)
Raspberries (1 cup)
Edamame (1 cup)
Artichoke (1 medium)
Black, kidney or pinto beans (1/2 cup)
Pearled barley (1 cup)
Pear (1 medium)
Almonds (1 ounce, or about 23)
4. Drink Coffee
Yes, coffee can trigger a bowel movement. For some people, coffee is a natural laxative that makes them poop instantly.
Caffeinated coffee seems to increase the amount of acid your stomach produces as well as boost colon movements, which can have a laxative effect, per a June 2017 review in the World Journal of Gastroenterology.
5. Try Prunes or Prune Juice
Prunes (dried plums) are one of the classic old-fashioned remedies for constipation.
An October 2013 review in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition found that prunes and prune juice are effective in preventing constipation.
Another review, published August 2014 in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics, found eating prunes is even more effective than taking medications with psyllium (a type of fiber commonly found in some supplements for constipation).
Drinking prune juice in the morning can be very effective for constipation relief, Dr. Farhadi says, but it can also lead to significant gas and bloating if you drink too much, so start with the recommended serving size (that's a half-cup, per the USDA).
If you'd rather eat your prunes, the recommended serving size is four to five of the dried fruits, per the USDA.
6. Add Probiotics to Your Diet
Probiotics are living microorganisms that naturally exist in your gut and occur in some foods, and some research taps probiotics as a home remedy for constipation.
An October 2014 meta-analysis in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that probiotics may help with constipation relief. After reviewing 14 studies, researchers concluded that probiotics helped soften stools, making them easier to pass. And in the sample they analyzed, probiotics increased the number of weekly bowel movements by 1.3.
In another study, published January 2015 in the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility, researchers said probiotics produce short-chain fatty acids that may improve gut movements, making it easier to poop.
Foods containing probiotics include:
- Some fermented cheeses
7. Sip a Cup of Senna Tea
Senna tea (made from the leaves of the senna plant) is on the list of drinks that help with constipation. Certain compounds in senna known as glycosides cause muscle contractions in the intestines, which lead to a bowel movement, per the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Taking senna by mouth (such as drinking senna tea) is effective for the short-term treatment of constipation, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
These teas generally produce a bowel movement within six to 12 hours of drinking them, which is why it's suggested to drink a cup at night before bed in order to poop in the morning.
Keep in mind, though, that any regular use of a laxative — even a natural laxative — will condition your body to become dependent on the laxative to go and require more of the medication over time, Dr. Farhadi says. So, he suggests only resorting to a laxative as needed, and not often.
8. Train Your Body to Go
OK, time for a fun fact: Did you know that you can actually make yourself poop when you want to?
It might be news for many of us, but Dr. Farhadi assures it's possible. He calls it gut conditioning, and it boils down to training your body to recognize when it's time to go.
He points out that many people's busy lifestyles often cause them to suppress the urge to go when nature calls — and over time, the constant suppression could lead your body to simply stop sending out the cues.
The solution to this is setting up a time that works for you and your schedule to train your body when to go. It works like this: Pick a time in your schedule when you want to train your body to have a bowel movement and stick to it. During that time, sit on the toilet for 15 minutes, but don't strain or force yourself to go. Just sit there, every day at the same designated time.
Eventually, Dr. Farhadi says, after about 10 to 15 days, your body will pick up on your cues and deliver. Constipation cured.
What About Baking Soda for Constipation?
You may come across some advice on the internet that suggests drinking a mixture of baking soda and warm water can help with constipation. However, there's no evidence that this treatment works to relieve constipation.
Is This an Emergency?
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Fiber"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Common causes of constipation"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "How Much Water Do You Need"
- World Journal of Gastroenterology: "Diet in irritable bowel syndrome: What to recommend, not what to forbid to patients"
- FDA: "Spilling the Beans: How Much Caffeine is Too Much?"
- Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition: "Dried Plums and Their Products: Composition and Health Effects–An Updated Review"
- Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics: "Systematic review: the effect of prunes on gastrointestinal function"
- LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury: "Senna"
- Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology: "Constipation: Pathophysiology and Current Therapeutic Approaches"
- Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology: "Exercise therapy in patients with constipation: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials"
- University of Rochester Medical Center: "Constipation"
- Nutrition Reviews: "Water, Hydration and Health"
- Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics: "Systematic review with meta‐analysis: effect of fibre supplementation on chronic idiopathic constipation in adults"
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Health Implications of Dietary Fiber"
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: "Sennosides"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Senna"
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "The effect of probiotics on functional constipation in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials"
- Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility: "Alteration of Gut Microbiota and Efficacy of Probiotics in Functional Constipation"