Constipation can be uncomfortable, painful and prevent you from feeling your best.
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If you experience common constipation symptoms like infrequent bowel movements or pain and difficulty passing stools, know that about 16 percent of American adults do too, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
But this uncomfortable gastrointestinal (GI) symptom can be remedied with one simple daily habit: drinking warm water in the morning.
How Warm Water Can Help With Constipation
A morning dose of H2O upon waking helps to deliver nutrients throughout your body, regulate body temperature and flush toxins out of your system, according to the Mayo Clinic. It's this latter benefit — the ability to help cleanse your system — that makes water such a powerful tool for helping relieve constipation. ****
****Drinking water at any temperature (ice-cold, room or warm) will keep you hydrated, but warm water is the best for constipation, according to a September-October 2016 study in Gastroenterology Nursing. Drinking warm water on an empty stomach may not sound like the most exciting morning ritual, but just one glass can help kickstart your metabolism and get your bowels in motion.
"Studies have shown that drinking cold water may decrease motility. For example, drinking water at 2 degrees Celsius (about 36 degrees Fahrenheit) was found to suppress gastric contractions compared to 37 and 60 degrees Celsius (98 and 140 degrees F, respectively)," says Elena A. Ivanina, DO, MPH, a gastroenterologist and the creator of integrative gut health site Gutlove.com.
Dr. Ivanina generally recommends people drink at least 8 cups of water per day, but that amount is varying based on age, sex assigned at birth and activity level.
The Right Temperature
What’s the right temperature to drink water at? Well, it varies. Research recommends drinking water between 130 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit to avoid burning or scalding yourself, per the 2016 Gastroenterology Nursing study.
A general rule of thumb is to keep the temperature above lukewarm but not so hot you can’t sip it.
How Much Water Should I Drink?
It may come as a surprise to hear you can have daily bowel movements but still be constipated, according to the American College of Gastroenterology. You may be passing stools every day without completely emptying your bowels — this is why staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water is critical for good digestion and preventing constipation.
The Cleveland Clinic recommends drinking a minimum of 8 cups (1 cup equals 8 ounces) of water throughout the day. And you should have an additional 2 to 4 cups if you have severe constipation. This aligns with a January 2020 PLOS One study that shows drinking a minimum of 8 cups of water a day helped relieve constipation in people living with irritable bowel syndrome.
It's a safe bet to drink at least 1 to 2 cups of water when you wake up to get your digestive tract lubricated and functioning. But water alone won't do the trick. Eating lots of high-fiber foods (fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains) will also support a healthy gut and keep you regular.
Drinking enough water is important on a high-fiber diet as it helps pass the fiber through your GI tract for better digestion.
Should You Add Lemon or Lime?
If plain warm water isn’t appealing, try adding freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice. This adds a good dose of vitamin C and citric acid to your morning water.
Lemons and limes also aid in digestion and constipation as their acidity helps to clear the intestines, according to a January-February 2021 study in the Journal of Science and Technology.
Starting the day with a cup or two of warm lemon water on an empty stomach can help improve your bowel movements and reduce the likelihood of constipation.
But ultimately, achieving a healthy lifestyle requires more than drinking water in the morning. Nutrition, exercise and daily habits also play integral roles.
"Maintaining regular bowel movements for most people involves a healthy, high-fiber diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, regular physical activity and enough water to avoid dehydration," says Michael DeSimone, MD, a gastroenterologist at Middlesex Digestive Health and Endoscopy Center in Massachusetts.
"If people are doing these things and still struggling with constipation, they should talk to their primary care physician or a local gastroenterologist," Dr. DeSimone says.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Definition & Facts for Constipation"
- Mayo Clinic: "Water: Essential to your body"
- Gastroenterology Nursing: "The Effect of Warm Water Intake on Bowel Movements in the Early Postoperative Stage of Patients Having Undergone Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy"
- American College of Gastroenterology: "Constipation and Defecation Problems"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Constipation"
- Plos One: "Water consumption and prevalence of irritable bowel syndrome among adults"
- Journal of Science and Technology: "Medicinal and Health Benefits of Lemon"
- Nutrients: "The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health"