Constipation can be treated by eating a high-fiber diet: True or false?
If you answered true, you're right. And if you answered false, you're also right. How is that possible?
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Here's the thing: A low-fiber diet is the leading cause of constipation, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, so the first line of defense against the condition is to increase your fiber intake. But if the only thing you change is your fiber intake, it may not be enough to get things moving.
If you've been eating lots of fiber but are still constipated — meaning that you have uncomfortable and/or infrequent bowel movements — here are the other steps you should take.
1. Drink More Water
Fiber can't do its job without water. Drinking water and other liquids, like soups and fruit juices, helps plump up the fiber in your digestive tract, making your stools softer and easier to pass, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
Your personal history, health and activity level all affect how much water you need, but as a general rule, you should aim to drink half your body weight in ounces each day, per the University of Missouri System. You may need to drink more if you're more physically active and/or if you live in warmer temperatures.
2. Avoid Certain Foods
If you're eating fiber but still constipated, try nixing certain low-fiber foods from your diet that aren't great for your digestion. According to the NIDDK, these include:
- Processed meats, such as hot dogs
- Snack foods, such as chips
- Frozen meals
- Fast food
What About Olive Oil or Castor Oil for Constipation?
While the use of olive oil for constipation relief is referenced quite a bit in folk medicine, there's no real evidence that it's effective.
On the other hand, castor oil is a stimulant laxative, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. In other words, castor oil can make you poop. It should not be used often, though, because it can cause you to lose muscle tone in your bowel, ultimately causing long-term constipation.
Castor oil can interact with some medications and it's also possible to overdose on castor oil, per the U.S. National Library of Medicine, which can cause abdominal cramps, diarrhea and nausea, among other serious symptoms. That's why you should talk to your doctor before taking castor oil for constipation.
3. Move More
Getting regular exercise may help relieve your constipation, per the NIDDK.
Physical activity increases the muscle activity in your intestines, according to the Mayo Clinic, which is why you should aim to exercise most days of the week.
The best workouts for digestion include yoga, walking and jogging, while HIIT and heavy weight-lifting may hinder your gut activity.
4. Take Your Time
Giving yourself ample time in the bathroom to have a bowel movement can help with constipation, per the Mayo Clinic. Set aside the time so you don't feel rushed.
The NIDDK suggests scheduling this time between 15 and 45 minutes after you eat breakfast, because eating sends the message to your colon to move stool. Most importantly, use the bathroom as soon as you feel the urge to go — don't hold your poop, as this can make constipation worse.
5. Talk to Your Doctor
If you're eating fiber but are still constipated, and you've tried other diet and lifestyle changes, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss other treatment options.
Your doctor can determine if a specific medication or supplement you're taking is the culprit behind your constipation and note if there are any alternatives you can take instead. He or she may also prescribe a laxative for temporary constipation relief.
You should also visit your doctor if you experience bleeding with a bowel movement that relieves your constipation, or if you have severe pain that doesn't get better after a bowel movement.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for Constipation"
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Constipation"
- University of Missouri System: "How to calculate how much water you should drink"
- Mayo Clinic: "Constipation: Diagnosis and Treatment"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Castor Oil Overdose"
- American Academy of Family Physicians: "Laxatives: OTC Products for Constipation"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.