Plagued by constipation? You have lots of options for finding relief besides commercial laxatives. From apple cider vinegar for constipation to diet and lifestyle changes, here are ways to get things moving.
How to Tell if You’re Constipated
Whether it's three times a day or three times a week, everyone has their normal number of bowel movements, according to the Cleveland Clinic. When you go less than your typical amount of toilet trips, that's constipation.
Read more: Why Going on a Diet Can Make You Constipated
Natural Ways to Ease Constipation
There are many things that you can do from the comfort of your own home. "Most symptoms will go away by modifying behavior and diet," says Gabriel Winberry, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist and researcher at WakeMed in Raleigh, North Carolina. Here's how to get started.
Put toilet time on the calendar. "Creating a better toilet schedule with regular sitting on the toilet can help get back on track," says Dr. Winberry. "Sit on the toilet two to three times per day after meals." Going to the bathroom after meals makes sense. After all, your body's natural response to eating is the gastrocolic reflex, and it makes room for food in your stomach, according to the UK's National Health Service.
This process normally happens 20 to 30 minutes after eating a meal. "It's a reflex," says Dr. Winberry. "Foods send signals to your intestines that it might be time to go to the bathroom. Take advantage of this."
Use diet effectively. "Most natural remedies involve using dietary factors to help combat constipation," Dr. Winberry says. Simple changes to food and beverages can make your stools softer and easier to pass, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Liquids in particular, like olive oil and juices, are known to get your bowel going, stated the Bladder & Bowel Community. "Fiber and fluid and sugar are lubrication for the gastrointestinal tract," says Dr. Winberry. "Apple cider vinegar, prune juice and fruits that are high in sugar and fiber may help. Some people also take magnesium at home or drink warm water mixed with salt or olive oil."
"These natural remedies aren't as effective as over-the-counter softeners," says Dr. Winberry. "But they have the same general effect of trying to pull more water into the bowel. I don't recommend using these remedies on a regular basis, but from time to time they may have some value."
What you can do on a daily basis is get back to basics with certain lifestyle changes, he says. For instance, Dr. Winberry suggests:
- Increasing hydration. Other fluids aside, make sure that you're getting enough water, like the eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day that's often recommended.
- Increasing fiber. Having fruit is good, but probably not enough to reach your daily fiber goal. According to the Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition, women should aim for 25 grams of fiber per day, an men should be getting about 38 grams. Nuts, seeds, vegetables and whole-grain foods are top sources of fiber.
- Increasing exercise. "Increasing your daily exercise can also help," says Dr. Winberry. Aim for a daily 20- to 30-minute walk at a brisk pace.
Finding Your “Go” Formula
"Overall, it depends on how constipated someone is," says Dr. Winberry. "Just starting to increase fiber and hydration and sitting on the toilet is an easy thing that folks can do." It's a great approach before opting for laxatives like stimulants and softeners.
However, he also cautions that natural remedies aren't always a replacement for medications or medical care. "Laxatives can help in the short term, too, but don't use them for long periods of time unless you're under the supervision of a doctor."
Though constipation is common, some people experience chronic constipation that interferes with their daily life. Treatment for ongoing constipation depends on the underlying cause, notes the Mayo Clinic. "Sometimes rectal therapies like suppositories or enemas are needed," says Dr. Winberry. "If you're not getting any relief, check in with a doctor."
Is This an Emergency?
- Cleveland Clinic: “Frequent Bowel Movements”
- Mayo Clinic: “Constipation”
- National Health Service: “Gastro-Colic Reflex”
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Treatment for Constipation”
- Bladder & Bowel Community: “8 Methods to Encourage a Bowel Movement”
- Gabriel Winberry, MD, pediatric gastroenterologist, researcher, WakeMed, Raleigh, North Carolina
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Easy Ways to Boost Fiber in Your Daily Diet"