By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
These days, it’s all too easy to grab over-the-counter chemical laxatives every time our digestive train slows down and we get constipated. Folks, those drugs aren’t the answer.
If you use laxatives too often, your body may forget how to poop on its own. In other words, overzealous use of laxatives may stop you from having normal bowel movements. Plus, like most drugs, chemical laxatives can be toxic and interfere with immunity.
Even so, you must prevent constipation. Chronic constipation leads to diverticulosis, in which out-pouches form in the large intestine. If those pouches get infected or possibly burst, you wind up with diverticulitis, and you might land in the hospital for IV antibiotic treatment or even colon surgery. Constipation also carries with it the risk of developing colorectal cancer, so you really want to make it a priority to stay “regular.”
How can you tell if you’re constipated? Constipation results after at least two days of not having a bowel movement. You’re probably constipated, too, if it takes a long time to pass stools, and they are hard.
A High-Fiber Diet – One of the Best Constipation Remedies
One of the best ways to prevent and get rid of constipation is through diet – eating good, natural sources of fiber such as fruit in its skin, dried fruits like prunes, raw vegetables, bran and other whole grains. Fiber travels through the bowel largely undigested and helps usher waste and toxins out of the body. Following a high-fiber diet is the foundational way to prevent constipation and keep your digestive system working at peak efficiency. If you’re already constipated, try having a few helpings of green veggies or spinach salad for dinner and have a healthy dose of prunes or a glass of prune juice for dessert. Things should start to move soon.
Visit my Healthy Recipes page for some fiber-filled and nutritious green-veggie medleys and salads.
Find Constipation Relief through Other Natural Remedies
In addition to roughage as a way of life, here are some other remedies to keep up your sleeve when you need constipation relief:
This popular kitchen spice contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents that promote bowel movements, reduce inflammation, and protect and soothe the entire length of the intestines. To harness its benefits, take ginger capsules, cook with fresh ginger, or sip ginger tea regularly.
2. Rye Bread
Rye bread shortens the time it takes for food to pass through your system, increases the number of bowel movements weekly, and softens stools. That’s the result of a study published in the Journal of Nutrition. The study also demonstrated that rye bread worked better than laxatives, wheat bread, and white bread. All the breads were paired up with probiotics, but rye bread came out on top.
Among all the constipation remedies listed here, rye bread is the least likely to bring additional health benefits to the table. Bread – even whole grain bread – needs to be eaten in moderation because of it’s potential to spike blood sugar. If you’re eating rye bread to help find constipation relief, be sure to add some healthy protein and fat to the mix – spread almond butter on it, for example, or dip it in olive oil – to help slow the release of insulin.
Yogurt is one of the best sources of probiotics– those friendly gut bacteria that improve digestive health and bolster immunity. And it can also bring constipation relief – as long as the yogurt contains a probiotic like L. acidophilus. In a recent study of adults suffering from constipation, researchers had the subjects eat 6 ounces of unflavored yogurt every morning for 14 days – that’s the amount found in grocery-store containers of yogurt. Half the group ate acidophilus-fortified yogurt, while the other half ate an un-fortified version. Those who ate the probiotic-fortified yogurt had the best results; it moved things along better than the plain yogurt. The take-away here is to eat yogurt regularly but make sure it contains probiotics.
4. A Homemade Natural Laxative
I’m obviously generally against laxatives, but not this one. Back in the 90s, two researchers with the last names of Beverley and Travis concocted a natural laxative made from pulverized dried fruit, and it became known as the Beverley-Travis Natural Laxative Mixture. It was all but forgotten until a group of researchers tested it in 2007 in some elderly folks, who notoriously want to get rid of constipation. Subjects were divided into treatment and control groups; the controls continued to take their regular prescription laxatives, and treatment group subjects stopped their prescribed laxatives and received 2 tablespoons of the natural laxative mixture instead, twice a day for four weeks. The natural laxative turned out to be more effective than daily prescribed laxatives at producing normal bowel movements!
The Beverley-Travis Natural Laxative Mixture isn’t something you buy. Nor is it a proprietary formula; it is simply a recipe that you can whip up in your own kitchen. Here’s how to make it:
One cup each of: raisins, pitted prunes, figs, pitted dates, currents, and prune juice. Mix all the ingredients in a blender or food processor until pulverized and thickened. Store in your fridge to keep it fresh. Take two tablespoons daily.
I’m beginning to wonder if there is anything that yoga doesn’t do! Where bowel health is concerned, yoga helps resolve a constipation-related problem called “anismus.” This refers to the inability to relax your pelvic muscles so that you can have a bowel movement. If those pelvic muscles are inflexible, you can suffer from chronic constipation. Through a 2015 study of “obstructed defecation syndrome,” a serious form of constipation that sometimes involves surgery, researchers noted that yoga plays a big part in managing this condition naturally. My advice: Get moving with yoga, and your digestive system will get moving too.
6. Drink Plenty of Water
I’ll add too that you’ve got to drink ample water daily (8 to 10 cups) to prevent and treat constipation. Water has a near-immediate effect against constipation and works with fiber and other natural substances to improve elimination. Try any or all of my constipation remedies, so you can stop the use of harmful laxatives and naturally restore the health of your bowel.
- Guérin A, et al. Risk of developing colorectal cancer and benign colorectal neoplasm in patients with chronic constipation. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 2014;40(1):83-92.
- Haniadka R, et al. A review of the gastroprotective effects of ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe). Food & Function. 2013;4(6):845-855.
- Holma R, et al. Constipation is relieved more by rye bread than wheat bread or laxatives without increased adverse gastrointestinal effects. Journal of Nutrition. 2010;140(3):534-541.
- Magro DO, et al. Effect of yogurt containing polydextrose, Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM and Bifidobacterium lactis HN019: a randomized, double-blind, controlled study in chronic constipation. Journal of Nutrition. 2014;13:75.
- Hale EM, et al. Pilot study of the feasibility and effectiveness of a natural laxative mixture. Geriatric Nursing. 2007;28(2):104-111.
- Podzemny V, Pescatori LC, and Pescatori M. Management of obstructed defecation. World Journal of Gastroenterology. 2015;21(4):1053-1060.
© Stephen Sinatra, MD. All rights reserved.