No Laxative? 5 Natural Alternatives That’ll Relieve Constipation
There is nothing fun about being constipated, whether it affects you regularly or is just an unpleasant deviation from your regular norm. While your first inclination may be to run to your local pharmacy for some laxatives, there are actually plenty of other ways to relieve constipation. Not to mention that overusing laxatives can lead to dependency or even making the original problem worse in the long run!
(Did you know that pain medication can make you constipated?)
Here are 5 effective ways to relieve constipation without reaching for that laxative.
Water With Lemon
Staying hydrated has countless health benefits, and one of them is preventing constipation. Since a very common cause of constipation is dry stool, drinking more water will soften it and make it easier to pass.
Perhaps you stay hydrated in general, and simply got unlucky. Adding lemon juice and honey to a mug of warm water is one of the best-known cures for occasional constipation. The lemon works as a stimulant for your digestive system and can aid in flushing out toxins. Honey is believed by some researchers to be a mild laxative– not to mention that it helps alleviate the bitterness of the lemon.
You might have already heard of the lemon-and-honey trick, but did you know you can also try replacing the honey with salt? Like lemon, salt helps flush toxins from the stomach and small intestine. It is also rich in magnesium, which encourages contraction of the bowel muscles. In fact, magnesium is so important it has its own section later on!
Oils are another excellent treatment option for constipation. There are a variety to chose from, each with their own array of benefits.
Omega-3 fatty acids are known to positively affect a number of bodily functions–including lowering your cholesterol and aiding in digestion. Fish oil, especially from coldwater fish, is an excellent source of these essential fatty acids.
To help alleviate constipation, try taking a fish oil supplement or including the following fish in your diet:
All of the above contain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)–as do fish oil supplements.
However, fish oil supplements are like any dietary supplement: they need to be taken with caution. Omega-3 fatty acids can increase your risk of bleeding, so it is especially crucial that anyone who bruises easily or has a bleeding disorder takes caution.
Omega-3 fatty acids can cause bad reactions if you’re also taking:
- Blood thinners
- Certain steroids
- Cholesterol medications
- Diabetes medications
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
Fish oil can be very effective, but it also poses some risk. It is important to pick a high-quality brand so you don’t put yourself at risk of consuming mercury and also to talk to your doctor about any conflicting medications or conditions.
This age-old cure is famous for a reason: it’s quick and effective.
The yellowish oil with laxative qualities can be taken in cautious doses for constipation relief. Castor oil tends to work right away, so it’s inadvisable to take it before going to sleep. Though castor oil can be purchased over the counter and is generally considered safe, it can lead to overdose if taken in a large amount.
Like castor oil and fish oil, mineral oil is readily available at most pharmacies. It can alleviate constipation by coating your stool with an oily, waterproof film that helps it retain moisture and move through your colon.
You should not take mineral oil if you have any of the following conditions:
- Food or medication allergies
- Heart failure
- Kidney problems
- Rectal bleeding
- Stomach pain
- Trouble swallowing
Mineral oil should not be taken regularly, since long term use can prevent your body from absorbing enough vitamins A, D, E, and K.
As with any medication or supplement, you should not give any of these oils to children without consulting a doctor. Mineral oil in particular should not be given to children under the age of six. These oils should not be taken at the same time as other laxative or stool softeners. Your doctor should be able to answer any questions regarding whether fish oil, castor oil, or mineral oil is right for you.
Forms of Fiber
Fiber may seem like a no-brainer, but do you know the specifics?
Fiber works by increasing your stool’s water content and helping to bulk it up. The recommended daily fiber dosage is 20 to 35 grams per day, and can be attained through a diet heavy in fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Of course, you can also add in a fiber supplement like psyllium or methylcellulose as long as it doesn’t cause you to go over your recommended daily amount.
There are a couple other things you should know:
- Fiber only works if you’re also drinking enough water. If you’re dehydrated, fiber can actually make things worse.
- Changing your fiber intake abruptly also isn’t a good idea. Instead of hitting your body with an extreme increase (which can cause gas and bloating), do it gradually over the span of a few days.
- Fiber can reduce your body’s absorption of medications, so never take your medicine at the same time as a fiber-heavy meal or fiber supplement. Instead, take it at least an hour before or over two hours afterward.
Unlike famous fiber, magnesium is a constipation treatment that sadly flies under the radar; in fact, some estimates show that up to 80% of Americans are magnesium deficient.
Magnesium helps pull water into your bowels and soften the stool, thereby allowing it to move more effectively through your intestines. Like fiber, it only works if you’re drinking enough water with it. (In fact, you’ve probably noticed hydration is a running theme throughout this article!)
Here are a few ways you can take magnesium:
- Buy a tablet or oral suspension. Take the recommended dose (either on the package or recommended by your physician) with a full glass of water.
- Thoroughly mix 10-30 grams of Epsom (magnesium sulfate) salt with 6-8 ounces of water and drink.
- Try milk of magnesia (magnesium hydroxide), which can also treat constipation.
Magnesium shouldn’t be taken in some cases, or in combination with certain medications. As always, ask your doctor!
Purgative herbs have also been known to relieve constipation, but they should only be used in rare or severe cases. Since they are typically stronger than the other treatments in this article, they should be considered more of a last resort.
Some common herbal and plant-based treatments for constipation include:
- Cascara sagrada
- European buckthorn
- Sennosides or senna
It is especially important to consult with your medical care provider before trying any of these herbs. Even though herbs are natural, they are far from harmless. For example, sennosides can be dangerous if you’ve just had surgery and European buckthorn can cause muscle weakness and even heart problems.
Herbs are real medications with real potential side effects, so they should always be run by your doctor first.
Constipation is uncomfortable, and even downright painful. In some cases it can be a symptom of other medical issues, so it should never be dismissed.
It is always a good idea to talk to your doctor about your constipation, so that you can figure out how to properly treat it and discern whether your have any accompanying health problems. We also conduct constipation clinical trials in Birmingham. If you are interested in learning more, please don’t hesitate to contact us!