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8 Superfoods to Relieve Constipation

Foods to Relieve Constipation

Constipation Symptoms

Bowel movements allow for the emptying of waste and toxins from your digestive system. While there’s no required or accepted number of times that a person should move their bowels, most researchers agree that three times a week to three times a day is normal.1 However, many people suffer from constipation, which affects about 16 of 100 adults in the United States at any given time.2 Constipation is generally described as moving your bowels less than three times per week. This may also be accompanied by: 

  • Hard, dry, or lumpy stools
  • Stools that feel painful or are difficult to pass
  • Dissatisfaction or otherwise feeling like you did not pass a complete stool 2 

Natural Laxatives and Foods to Help with Constipation

A wide range of fruits, vegetables, seeds, and other foods offer natural constipation relief while providing you with necessary vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to support your overall digestive health. Here are some of the most common natural laxatives for kids and adults.

Natural Laxatives and Home Remedies for Constipation

1. Psyllium Seed Husks

Taken from the husks of Plantago ovata seeds, psyllium is a soluble fiber and is a common ingredient in fiber supplements.3 When ingested, psyllium acts as a bulk-forming laxative, meaning it works by increasing the size and moisture of stools, allowing for easier passage through the large intestine.4 

In one study, participants were given psyllium, wheat bran, a combination of the two, or a low-fiber control for two weeks. The results found that psyllium had a significant effect on the weight, texture, and moisture of the stools.5 

Typical doses for constipation range from 2.5 grams to 30 grams per day in divided doses. 

2. Prunes

Prunes work two-fold to help your digestive health. They are high in fiber, but they also have a natural laxative effect. In one study, 54 participants were given a test prune juice (consisting of prune puree, plum juice concentrate, water, and fructose). The participants drank 125 milliliters of the prune juice twice a day for two weeks while keeping a daily record of fecal frequency, difficulty in passing stools, stool consistency, and any gastrointestinal symptoms. The results of the study found that the participants reported fewer days with difficulty in defecation, suggesting that the prune juice had a laxative effect.6

In a meta-study, researchers looked at four trials to assess the effect of prunes on gastrointestinal function. The meta-analysis found that three weeks of prune consumption at 100 grams per day was enough to significantly increase stool frequency and improve stool consistency in patients suffering constipation. In studies involving subjects who did not have constipation, prunes were found to soften stool consistency and increase stool weight. This all suggests that prunes may be beneficial to bowel movements and gastrointestinal health in general.7

3.  Aloe Vera

Aloe vera has long been used to help treat digestive issues, including constipation, diarrhea, and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. The aloe leaf offers a rich combination of compounds that have been used as topical treatments for burns, scratches, and skin inflammation. The similar compounds may help to treat inflammation in the digestive system.8 Aloe vera is considered the most biologically active member of the Aloe species with more than 75 identified active constituents, including vitamins, amino acids, enzymes, and polysaccharides.9 

Anthraquinone glycosides found in aloe vera have been studied extensively for their laxative effects. A study on rats with irritable bowel syndrome also showed beneficial effects of aloe vera as an antioxidant and spasmolytic (relieving muscle spasms).10 

However, avoid aloe vera containing aloin. Aloin extracts have been found to potentially cause colorectal cancer in rats.11

4. Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are a rich source of antioxidants, dietary fiber, and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid, which is an essential component to general health and well-being.12 Along with high soluble fiber content, chia seeds can help to soften stools and make them easier to pass. When combined with any liquid, chia seeds become gel-like and expand, allowing for optimal stool formation.13 

When combined with any liquid, chia seeds become gel-like and expand, allowing for optimal stool formation, making them potentially effective as home laxatives.13 Along with its laxative potential, chia seeds have been shown in studies to possess anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that may help to ease gastrointestinal issues and support healthy digestion.14

5. Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds come from the Linum usitatissimum plant and are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, lignans (which offer antioxidant properties), and both soluble and insoluble fiber.15 

Flaxseed has also been found to have dual effectiveness for both diarrhea and constipation. Researchers studied the mucilage and oil for their laxative and antidiarrheal effects in mice. Results of the study found that oral administration of flaxseed mucilage and oil caused an increase in wet feces in mice. In terms of antidiarrheal effects, flaxseed oil was found to reduce castor-oil induced diarrhea and intestinal secretions in the mice.16 

In another single-blinded, randomized, controlled trial, 53 patients with type-2 diabetes who experienced constipation received either placebo cookies or cookies containing 10 grams of flaxseed for a period of 12 weeks. Researchers measured constipation symptom scores, body mass index, lipids profiles, and other physiologic metrics prior to the study and at four-week intervals. Results of the study found that the patients in the flaxseed group not only showed decreased constipation symptom scores, but also had reduced weight, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels with no observed adverse effects.17

6. Probiotics

Probiotics refer to the good bacteria that exist primarily in your gut and balance out the more harmful bacteria. Maintaining that balance supports good digestive health and may help to prevent constipation and diarrhea.18 

The potential for probiotics to help relieve constipation and support healthy digestion has been extensively studied. In a systematic review and meta-analysis of 14 randomized controlled trials regarding probiotics and constipation, researchers found that probiotics effectively reduced total gut transit time by about 12.5 hours while increasing the frequency of stools by about 1.3 bowel movements per week, particularly for the Bifidobacterium lactis strain. Probiotics were also found to improve stool consistency.19 

Probiotics can be taken in the form of a supplement or consumed in probiotic-rich foods. Common probiotic foods include: 

  • Yogurt
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kefir
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha28 

General rule of thumb suggests that you should consume at least 1 billion colony forming units (CFUs) of probiotics. Most doses range from 1 billion to 10 billion CFUs, though doses as high as 100 billion CFUs are not uncommon. Furthermore, children and infants may take doses below 1 billion CFUs.20 

Prebiotic Fiber for Healthy Digestion

7. Coconut Water

Coconut water is best known for helping you hydrate while providing a wealth of electrolytes. A study comparing coconut water with regular water and carbohydrate-electrolyte sports drink found that the coconut water offered the same comparable hydration abilities but with less nausea and fullness and no upset stomach issues.21 

Coconut water is also rich in calcium, vitamin C, potassium, and manganese. Compounds like folate, niacin, and riboflavin also help to boost its natural hydrating effects.22 Furthermore, one cup of coconut water contains about 2.6 grams of fiber, accounting for 11 percent your daily recommended value.23 

8. Olive Oil

Initial research has found that olive oil may provide a variety of potential health benefits, including its role as a cardioprotective agent.24 

Growing research also suggests that olive oil may act as a laxative. In a four-week double-blind, randomized, controlled trial, 50 patients who had constipation were assigned to receive either mineral oil, olive oil, or flaxseed oil in initial doses of 4 milliliters per day. Using the Rome III criteria, which evaluated symptoms that included incomplete evacuation, anorectal obstruction, and lumpy or hard stools, the researchers found improved scores with all three oils. Five of the six symptoms of constipation were reduced in both mineral oil and olive oil groups, while flaxseed oil seemed to only improve the consistency of stools and the frequency of evacuation. This suggests that olive oil and flaxseed oil are as effective as mineral oil in relieving symptoms of constipation.25 

In a consensus statement on the treatment of obstructed defecation and chronic constipation, olive oil was found to help soften stools when the intake exceeded the small intestine’s absorptive capacity.26 

Olive oil contains healthy fats that may help to lubricate and smooth the insides of the bowels. Olive oil may also help stools hold more water. A tablespoon of olive oil taken on an empty stomach can help to relieve constipation in adults.27 

 Read next: Probiotic Side Effects | How to Avoid Them

 

Sources: 

  1. https://www.healthline.com/health/how-many-times-should-you-poop-a-day
  2. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/constipation/definition-facts
  3. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318707.php
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/469025
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2831263
  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0271531707001431
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25109788
  8. https://www.healthline.com/health/digestive-health/aloe-vera-juice-for-ibs
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92765/
  10. https://europepmc.org/abstract/med/23263994
  11. https://www.webmd.com/diet/supplement-guide-aloe-vera#2
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27413203
  13. https://www.verywellhealth.com/can-chia-seeds-ease-constipation-1944829
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4926888/
  15. https://www.webmd.com/diet/features/benefits-of-flaxseed#1
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25889554
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5944250/
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3206558/
  19. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/100/4/1075/4576460
  20. https://www.consumerlab.com/answers/how-many-cells-or-cfus-should-my-probiotic-have/probiotic-cells-CFU/
  21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12056182
  22. https://www.foodsforbetterhealth.com/is-coconut-water-a-laxative-33639
  23. https://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/nut-and-seed-products/3115/2
  24. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26148926
  25. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1051227614001411
  26. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3460325/
  27. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/313416.php
  28. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-super-healthy-probiotic-foods