If you’re reading this article during breakfast, you may want to put down your fork; we’re about to go full-on TMI.
Ladies and gents, we’re about to talk about poop.
Come on, don’t blush. Sure, society may have taught us that poop-talk is taboo, but the reality is, everyone poops – and many of us even learned to read from the children’s book of the same title.
I’ll be totally, disgustingly honest: my favorite part of the day is after I’ve slurped down my Death Wish coffee and can enjoy some quality time in the bathroom. That post-sleep, hyper-caffeinated Power Dump™ is an experience that is truly magical, and dare I say even orgasmic.
Some mornings, though, I sigh a deep breath in the bathroom that is not one of revel and relief, but that reflects the agony of defeat. I wince, I strain, I contort my body in compromising ways – but try as I might, I can’t get my snakes to slide into the beckoning bowl.
That’s right, folks, we’re talking about constipation. And just as everyone poops, everyone gets a little backed up sometimes. You know what I’m talking about.
According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, constipation refers to the difficult passage of stool or infrequent bowel movements – that is, fewer than three bowel movements in a week. While occasional constipation is very common, some people suffer from chronic constipation that persists for several weeks or longer. If left untreated, constipation can result in complications such as hemorrhoids or anal fissures, tears in the skin surrounding the anus.
If these symptoms sound familiar and put a strain on your daily life, don’t worry – this poo shall pass. While you should definitely see a doctor if your symptoms are accompanied by severe abdominal pain, blood in your stool, vomiting, or fever – or if you haven’t pooped in a week – most of the time, constipation isn’t an emergency, and you can get things moving with a few natural home remedies.
Sick of squeezing and wheezing just to drop the kids off at the pool? Here, doctors and dietitians offer their number-two tips for natural constipation relief.
What Are The Causes of Constipation?
Ideally, the first step to cure your constipation is to identify why you’re backed up in the first place. “The causes of constipation are numerous and can include dietary factors, medications, or medical conditions,” explains Onikepe Adegbola, M.D., Ph.D., a lifestyle medicine physician who specializes in gut health. “In general, constipation occurs when waste products move too slowly through the intestines, causing the stool to become dry and hard. This can make it difficult to have a bowel movement, leading to discomfort and straining.”
The National Institute of Diabetes And Digestive And Kidney Diseases lists the following specific causes of constipation:
Certain Medicines And Dietary Supplements
Antacids containing aluminum and calcium
Anticholinergics and antispasmodics
Anticonvulsants (seizure-preventing medicines)
Calcium channel blockers
Parkinson’s disease medicines
Opioids or opiates (narcotics)
Ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement
Change in medicines
Change in dietary habits
Certain Health And Nutrition Problems
Lack of fiber in the diet
Dehydration (not drinking enough liquids)
Lack of physical activity
Brain and spine diseases (such as Parkinson’s)
Metabolic disease (such as diabetes)
Hormone conditions (such as hypothyroidism)
Inflammation linked to diverticular disease or proctitis
Intestinal obstructions (including anorectal blockage and tumors)
Sometimes, the cause of your constipation is not so cut and dry. You can become backed up for multiple reasons, or due to several causes at once (spoiler alert: aging is often a common denominator).
How Do I Make Myself Poop? Natural Constipation Relief Methods
Fortunately, in most cases, the process to get things moving is as smooth and straightforward as your fairy-tale poop. Here are some natural constipation relief suggestions to stop the straining, according to the experts:
1. Increase fiber.
Dietary fiber is the indigestible part of a plant food that helps normalize colonic transit time and improves stool consistency, which speeds up your poop’s passage through the intestines. “Look at the type of fiber you are getting through the day,” advises Shena Jaramillo, R.D., a registered dietitian nutritionist. “It should be a mix of soluble and insoluble fiber for healthy stools.” Soluble fiber can be found in foods like oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils, while insoluble fiber can be found in wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains.
According to the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines For Americans, women should consume 22 to 28 grams of fiber per day. “However, it is important to note that if you are increasing fiber, this should be done gradually,” warns Jaramillo. “Don’t go from 5 grams to 25 grams of fiber in one day!” Increasing your intake too quickly can lead to gas and bloating, she notes.
2. Drink adequate fluid.
“Dehydration is a large cause of constipation, so getting enough fluid can be an important way to relieve it,” notes Sarah Glinski, R.D., a registered dietitian who specializes in gastrointestinal disorders and gut health. For best results, Glinski recommends drinking two to three liters of water per day. “If you struggle with water intake, try carrying a water bottle with you or setting a reminder on your phone,” she says.
3. Drink coffee – but not too much.
You don’t have to tell me twice to enjoy an extra cup-o’-joe in the morning. “In many people, coffee stimulates the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract,” explains Leann Poston, M.D., a pediatric physician and content contributor for Invigor Medical. But don’t overdo it with your oversized Starbucks latte – caffeine is a diuretic, which can cause you to lose too much water and worsen constipation.
4. Exercise regularly.
As an avid runner, you also don’t have to twist my arm to exercise. But if you belong to the majority of people who hate running (I get it, I get it), even walking regularly can help you conquer constipation. “Exercise is one of the best ways to improve your condition of stool,” explains Liz Jane, M.D., a physician who specializes in internal medicine, nutrition, immunology, and surgery. “It can help to pass more stool each day, which is important for constipation-related symptoms to improve.”
5. Take a laxative.
From MiraLAX to Dulcolax, plenty of laxative medicines are available over the counter and can soften stool or increase motility. “They are helpful for constipation-related symptoms and can be taken as needed,” Dr. Jane says. Just be careful not to overuse or abuse these medicines, as laxative abuse can lead to chronic constipation, dehydration, and an increased risk of colon cancer.
6. Eat prunes.
Think you need a laxative, but nervous about taking a pill? If you can stomach the taste, swallow some prunes. “Prunes contain natural sugar alcohols, which act as a mild laxative,” Glinski explains. “Start with five to six prunes and gradually increase until your bowels are moving.”
7. Eat kiwi.
If puckered prunes aren’t your preference, “Try adding kiwi to a fruit salad or smoothie,” Glinski recommends. A 2020 study conducted at Michigan Medicine found that fresh kiwi proved nearly as effective as pitted prunes in alleviating chronic constipation – but with much higher patient satisfaction scores, and a lower risk of bloating and gas as side effects.
8. Take probiotics.
Probiotics are live, beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods (like kombucha and sauerkraut), yogurts, and certain supplements. In addition to enhancing the gut microbiome, probiotics have been shown to ease constipation by increasing gut transit time, increasing the number of weekly bowel movements and softening stools so that they’re easier to pass. But “not all strains of bacteria improve constipation,” Glinski points out, “so talk with a doctor or dietitian to figure out the right strain for you.”
9. Try a Squatty Potty.
If your diet is already on point for productive pooping, it might be time to try a Squatty Potty, Glinski says. The Squatty Potty, or any similar squatting toilet, is a simple stool that helps you pop a proper squat. “By raising [the knees above the hips], it creates a more natural position so the colon can relax and make bowel movements easier,” Glinski explains.
10. Get regular checkups.
Even if your constipation is rare or fleeting, it’s important to prioritize routine checkups with your primary care doctor. “Your doctor can provide advice on diet and exercise changes that may be effective for treating constipation-related symptoms,” says Dr. Jane. Plus, your doctor can run tests to make sure your symptoms are not indicative of a more serious medical problem, such as a thyroid condition, diabetes, or even colon cancer.
Do you sometimes struggle to get things moving? What home remedies help you stop the strain? Tell us your most TMI poop stories in the comments!
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