Constipation is a symptom characterised by poor bowel movement. Medically, constipation is a state when one passes stools thrice or less in a week, while one is said to be severely constipated when stools are passed just once a week. Constipation is also marked by difficulty in passing stools, sparing and dry stools as well as feeling of incompletion in stools.
Sometimes, constipation could also be accompanied by diarrhoea, as in the case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Constipation is considered a symptom and not a disease by itself. If constipation is chronic and is accompanied by other symptoms such as loss of appetite, abdominal discomfort, vomiting or bleeding, it may be necessary to seek medical advice immediately.
Constipation could be symptomatic of an underling cause; however, constipation itself could be caused by any of the following factors
- Insufficient water consumption
- Diet that lacks in fibre content
- Stress and anxiety
- Medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Parkinson’s diseases, multiple sclerosis or colon cancer
- Inadequate physical activity and lack of exercises
- Indiscriminate use of laxatives that might affect intestinal muscles
- Pregnancy is also characterised by constipation
Various Home Remedies For Constipation
One of the primary home remedies for constipation would be fibre. Fibre is present in almost all plant food, and could be classified as soluble and insoluble fibre. While soluble fibre is capable of slowing the digestive process down, it is insoluble fibre that promotes faster movement of food through the digestive tract. When food passes slowly through the intestines, there is much water absorbed by the intestinal walls, resulting in solid waste reaching the colon. With accumulation of solid in the rectum, there are functional changes that happen in the rectum, which could lead to constipation in the long run.
The function of fibre is to promote smooth food movement by encouraging peristalsis, the wave-like movement of the digestive tract. Further, fibre consumption helps in the enlargement of the intestinal walls, allowing for easy passage of food through the system. Foods that contain insoluble fibre that helps in increasing the rate of movement of food through the digestive tract include wheat bran, whole grains and foods high in whole grains such as wholegrain breads and cereals, seeds as well as fruit skins. Abundant consumption of foods that are high in fibre helps in improving conditions of constipation.
The levels of fibre needed by the body on a daily basis would be around 20 grams for women and around 35 grams for men. The kind of high fibre fruits and vegetables that you may want to include in your diet would be apples, berries, beans, broccoli, carrots, figs, oranges, pears and peas – and you would need abundant quantities of them if you have been neglecting them and if you have been experiencing constipation and its symptoms.
Given that constipation is caused on account of dry stools and because of fluid being absorbed by the intestines as the food passes through the digestive tract, it may be worthwhile increasing the amount of fluid intake to compensate for the lack of fluid content in the gut. And the best home remedies for constipation when it comes to fluid consumption would involve drinking adequate quantities of water.
While water in itself may not turn out to be the cure for constipation, it would very well serve the purpose to make stools softer and easier to pass. You could also include liquids in your diet, where you could have more liquid content in your food, as in the case of soups.
Drinking healthy fruit juices and vegetable juices would also go on to add fluids to your system, helping in your conditions of constipation. While you may not want to have additional doses of caffeinated drinks, getting used to herbal tea might sort it out in terms of home remedies for constipation.
Rhubarb is another herb that is known to work effectively as one of the home remedies for constipation. The root has been used extensively in Chinese medicine as a laxative, given that the root is high in anthraquinones, compounds that are known to have laxative properties in the bowels. Using the herb as home remedies for constipation helps in stimulating the colon and hence, promoting bowel movement.
Further, the roots are also high in tannins, which are polyphenols that are present in many plant tissues as well as in barks of trees, in wood and in roots. Tannins are known to have antimicrobial, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help in reducing inflammation of the colon, another factor that might have contributed to constipation. Rhubarb has high percentage of water content, which, when taken regularly, is known to hydrate the body, increase water content and facilitate the softening of stools. Further, the good levels of fibre found in rhubarb helps in expanding the intestinal walls, helping in peristalsis, and in helping the food on its way down the intestinal tract. The other minerals fond in rhubarb include potassium and magnesium.
While potassium is known to play key roles in regulating digestion by facilitating muscle contraction towards healthy peristalsis, the mineral is also responsible for maintaining the right amounts of fluid balance in the body. Magnesium is also vital in relaxing the muscles in the intestinal tract and in increasing fluid availability to the intestine, important characteristics that would help as home remedies for constipation. A couple of rhubarb stalks could be included n daily diet towards hydrating the system, relaxing the intestinal muscles, maintaining proper fluid balance of the body, promoting peristalsis and in healing the intestine and the colon through its anti-inflammatory properties.
The herb, also known as the sacred bark, with origins in the Pacific coast of Northern America, has had a tradition of coming in handy as one of the home remedies for constipation. The herb has high levels of anthroquinone, an organic compound that has a laxative effect on the digestive system. Cascara sagrada could be purchased in many forms, such as in capsule or extract forms or even as dried barks.
It is generally recommended that the herbal product be taken towards early hours of the evening as it would tone the muscles and would set them up for passing stools in the morning. The herb works by promoting peristalsis, the sequential bowel movement that is responsible for the passing of food through the digestive tract, thus inducing the urge to pass stools. The herb has traditionally been used for colon cleansing, serving as a useful option in rectifying problems with the colon.
a. Caution with Cascara sagrada: It is extremely important to heed to the warning signs before resorting to using cascara sagrada as a home remedy for constipation, and it should be taken only under strict supervision of a qualified herbal medical practitioner. The herb should not be taken for more than seven consecutive days, even as lactating and pregnant women should refrain from using it. Abdominal cramping, changes in the electrolyte balance of the body along with vomiting are some of the side effects associated with use of the herb.
Chickweed is a plant that is thought to be loved by chicken, and one whose leaves are used for their medicinal benefits, with their use as home remedies for constipation being one of the prominent health benefits. The young shoots could be eaten raw or could be added on to salads. This is a low-calorie, low-fat herb that has Vitamin A, Vitamin C and B complex vitamins. Chickweed is also found to have minerals such as magnesium, potassium, selenium, manganese and zinc, apart from iron. Manganese and potassium have been known to play a role in correcting health conditions associated with constipation.
Chickweed is also used to increase iron intake, providing for approximately 3 percentage of the recommended dietary intake of iron. Among its other benefits such as its use in treatment of asthma, nasal congestion and lung disorders, scurvy, psoriasis and itching, muscle and joint pain as well as in correcting hormonal imbalances, chickweed comes in handy as a laxative, easing bowel movement. Chickweeds could be included in diet by using their greens as salads, while around 40 grams of the herb could be mixed with 400 ml of water, boiled and drunk as chickweed tea after straining the blend.
a. Caution with Chickweed: While chickweeds are generally thought to be safe to use, it is advisable to go for medical advice before taking it up in the case of pregnant and lactating women. There is not much evidence available when it comes to using chickweeds for children and infants.
Aloe Vera is a magical herb with loads of health benefits, and one of them is its ability to rectify constipation. While Aloe Vera could be used as one of the home remedies for constipation, it is not recommended as a standalone remedy and one that could be of much help in acute conditions on its own. However, Aloe Vera is to be used for the long term, where it is known to treat infections in the intestine with prolonged use, apart from its ability to detoxify the system.
Aloe Vera is also known to restore the right levels of good bacteria in the gut, thus promoting intestinal health in the long run. Aloe Vera helps in the proper functioning of bowel muscles by promoting a healthy environment, apart from having a bulking effect on stools.
Aloe Vera is available in capsules as well as in concentrated juice form. While the concentrated Aloe Vera juice could be extracted from Aloe Vera leaves, diluted with 5 times water and drunk, it could also be purchased in concentrated forms from retail outlets.
a. Caution with Aloe Vera: Aloe Vera is known to have properties that would bring blood sugars down, the reason it is a favourite among diabetics. Hence, Aloe Vera is to be used with care in children.
The dried plums, prunes, are not only known for their sweet taste, sticky and chewy feel and their dark wrinkled texture, but also for their use as home remedies for constipation. These dried fruits are generally available all through the year and are considerably high in fibre and Vitamin K, along with reasonable levels of potassium. Prunes as well as plums have been known for their anti-oxidant properties, thanks to the high levels of phytonutrients called chlorogenic acid and neochlorogenic acid, playing key roles in protecting body tissues from the harmful effects of free radicals.
The fibre content in prunes have normalising effects on body sugar, even as they play an important part in preventing constipation, promoting swift movement of stools through the colon and adding bulk to faeces in the process. These properties apart, the fibre content in prunes, being insoluble by nature, tend to promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the intestinal system, which in turn help in maintaining normal health of liver and the intestinal muscles.
Prunes are high in Vitamin A and in other minerals such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and potassium, with small to medium levels of sodium, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium and fluoride. A nominal dosage of around 6 – 7 medium sized prunes taken regularly on a daily basis serves the purpose as laxatives and bowel stimulants. Prunes could also be consumed in the form of prune juice for effective relief from constipation.
The buckthorn is an herb that has been known for its medicinal properties, especially the berries, for their ability to relieve of constipation. The European buckthorn, as it is called, or Rhamnus catharticus, is known to contain special chemicals that have the property of stimulating the gut and promoting bowel movement.
The effectiveness of the European Buckthorn as home remedies for constipation is also derived from the high levels of fibre content present in it, which increases the bulk of stools and helps in the expansion of the intestinal walls, thereby promoting faster movement of faeces through the colon, relieving symptoms of constipation. The preparation is normally thought to be safe for consumption in most people.
a. Caution with Buckthorn: It is not advisable to take the herbal preparation for a period of more than a week, and it is also advised that the herbal remedy not be administered to children below the age of 12. Further, there have been some side effects associated with the home remedy for constipation, as in the case of stomach aches and cramps, and pregnant women as well as people who have had prior history of ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease or Irritable Bowel Syndrome would be well advised to refrain from taking the medication. Buckthorn is also found to have other drug interactions and it is best to take the advice of a qualified practitioner who knows your medical history before you take up a course of the medication.
Bran is the outer layer of many grains that are left as by-products when the grains are processed. Wheat bran is the by-product that is obtained when the wheat grain is processed. Wheat bran is a rich source of dietary fibre, used predominantly in the treatment of constipation. Its effectiveness as one of the chief home remedies for constipation could be traced to its having a major component of insoluble fibre. The difference in the case of insoluble fibre is that it doesn’t absorb water, unlike soluble fibre.
This helps in the production of bulk in stools, enabling faecal matter to travel faster through the intestinal tract. Wheat bran is used widely as a preventive measure against diseases of the colon, and also in warding off stomach cancer, breast cancer, hernia and haemorrhoids.
a. Caution with wheat bran: While it is generally safe to have wheat bran for constipation, some caution may be exercised when administering wheat bran to infants – while there is no problem with the effectiveness of the treatment, the issue is that infants were seen to display decreased levels of calcium, phosphate and a few other elements after a month of being put on a wheat bran diet. It is advised to check the blood level of infants for essential minerals if wheat bran is administered over a period of time as home remedies for constipation.
Xanthan is one of the polysachharides manufactured by fermentation of carbohydrates using one of the naturally occurring species of bacteria called Xanthomonas compestris, a process that is completed with the use of alcohol. Xanthan gum is extensively used as a food additive in a range of food products such as cheese, cream products, dressings and syrups, sauces and gravies. Xanthan gum is also used as a stabilising agent in toothpastes. Xanthan is a powder that is completely soluble in hot water as well as cold water, producing a viscous liquid in the process and hence, used extensively in the industry as a thickener and stabiliser of foods.
This compound that is predominantly used in the food industry also comes with a good range of medicinal properties and health benefits, with xanthan gum used for constipation, along with rectifying other health conditions such as lowering of blood sugar, and controlling of cholesterol level, apart from being used as one of the ingredients in certain medications that feature slow release of compounds. As far as home remedies for constipation are concerned, xanthan gum is known for its ability to form bulk in stools, serving as an effective laxative. The recommended dosage of xanthan gum for constipation is 15 grams per day, though you may seek the advice of a qualified practitioner to find a dosage that suite your unique conditions.
a. Caution with Xanthan Gum: It is to be noted that xanthan gum is known for its ability to form bulk in stools and does not necessarily soften stools. It is, hence, advised that people who use xanthan gum for constipation also couple their home remedies for constipation with adequate and abundant intake of fluids. There have been reports of xanthan gum having side effects such as excessive gas formation as well as bloating of the stomach. Pregnant and lactating mothers are advised not to use xantham gum for constipation. People who have other complications of the bowels and the intestines, as in the case of intestinal stenosis or appendicitis, should seek medical advice before opting for this home remedy for constipation. If you have diabetes, you may have to limit your xanthan gum consumption to less than 12 grams a day, since xanthan gum is known to have blood sugar reducing properties.
Yet another gum that is extensively used in the food as well as the non-food industries and one that finds good use as home remedies for constipation is guar gum. One of the important ingredients that is used as food stabiliser as well as emulsifier and food thickener, guar gum is extracted from the seeds of the plant Cyamopsis tetragonoloba, commonly referred to as cluster beans, a plant that grows best in sandy soil conditions and is, hence, cultivated and exported extensively from the western parts of India, particularly Rajasthan.
Interestingly, guar gum, which is used in the manufacture of foodstuff, is also widely used in oil drilling and gas exploration through a process of hydraulic fracturing. The industrial application part of guar gum apart, the seed extract is known to be effective when used in association with an all-bran diet, and also as a stand-alone entity, proving to be an effective home remedy for constipation.
Guar gum has also been touted as one of the highly effective substitutes for a high-fibre diet. Guar gum is also found to be useful in the treatment of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, diarrhoea, obesity and cholesterol levels.
a. Precautions with Guar Gum for constipation: Notwithstanding the extensive benefits on offer as home remedies for constipation, guar gum is not to be consumed before or immediately after a major surgery is due, since the product is known to alter blood glucose levels. Further, guar gum is also known to have interactions with certain drugs and it would help to go in for medical advice if you are taking diabetes medications, oestrogen-containing drugs, or penicillin.
Psyllium husks, also referred to as psyllium, and known by its other names such as isabgol or ispaghula, is one of the home remedies for constipation as recommended by the Ayurvedic stream of medicine. Psyllium is derived out of the shrub called Plantago ovata that has had its origins in India, known for many medical properties such as its use in constipation, cholesterol, diarrhoea, haemorrhoids, Irritable Bowel Syndrome as well as other conditions associated with the gastrointestinal tract.
Psyllium is also recommended as one of the key ingredients used in colon cleansing. Psyllium is a soluble fibre that combines with water to from bulk in stools, stimulates the intestinal walls to contract and helps in the smooth passage of stools along the intestinal tract. The normally suggested dosage of psyllium is one or two teaspoons of ground seeds, which would approximately be anywhere between 5 to 10 grams, to be consumed with around 200 ml of water, taken once or twice a day.
The effectiveness of psyllium as one of the home remedies for constipation has been demonstrated when the dosage is taken towards early evening, which stimulates the intestinal walls to produce stools by the next morning.
a. Precautions with Psyllium: It is important to consume sufficient quantities of water when taking up psyllium for constipation top prevent the husks from obstructing the intestinal tract, which could, contrary to the very purpose, lead to constipation. You would be advised to keep drinking water and fluids throughout the day when you have taken psyllium for constipation. You may also want to check with your doctor if you plan to take psyllium for more than one week. There may be allergic reactions to psyllium, as in the case of bloating and gas formation as well as diarrhoea, conditions that could be taken care of by opting for smaller doses before increasing them gradually.
Other Home Remedies For Constipation
In youngsters, it would help to engage in a good level of physical exercises in addition to dietary changes and taking up other home remedies for constipation.
Physical Activity in Older People
While older people may not have to engage in rigorous exercises, maintaining a reasonable level of physical activity goes well with home remedies for constipation.
Iron for Constipation
Iron deficiency could manifest itself as constipation in some cases, when iron supplementation could prove to be one of the useful home remedies for constipation. Iron when taken in the heme form, as from sources as chicken liver, oysters, lean beef, turkey and pork tend to be absorbed more easily in the body. Vegetable sources of iron include whole wheat, lentils, dried beans, cereals that have been fortified with iron and greens such as spinach.
a. Caution with iron: Iron supplementation when taken in as tablets and capsules, especially in large quantities, could be counterproductive when it comes to home remedies for constipation, as iron supplements have been shown to lead to constipation. For this reason, it is advised to go for iron consumption from food sources rather than in tablet form. Taking iron supplements in liquid form might also provide more control over the quantity of iron consumed.
There have been studies that have demonstrated the relationship between magnesium and constipation, where constipation has resulted from an inadequate intake of magnesium and sources of magnesium. The relationship has been found to be particularly acute when magnesium intake has been low, coupled with an insufficient consumption of water and fluids. The way magnesium works in relieving symptoms of constipation is by its ability to pull water from different parts of the body on to the intestine. Since lack of water causes difficulty in the movement of food and faecal matter through the process of peristalsis, adequate provision of water is a way in which constipation could be cured.
Further, magnesium is also known to relax the intestinal muscles, helping them on their proper functioning towards peristalsis. Magnesium citrate, magnesium sulphate and magnesium oxide are thought to be the active forms of magnesium that have played a role in treatment of constipation. Magnesium sources in food include green leafy vegetables, legumes such as beans, grains, nuts, soy and soy products, fish, honey and fruits such as avocados and berries.
a. Caution with Magnesium for constipation: While magnesium has proved to be effective and compatible with home remedies for constipation, you need to check with your physician if you can take in additional magnesium, if you have had any health conditions that you are already taking medication or treatment for. For instance, people with renal complaints tend to have less magnesium excreted from the body through kidneys, which means that additional intake of magnesium could lead to excessive magnesium levels in the body. Similarly, you need to exercise caution if you are in the habit of consuming drugs that are diuretic by nature, or if you have been in a course of antibiotics or have been taking hypoglycaemic drugs. It is advisable to go for medical advice before including additional magnesium in your diet or taking up supplements. Magnesium supplements have also been associated with side effects such as nausea, sweating or stomach cramps.
There are many different ways in which potassium helps in home remedies for constipation. For one, potassium is essential for the proper functioning of different systems of the body, since potassium is involved in maintaining proper fluid balance in the system. Sodium and potassium are clubbed together when discussing the fluid balance in the body because sodium could cause dehydration while potassium balances it out.
Excessive salt consumption, which is a significant source of sodium, could often lead to the body losing out on water, which is one of the reasons for constipation – lack of water causes difficulty in the peristaltic movement of food and waste matter through the intestinal tract. Further, potassium is found to strengthen the walls of the colon, which helps in excretion of waste from the body. Potassium is also known to protect cell walls by lining the walls and preventing the cells from bacterial and fungal attacks. Proper supplementation of potassium ensures that there is adequate supply of water in the digestive tract, helping in peristalsis and relieving constipation.
Some of the prominent sources of potassium that would help you in home remedies for constipation would be fruits such as raisins, prunes, bananas, avocados and grapefruit, as well as vegetables such as spinach, tomatoes, potatoes and sweet potatoes, along with lentils and beans. Oily fish such as cod and salmon, along with chicken, would form non-vegetarian sources of potassium.
a. Caution with Potassium: A typical adult would require around 2000 mg of potassium on a daily basis. However, when the limit is exceeded and when there is large scale consumption of potassium beyond what is required, there could be symptoms such as diarrhoea, nausea, stomach pain and also irregular heartbeat. It is advisable to get in touch with a qualified medical practitioner if you have been taking up potassium specifically for constipation and if you experience any of the symptoms.
One of the age-old home remedies for constipation involves castor oil. A vegetable oil that is extracted from castor beans, the pale yellow viscous liquid has traditionally been used in treating constipation, problems with the gastro-intestinal tract, menstrual cramps and also for external conditions such as abscesses and sunburns.
Castor oil is known to stimulate the intestinal walls, promoting peristalsis, while also serving as a lubricant for dry faecal matter, adding moisture and helping their passage through the colon. A teaspoon of castor oil could be added to around 200 ml of water and taken in one gulp if you would want to bypass its taste, or you may want to take it with orange juice – either of these would do well to stimulate the passage of stools in quick time.
Olive oil could be added on to your diet, such as spraying the oil over your favourite salads or you could add a teaspoon of olive oil to a glass of orange juice. Olive oil is known to be one of the effective home remedies for constipation, especially when taken with a good deal of fibre content, serving as an intestinal lubricant and facilitating the smooth passage of stools.
Other Treatments For Constipation
Constipation is first to be diagnosed properly before it can be treated. While extensive tests may not be needed in most people with constipation unless it has been on for a few weeks together, it is good to go for medical advice to find out if the cause could be something more serious. The common modes of diagnoses for constipation would involve blood tests to rule out hormonal disturbances and imbalances as being causes for constipation. Further, barium tests could be done to find out if bowel movement is obstructed in the colon, as may be the case with a colonoscopy examination.
The common medications for constipation would involve polyethylene glycol and lubiprostone, both of which need to be taken on a regular basis for the prescribed duration, upon advice from the physician. Sodium docusate and calcium docusate are prescribed to make stools easier to pass after medical conditions such as heart attacks or after pregnancy or a surgery – they are for the short term and not to be used over a long period. Laxatives involving magnesium hydroxide and sodium phosphate are prescribed only if the doctor considers them fit for the condition, depending on individual cases when renal conditions are ruled out – continuing them over a long term is not recommended, and definitely not without prescription from a qualified medical practitioner after proper diagnosis. There are separate medications available for patients with IBS, which vary depending on the individual sensitivity and the level of IBS in individuals. They would involve long term treatment and are to be taken under medical supervision. If the causes of constipation have to do with thyroid problems such as hypothyroidism, treating the underlying cause and providing medication for hypothyroidism might serve the purpose. Again, in all of these cases, medication is specific to the conditions and are to be taken only in the prescribe dosages for the specified durations, as taking the wrong medicines and without medical supervision could have serious side effects.
Biofeedback Therapy for constipation: You may want to try a new but increasingly popular stream of treatment for constipation involves the biofeedback therapy, along with home remedies for constipation. The problem with constipation is that there may be lack of sensation of the way bowel movements occur in the body for many people with constipation. The idea behind biofeedback therapy is to make people more aware of their own bowel movements and reflex body functions, where a thin probing instrument is placed into the rectum to get information on the way muscles perform inside the bowels. It has been found that taking up this course of training has led to considerable improvement in conditions associated with constipation.