7 Best Things You Can Do to Ease Your Constipation

Whether you find yourself dealing with occasional bouts of constipation or the chronic health conditions of constipation-predominant-IBS (IBS-C) or chronic idiopathic constipation (CIC), you know the distress of having bowel movements that happen infrequently and are made up of stools that are small, hard, and painful to pass.

Gas and bloating usually come along for the ride. You may find that you are straining and that you end up with a sense of incomplete emptying. This can be very frustrating.

Constipation occurs when the contractions of the colon are too slow, which causes too much water to be drawn out of the stool and results in infrequent bowel movements. Why this happens is not always clear.

What is clear is that there are certain things you can do on your own to try to ease your uncomfortable symptoms and get things moving again. Some of these things are based on science, while some are based on common sense or folk wisdom.

If you are dealing with constipation on a regular basis, be sure to tell your doctor so as to obtain a proper diagnosis.

1

Eat More Fruits

bowl of pineapple slices
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Due to their fiber content, most fruits will help to soften stools and work toward easing constipation. However, the following fruits have a particular reputation for this benefit.

It is just a coincidence that they all start with the letter P. But it does give you an easy way to remember what to buy when you are in the grocery store:

  • Papaya*
  • Pears
  • Peaches
  • Pineapple*
  • Prunes

*The fruits indicated with an asterisk are low in fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs) and therefore may be a better starter choice for you if you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

2

Eat More Vegetables

Kale bunch

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Similar to fruit, eating more vegetables, particularly those that are high in soluble fiber, on a regular basis will be helpful in keeping your system more regular. Some people report better results when eating cooked vegetables as opposed to raw. Here are some vegetable choices with a reputation for easing constipation.

Greens:

  • Kale*
  • Spinach*
  • Swiss chard*

Vegetables:

  • Artichoke hearts*
  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli*
  • Carrots*
  • Green beans

Beans:

  • Canella beans
  • Pinto beans
  • White beans

*The items followed by an asterisk are appropriate on a low-FODMAP diet for those who have IBS. Canned artichoke hearts should be well-rinsed and limited to a 1/8 cup serving.

3

Increase Your Fiber Intake

bowl of flaxseed
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In addition to eating more vegetables and fruits, there are a couple of other ways to take in more dietary fiber. First, add some seeds to your diet. The following seeds are good sources of soluble fiber and thus may soften stools and ease constipation.

You might also try a fiber supplement. Also known as bulk laxatives, these products are typically available over-the-counter. Psyllium has some research support for its effectiveness, while Citrucel may be more appropriate for those on a low-FODMAP diet, as it is non-fermentable.

4

Try Magnesium

man shopping for vitamins
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There is anecdotal support for taking a magnesium supplement. Magnesium helps to relax the muscles lining the walls of the colon, resulting in a smoother rhythm of contractions, therefore pushing stool along more easily. Magnesium also attracts water into the colon making for softer, easier to pass, stools.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has published a fact sheet outlining the recommended daily intake of magnesium. Check with your doctor to see what is appropriate for your age, gender, and other factors.

5

Try Heat

girl with hot water bottle
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Try sleeping with a hot water bottle or a heating pad. There may be no research that says that it will help, but it certainly isn't going to hurt (as long as you don't put the heating pad right on your bare skin!)

Heat can be very soothing psychologically and theoretically it may serve to relax the muscles of your abdomen so that they function more smoothly in the morning — leading you to a satisfying bowel movement.

6

Train Your Body

man on toilet
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For most people, the complicated system that triggers the urge to defecate is at its peak in the morning. Unfortunately for people with chronic constipation, this system is out of whack. Try to re-awaken this sleepy response.

Make sure to eat a substantial breakfast to stimulate the gastrocolic reflex, a response in which intestinal contractions are triggered by the act of eating. Then be sure to schedule time each morning to have a relaxing trip to the bathroom following breakfast.

Never force or strain, just make the time for your body to re-establish its regular biorhythms.

7

Try Biofeedback

biofeedback
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Biofeedback is a form of treatment in which you re-train the muscles of your pelvic area through the use of feedback from sensors. This treatment can be effective if your constipation is the result of a condition known as dyssynergic constipation.

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  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015.

  2. Bothe G, Coh A, Auinger A. Efficacy and safety of a natural mineral water rich in magnesium and sulphate for bowel function: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled studyEur J Nutr. 2017;56(2):491–499. doi:10.1007/s00394-015-1094-8

  3. Schuster BG, Kosar L, Kamrul R. Constipation in older adults: stepwise approach to keep things movingCan Fam Physician. 2015;61(2):152–158.

  4. Lee HJ, Jung KW, Myung SJ. Technique of functional and motility test: how to perform biofeedback for constipation and fecal incontinenceJ Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2013;19(4):532–537. doi:10.5056/jnm.2013.19.4.532

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