Constipation is one of those topics that we don’t like to talk about, but it is actually a very common problem. In fact, constipation is the most common digestive complaint in the U.S. As well as problems with bowel movement, it can also cause symptoms like feeling bloated, irritated, and getting headaches. The good news is that constipation can easily be treated with natural remedies and lifestyle changes, so you don’t need to suffer in silence.
1. Eat more fibre
Telling you to increase your fibre intake is generally the first remedy that most health professionals prescribe. If you’ve bought or been prescribed laxatives, it may be worth putting them on hold to increase your fibre intake first, or doing both side by side. A study found that a 25 gram intake of fibre per day significantly helped to reduce chronic constipation in sufferers after only two months. When the participants also increased their daily water intake as well as fibre intake, by 1.5 to 2 litres, they experienced further relief from the symptoms of constipation.
Another study found that young Japanese women with low daily fibre intake of only 6.4 grams a day were more likely to suffer from constipation, as their fluid intake from food was so low.
So what kind of foods should you be eating?
High fibre foods include fruit and vegetables, wholegrains, and legumes such as kidney beans, lentils and chickpeas. If you’re on a vegan diet, this should be easy for you. Consider making small changes at first, adding a high fibre food to your evening meal for example, by replacing meat with lentils or beans and ordinary bread with wholemeal. There are also high-fibre cereals available that can be added to your usual morning breakfast routine, or replace it altogether.
If increasing your intake of natural fibre does not relieve constipation-related symptoms as soon as you would like it to, consider adding a natural fibre supplement to your diet as well. Here is a list of fibre sources for those of you who need to get your bowels back on track pronto, while also looking at increasing your fibre intake through food on a long-term basis.
2. Corn Bran
Wheat bran is often called the ‘gold standard’ of natural fibre sources. While it does increase bowel movements and help to reduce other symptoms of constipation, a study found that corn bran is actually more effective than wheat bran at relieving symptoms of constipation. For an easy way of adding corn bran to your diet, take the cereal route. If you don’t like the taste, add it to your usual cereal and increase the amount you add over time.
Research has found that people with serious constipation were helped by taking psyllium for just four weeks. The treatment increased how often people had bowel movements and also improved the quality of their excreted matter.
Many health food stores stock psyllium seed husks, which can be used in cooking or taken as a drink. Psyllium should be mixed with water or another juice when taken, as it is quite potent in powdered form. Psyllium expands in your body when you take it, so if you don’t take it with a good amount of fluid then it can actually make constipation worse.
The herb senna has been found to be effective for short-term treatment of constipation, and combined with psyllium it has been found to be more effective than a prescribed laxative. But, long-term use is not recommended, so only use senna if the other remedies have not worked for you, and while looking at other methods of treating constipation long-term.
As with all natural remedies, do not take senna if you are taking any prescribed medication or have serious health problems, at least not before discussing it with your doctor. In this case senna can interact with other medications including herbal remedies such as horsetail and licorice.
5. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has long been used as a natural remedy to treat a number of health problems including constipation. Although no studies have been done to determine this, it makes sense because apple cider vinegar is high in pectin, which many people vouch for in terms of helping with digestive problems. There is no harm in a couple of teaspoons to your cooking or taking it off a spoon two or three times a week, and doing so may help to improve your overall health. It may also help to ease the symptoms of constipation, if not relieve constipation itself. You can add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to water, to juice to mask the flavour, and also use it in place of normal vinegar on foods like chips.
Probiotics have been found to help a number of problems relating to the stomach and the gut. In particular, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are types of bacteria that have been found to be lacking in patients with chronic constipation. So, it’s possible that these probiotic bacteria can also help to treat constipation and other inflammatory bowel conditions. Another study found that Lactobacillus, also known as lactic acid bacteria, helped to reduce the effects of constipation in nursing home residents.
Probiotics are available in capsule form but if you don’t like to swallow them you can open them up and add the bacteria to a drink, or to a cold food like yoghurt. It’s important to take the bacteria that are specific to your health problem. so in this case look out for the two mentioned here that may help with constipation.
7. Eat fewer meals
As well as changing your diet. you can also change the way you eat to prevent constipation. For people aged over 60, a small study found that eating fewer meals per day reduced bouts of constipation. This was due to the lower calorie intake rather than anything to do with fibre or fluid intake. Keep a food diary to see if this works for you.
We know that health professionals recommend regular exercise, but sometimes when we get sick we forget that this is the simplest natural therapy of all. A survey of 62,036 women found that moderate daily physical activity meant lower instances of constipation.When combined with a high fibre diet, constipation was successfully prevented altogether.
Interestingly, the same research found that taking aspirin increased symptoms of constipation, and since headaches can be a symptom of constipation, this might be creating a vicious cycle for you. Instead, focus on preventing constipation altogether, and the headaches should stop alongside it.
Disclaimer: I am not a licensed doctor or herbalist. Please consult a doctor or medical provider for medical issues and before self-remedying, especially if you are taking prescription medication.