10 natural ways to deal with constipation
Most people have had trouble with constipation at some point in our lives, and it’s a daily struggle for some.
Constipation’s definition can vary. It includes having fewer than three bowel movements per week, straining too much in the bathroom, hard stools, feeling like you’ve not had a complete bowel movement or feeling like your rectum is blocked.
Millions of dollars are spent on laxatives every year, but are medications the right approach? Here are a few natural solutions.
- Squatting: Using what is essentially a footstool for your feet while sitting on the toilet may be helpful for many people. Research in a Japanese study found that squatting created an angle in the rectal canal that led to less strain. Not everyone needs this angle adjustment, but if you do, it will make elimination much easier. Stools that assist with squatting can be purchase at big box stores or online.
- Hydration: Your GI system is just one long pipe which needs to be flushed out regularly. Hydration may be the most important way to prevent and treat constipation. Between 4-8 glasses of water per day works for most people. Listen to your body and adjust accordingly. Keep in mind that carbohydrates attract water, and those of us on Keto (low carb high-fat diets) need to consume more water than others.
- Get enough sodium, potassium and magnesium: Where water goes, so does sodium, potassium and magnesium. Electrolyte supplementation is therefore important if you’re on the keto diet to avoid constipation. This will also avoid other symptoms of “keto flu” which also include weakness, dizziness and headache. Some of my patients who don’t have contraindications like congestive heart failure (on reduced salt diets) will start their day with ½ tsp of cream of tartar (potassium), ½ tsp of pink salt (sodium and magnesium), 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and a squirt of lemon or lime juice.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: Apple cider vinegar contains pectin, a water-soluble fiber that promotes bowel movements. This makes it a great natural treatment for constipation. 1 tablespoon diluted in water 1 – 2 x daily is recommended for constipation.
- Magnesium supplements: Although there is some magnesium in pink salt, it may not be enough to treat constipation. For most of us, magnesium serves as a mild laxative, has a calming effect on the nervous system and reduces stress. Magnesium citrate 250 mg daily is a good place to start adjusting according to tolerance.
- Probiotics: These can lower the pH in the bowel, which is known to assist with peristalsis (the wave-like motion that pushes feces through the intestinal tract.) Unsweetened high fat regular or Greek yogurt, pickles and sauerkraut are good sources. I take probiotics supplements that contain Lactobacillus and Bifitobactor (doses 20 billion units at least) and advise you to gradually increase as needed, taking probiotic “holidays.”
- Eat high fat to lubricate your GI system with MCT oil: Medium-chain triglycerides are extracted, in most cases, from coconut oil but are also found in dairy and palm kernel oil. MCT also provides improved energy levels, lowers cholesterol and improves brain and memory function. Some can’t tolerate the MCT oil at first, so go slow, allowing your body to adjust to using fat as an energy source.
- Getting enough dietary fiber from fiber-rich foods: Important point: best source of fiber is low-carb green vegetables, not high-carb grains. There are many veggies that fit into this category like spinach, celery, avocado, asparagus, bok choy, zucchini, mushrooms, cauliflower, flax seed and many more. Avoid starchy veggies like potatoes.
- Drink a cup of hot coffee or tea: Coffee and tea serve as a mild diuretics, and the heat from them can induce mild contractions in your intestines, which can aid with digestion. Of course, I also advise avoiding sugar in your coffee.
- Bile acid supplements: These can be purchased at the health food stores and help in digestion – especially for those who have had gallbladder surgery. If you don’t have biliary acids to help digest your food, constipation can result. Eating a high-fat diet helps to avoid a sluggish gallbladder since one of the main functions of the gallbladder is to digest fat.
That’s some advice to consider. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Dr. Tony Hampton is a family medicine physician with Advocate Medical Group.
About the Author
Dr. Tony Hampton, MBA, CPE is Board Certified in Obesity Medicine and Family Medicine. He currently is the physician lead for Advocate's Healthy Living Program as well as Regional Medical Director for the South Region of Advocate's Medical Group. He is an inspirational public speaker, blogger, coach, and has authored a book entitled Fix Your Diet, Fix Your Diabetes. He has led multiple programs and works with AdvocateAurora to coach patients on their journey to achieve their health care goals by balancing nutrition, exercise, stress reduction, increased sleep, and needed medical interventions. He believes that a shift is needed in healthcare where we all work together focus on prevention and wellness. He is married and a father of two college-aged boys.