Feeling blocked up, cramping or bloating? We’ve all been there before. Constipation is when your bowel movements become difficult to pass or happen less frequently than usual.
Dealing with constipation is difficult, but there are ways to combat it.
“Avoid any quick fixes for your constipation,” says gastroenterologist Derrick Eichele, MD. “It’s best to use tried-and-true remedies like exercise, water or laxatives if needed to have normal, healthy stools.”
If you’ve tried these remedies and are still experiencing constipation, see your primary care provider. They can refer you to a gastroenterologist if needed. Sometimes a medical cause is the culprit, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or certain medications.
1. Water does a body good
Drinking enough water helps your gastrointestinal (GI) tract create the right consistency of stool.
“Water is necessary for all your organs,” says Dr. Eichele. “So your colon will pull out water from your food to deliver to your heart, brain and lungs.” If you aren’t drinking enough liquid water, your colon will hold on to the limited resource. And then – constipation.
For soft stools (which are easiest to pass), drink up. “For best results, drink 48 to 64 ounces of water each day – just not all at once,” says Dr. Eichele. Drink an eight-ounce glass of water multiple times throughout the day for best results.
2. Exercise gets things moving
“Exercise will definitely help with constipation,” says Dr. Eichele. “In some cultures, people go for a walk after a meal. That activity stimulates the digestion process.”
A 10- or 15-minute walk after a meal means your colon will get moving, too – which is a healthy, normal response.
If you’ve heard of “runner’s gut,” the same principle applies. “Long-distance runners can sometimes struggle with needing to go, due to an overactive colon,” says Dr. Eichele.
3. Fiber combats both constipation and diarrhea
“Vegetables are great because they contain a lot of fiber, which helps regulate your digestion,” says Dr. Eichele. “The nice thing about fiber is it improves both diarrhea and constipation. It helps hold water in for constipation, and for folks with diarrhea it adds bulk to the stool to help form it.”
- Insoluble fiber holds on to water, making stools softer and easier to pass. Sources of insoluble fiber include brown rice, whole grains, green beans, broccoli and cabbage
- Soluble fiber adds bulk to poop, preventing diarrhea. Sources of soluble fiber include apples, berries, beans, nuts, seeds and oats
If you’re not used to eating fiber, a gradual increase will help your body adjust. You might experience cramping, flatulence and bloating from eating too much fiber all at once. “Add fiber little by little to your diet over the course of several days. You’ll feel much better in the long run,” advises Dr. Eichele.
4. Caffeine wakes up your colon
Coffee, soda and caffeinated tea can also wake up a slow-moving gut.
“Caffeine can stimulate the colon to move a little bit,” explains Dr. Eichele. “That’s why some folks feel like their morning coffee gets them going.”
5. Gentle laxatives can also help
If exercise and hydration aren’t improving things, you can also look for a gentle laxative. “Trying an over-the-counter laxative is generally OK,” says Dr. Eichele. “An osmotic laxative like MiraLAX might be a good first step. Osmotic laxatives help your colon hang on to water.”
“Some people prefer fiber supplementation, like Metamucil or psyllium,” says Dr. Eichele. “These are usually pretty mild, gentle laxatives. But if the laxatives aren’t helping, it’s a good idea to see your doctor.”
6. Sugar-free gum might give you diarrhea
Can certain sugar-free gum relieve constipation? Well, yes, but you might also experience diarrhea.
Gums that contain sorbitol, a type of sweetener, can cause diarrhea. Some people are more sensitive to sorbitol than others.
“Polyols include sweeteners like sorbitol, xylitol and mannitol. Some of these foods can cause diarrhea, gas or flatulence,” says Dr. Eichele. “If you use sorbitol to fight constipation, that may swing things in the opposite direction. Before you were constipated, now you have diarrhea.”
“You might fix the constipation with sugar-free gum, but you haven’t solved the problem that caused it in the first place,” advises Dr. Eichele. “Overdoing it on any type of laxative will cause diarrhea.”
Exercise, hydration and fiber intake are gentler ways to relieve constipation.
Bonus: 3 unproven remedies from TikTok
Some TikToks promote certain tricks to relieve constipation. Unfortunately, they’re just that – tricks. While there’s no harm in trying these, don’t be surprised if these three tactics don’t work.
1. Rubbing fists together
An acupuncturist claims that rubbing your fists together for several minutes will help you have a bowel movement. There’s no rigorous scientific evidence to support this claim. A tried-and-true technique like light exercise is a better bet.
2. Crouching on a chair
Sitting a certain way for seven seconds is not proven to help constipation. However, changing your body posture while on the toilet can make things easier. Place your feet on a stool to place your knees higher than your hips.
3. Drinking a hot beverage
With a few caveats, this tip makes sense. If the hot beverage contains caffeine (see #4 above), this can help. Plus, if you drink enough hot drinks like tea, you’ll increase your water intake – which is a good thing for softer stools. But there’s nothing about the temperature of the drink which eases constipation, so keep that in mind.