Although many people have a bowel movement every day, this isn’t a necessity. There is no ‘normal’ frequency and it can vary significantly from person to person.
Some people go to the toilet twice a day. Others go every other day. One person’s ‘normal’ is another person’s ‘abnormal’.
Despite there being no ideal number, failure to have a bowel movement for several days can lead to constipation. This can be extremely uncomfortable, painful, and in severe cases, it can even be dangerous.
If you find yourself feeling constipated and you have a bloated stomach, you could reach for laxative medications. Laxatives work by increasing the amount of water in the colon, which stimulates bowel movement.
But if you aren’t keen on the idea of taking a laxative, don’t worry! There are a lot of great remedies that provide natural constipation relief so that you can reduce discomfort and bloating.
In this article, I’m going to cover what constipation is, what causes you to feel constipated, and the best methods of natural constipation relief.
What is Constipation?
Constipation is defined as having less than three bowel movements in one week or the passing of a hard stool. Some of you reading this might only have three bowel movements a week if you go to the toilet every other day.
This isn’t a problem if you have always naturally had bowel movements this frequently. But if you start to experience additional symptoms, it might indicate that there is a problem.
Constipation affects everybody at some point in their lives. It’s one of those digestive issues that comes and goes depending on a variety of factors. But what are these factors?
The key signs and symptoms of constipation are:
- Bloating and excess gas
- Feeling like your rectum is blocked
- Hard, lumpy stools
- Having a bowel movement fewer than three times a week
- Pains and cramps in the lower abdomen
- Straining or getting pain when having a bowel movement
What Causes You to Become Constipated?
There are lots of reasons why you might feel constipated. It can be acute (short term) or chronic (long term).
Constipation occurs when your digestion slows down for one reason or another, causing the stool to move too slowly through your digestive tract. Due to this very slow movement, the stool hardens and becomes almost impossible to pass.
Short term constipation is usually caused by:
- Changes in your diet - if your diet lacks fibre or it’s full of high-sugar, ultra-processed foods, this can reduce gut motility and result in constipation
- Changes in meal frequency – this can be due to a busy schedule or traveling. Usually, when you’re eating less frequently, you’re more prone to constipation due to eating less fibre
- Medications – certain medications can slow down digestion, such as diuretics, anti-hypertensive drugs, sedatives, opioids, and antidepressants
- Stress and hormonal changes – stress and natural hormonal fluctuations may negatively impact gut motility
- Surgery or childbirth – post-surgery or post-childbirth, you can experience short term constipation, often associated with sedatives and pain killers that are administered in these situations
If your constipation persists for several weeks, it becomes chronic. This can lead to a range of symptoms and it can severely affect your quality of life.
Chronic constipation usually results from an underlying medical condition or inadequacies in your diet. Here are the most common causes:
- Anal fissure (tears in the skin around the anus)
- Blockages in the colon or rectum
- Colon or rectal cancer
- Digestive disorders, such as IBS, IBD, and SIBO
- Hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism
- Narrowing of the small intestines or colon
- Obstruction of the intestines
- Parkinson’s disease
- Spinal cord injury
- Weakness in the muscles of the digestive tract or pelvic floor
What Are the Best Methods of Natural Constipation Relief?
Here are some great natural constipation relief remedies that you can try next time you’re feeling bunged up. These remedies will provide you with quick gas relief to reduce bloating (insert link to blog 3) and encourage a bowel movement so that you can continue your day in comfort.
Probiotics are live bacteria that can be taken to enhance your gut health. You can take them as capsules or you can eat them in your diet via fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and miso.
There are lots of microorganisms with probiotic properties, including Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium longum, and Saccharomyces boulardii, which feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut and help to reduce the number of potentially dangerous bacteria. Regularly taking probiotics each day can balance your gut bacteria, which provides gas relief and aids digestion.
The minimum amount of CFUs required for a probiotic supplement to be effective is 1,000,000 viable CFUs (colony forming units) per gram of product. When you are buying your probiotic supplements, look out for this number.
Low-fibre diets are one of the main causes of chronic constipation. Adding more high-fibre foods to your diet can, therefore, reduce bloating and provide natural constipation relief.
There are two types of fibre – soluble and insoluble. It’s the insoluble fibre in your diet that can relieve constipation because it doesn’t get broken down in your digestive tract. Instead, it travels straight through your bowel and adds texture and volume to your stool, making it easier to pass.
High-fibre foods include:
- Whole grains, such as oats, brown rice, and quinoa
- Fruits (including dried fruits) and vegetables
- Lentils and beans
- Sweet potatoes
- Nuts and seeds
Exercise is one of the best non-food-related methods of natural constipation relief. Regular exercise can stimulate contractions of the bowel muscles, which is perfect for when you’re feeling bunged up.
Following a regular exercise routine can reduce constipation and bloating. Movement of the skeletal muscles can have a knock-on effect on your bowel muscles, which provides gas relief and may help with bowel movements.
This exercise doesn’t need to be extremely high intensity. It just needs to be something that you enjoy so that you find it easy to stick to a healthy exercise routine. Whether it’s walking, running, dancing, yoga, or sports, all kinds of exercise can be beneficial in relieving symptoms of constipation.
Exercise can also reduce your stress levels by causing the release of endorphins, such as serotonin and dopamine. This reduction in stress can have a direct effect on your digestive health by changing the levels of specific hormones in your body that can lead to bowel dysfunction.
You might not want to take medications to relieve your constipation and that’s totally understandable. Instead, you can go for a more natural approach and consume natural laxatives. You can also use natural remedies to reduce symptoms of constipation such as bloating - here are the best natural remedies for bloating.
There are lots of foods that naturally stimulate bowel movements and enhance your digestion. Here are some of these foods:
- Brussel sprouts
- Chia seeds
- Flax seeds
Adding these foods into your diet when you’re feeling bloated and constipation may provide some short-term relief. However, if you are suffering from long-term constipation, it’s important to get checked by a medical professional.
There may be an underlying condition that is causing your constipation and dietary changes might not be adequate to overcome your symptoms in the long term. Your doctor will be able to do further testing to determine the cause of your constipation so that you can get the right treatment for your needs.
Dehydration is a risk factor for constipation. Lack of adequate fluid intake can dry out the stool and make it extremely difficult to go to the toilet.
Your body needs a constant intake of fluids to remain hydrated and to maintain a healthy digestive system. Drinking more water can help to soften the stool and encourage a bowel movement when you’re feeling constipated.
You can also increase your water intake by drinking tea and coffee, and by eating hydrating foods, such as fruits and vegetables.
Even if you usually drink enough water, you can experience short-term constipation if you’ve exercised more. When you exercise, your body loses more water in your sweat. This can lead to dehydration and potentially constipation if you don’t replace this lost water.
If you increase your water intake and do not get any natural constipation relief, you may need to look at one of the other methods above.
Constipation will affect everybody at some point in their lives. What’s important is figuring out the cause and finding the best methods of natural constipation relief.
If you’re suffering from constipation, don’t suffer in silence. Try out the remedies above and see which ones are the most effective in relieving your symptoms.
You can use a combination of these remedies at once, but be careful not to make too many changes to your diet and lifestyle all at once. Drastic changes can cause excess stress on your body and might have the opposite effect, causing you to become even more constipated.