No matter how much I hated someone, I would not wish chronic constipation on my worst enemies. I've been stuck in can't-poop land before, more times than I like to admit, and every single time it's made me wish I didn't exist. Although I find over-the-counter laxatives to be one of the most evil items you can purchase at a pharmacy — they mess with your colon's natural ability to contract and raise your likelihood for contracting kidney disease — I totally get why people run to the nearest convenience store to get their hands on a stool softener. Not being able to move your bowels sucks. But a lot of natural remedies for constipation work extremely well to get things moving quicker than you can say prune salad.
"Constipation occurs when bowel movements take place fewer times than what is normal and comfortable for you," Dr. Niket Sonpal, MD, a New York-based internist and gastroenterologist and adjunct professor at Touro College, tells Bustle via email. "If stool becomes increasingly difficult to vacate, it is also a sign of constipation."
Constipation can be caused by any manner of things, like stress, a change in your fiber intake, or medication side effects, Dr. Sonpal says, but there are a number of more serious potential causes, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a bowel obstruction, or polyps. "Because the severity of the underlying issue is often hard to gauge by yourself, it is important that you consult your internist or gastroenterologist when you experience prolonged periods of constipation, especially in cases where blood appears with your stool."
If you've been battling constipation for a while, though, and you have a weird feeling that something just isn't systemically right, call up your doctor. It might be pointing to something more serious and you don't want to take any risks. For those of you who just face constipation every now and again, though, happy pooping.
Here are nine natural ways to make yourself poop.
1. Drink Water
We all know that drinking water is probably the single most important thing we can do for our overall bodily function, but it's particularly important as a constipation remedy.
"Consistent dehydration can cause constipation," Dr. Sonpal says. "Drinking more water will help improve your bowel movements and give your body a vital push for good health, good skin, and a functional digestive system."
Make it a habit to drink a full eight-ounce glass first in the morning, and fill your water bottle up throughout the day, and you should be making regular trips to the toilet bowl in no time.
2. Eat More Fiber-Rich Foods
Fiber, again, is the cornerstone of strong gut health.
"Fiber is essential to a healthy digestive system," Dr. Sonpal says. "Learning to incorporate more fiber into your diet can be fun as you learn to incorporate the things you love into your vegetable and fruit intake."
There's a long list here, so you're bound to find something you actually like eating. Fresh, dark green veggies are always a good option. We're talking broccoli, kale, spinach, and Brussels sprouts; these all start roughing their way through your digestive system pretty quickly. I'm personally thrilled to announce this, because I'm the weirdo who loves them, but figs are an excellent choice as well. They are high in soluble and insoluble fiber, they feed your body with nutrients, and they gently encourage your digestive system to do its work.
If you think you'll puke if you have another salad, there are other options for getting your fiber. Dr. Sonpal suggests consuming consuming popcorn, nuts, legumes, or seeds for added fiber.
3. Incorporate Certain Oils Into Your Diet
The Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are proven to manage symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) because they help you go to the bathroom regularly, at least according to one 2015 study. Look for a natural supplement or eat cold-water fish, walnuts, or flax.
Olive oil, which you probably have in your cabinet, stimulates your digestive system, too. Another option is castor oil, a favorite of moms everywhere. Researchers don't quite understand why it works so well as a laxative, Science Magazine writes, but the FDA recognizes it as generally safe. The best part? It works pretty fast.
4. Take Some Herbs
Herbs are just vegetables by another name, and they can have unique effects on constipation. Ground flaxseed was found to be effective in relieving constipation in one 2018 study of 53 people with Type 2 diabetes, solidifying its reputation among nutritionists. Psyllium and fenugreek are also associated with moving things along; psyllium is also the main ingredient found in products such as Metamucil, the fiber supplement. Nutritionists tend to recommend that these herbs are added to food, not taken on their own, both for taste reasons and so you get the added benefits of your meal.
5. Drink Mint & Green Tea
Just like hydration in general helps keep you regular, green and mint teas are a jazzy way to get your water intake that have added benefits for constipation. The catechins in green tea are widely believed to have beneficial influences on your digestive tract, and peppermint oil has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects in people with IBS, which may help explain why drinking mint tea after a heavy meal makes you feel better. Green tea is especially helpful if you're not a regular coffee drinker, nutritionist Jennifer May told the HuffPost.
6. Stay Away From Dairy For A Little While
Sorry to be the one to break it to you, but these three parts of your diet might be contributing to your constipation because of their inflammatory effects. While the probiotics found in yogurt have a positive effect on your gut microbiome, which can help digestion, consuming too much dairy can trigger constipation, especially in people who might be lactose intolerant.
7. Don't Drastically Change Your Coffee Routine
Coffee is one of the most commonly cited natural remedies for constipation out there. "Coffee stimulates the muscles in the digestive system helping bowel movements," Dr. Sonpal says. If you're a regular coffee drinker, having a little bit more might help move things along.
If you're looking to cut back on caffeine, though, you might find that it has an adverse affect on your digestion. "I should note that caffeinated coffee is more stimulating to the gut than decaf, but decaf coffee still has an effect on the gut that helps relieve constipation," Dr. Sonpal says.
8. Get Your Body Moving
Let me tell you a little story. I recently traveled overseas, and my 20-hour trip back to New York was brutal. After settling into my normal routine, I realized I hadn't pooped in three days. I was a ghost of myself. So I pulled a miracle and dragged myself to the gym after work on a Monday evening. As soon as I got home I was blessed with the sweetest BM relief known to mankind (more than once). The end.
When our bodies are dormant, so is our digestive system. Moving around and getting your heart rate up encourages your colon muscles to relax, which makes it much easier for your body to get rid of its waste. Make sure you wait until your last meal is digested, though, and drink plenty of water before, during, and after you get your sweat on.
9. Pop A Squat
Everyone knows you should be squatting every time you take a dump. OK, I jest. It's not common knowledge, but the way our bodies are positioned when we're on the toilet really does matter when it comes to relieving yourself with the least resistance. That's where something like the Squatty Potty comes in handy. It's a little stool that sits at the base of your toilet bowl, and you put your feet on it when you're doing your biz, which allows you to be in a squat. A 2019 study found that defecation postural modification devices — aka, Squatty Potties — "positively influenced BM duration, straining patterns, and complete evacuation of bowels." Take that, constipation.
Constipation doesn't stand a chance against these natural remedies. Still, if you don't experience relief within a day or two, it's worth checking in with your doctor to rule out any major issues. "If your bowel movement is decreasing and becomes less frequent than three times a week for a prolonged period, ask your doctor for a check-up to make sure that there aren’t any issues you may need help with from a medical standpoint," Dr. Sonpal says. In the meantime, though, your body is meant to poop — sometimes, you just need to give it a little assistance.
Soltanian, N., & Janghorbani, M. (2018). A randomized trial of the effects of flaxseed to manage constipation, weight, glycemia, and lipids in constipated patients with type 2 diabetes. Nutrition & metabolism, 15, 36. doi:10.1186/s12986-018-0273-z
Sajad Ahmad Wani, Pradyuman Kumar. Fenugreek: A review on its nutraceutical properties and utilization in various food products. Journal of the Saudi Society of Agricultural Sciences, Volume 17, Issue 2, 2018, Pages 97-106, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jssas.2016.01.007.
Alammar, N., Wang, L., Saberi, B., Nanavati, J., Holtmann, G., Shinohara, R. T., & Mullin, G. E. (2019). The impact of peppermint oil on the irritable bowel syndrome: a meta-analysis of the pooled clinical data. BMC complementary and alternative medicine, 19(1), 21. doi:10.1186/s12906-018-2409-0
Crowley, E. T., Williams, L. T., Roberts, T. K., Dunstan, R. H., & Jones, P. D. (2013). Does milk cause constipation? A crossover dietary trial. Nutrients, 5(1), 253–266. doi:10.3390/nu5010253
Modi, R. M., Hinton, A., Pinkhas, D., Groce, R., Meyer, M. M., Balasubramanian, G., … Stanich, P. P. (2019). Implementation of a Defecation Posture Modification Device: Impact on Bowel Movement Patterns in Healthy Subjects. Journal of clinical gastroenterology, 53(3), 216–219. doi:10.1097/MCG.0000000000001143
Lorente-Cebrián, S., Costa, A. G. V., Navas-Carretero, S., Zabala, M., Laiglesia, L. M., Martínez, J. A., & Moreno-Aliaga, M. J. (2015). An update on the role of omega-3 fatty acids on inflammatory and degenerative diseases. Journal of Physiology and Biochemistry, 71(2), 341–349. doi: 10.1007/s13105-015-0395-y
Muriana, F. J., Bermúdez, B., Pacheco, Y. M., López, S., & Abia, R. (2004). Digestion and absorption of olive oil. Grasas y Aceites, 55(1). doi: 10.3989/gya.2004.v55.i1.141
Koo, M. W., & Cho, C. H. (2004). Pharmacological effects of green tea on the gastrointestinal system. European Journal of Pharmacology, 500(1-3), 177–185. doi: 10.1016/j.ejphar.2004.07.023
Dr. Niket Sonpal, MD, Adjunct Professor at Touro College
This article was originally published on