When it comes to being "regular,” there really isn’t a standard. The definition of normal bowel movements differs from person to person. But regardless of whether you visit the bathroom three times a day or three times a week, the symptoms of constipation are usually the same for everyone. If you aren’t having as many bowel movements as you normally do, or if your stool is hard, dry, or painful, you’re probably experiencing a bout of constipation.
Fortunately, the condition is rarely a sign of serious disease and usually can be cleared up without drastic measures. In fact, there are several home remedies for constipation that can help alleviate the discomfort.
While signs accompanying constipation such as abdominal pain, bloody stool, or unexpected weight loss should be brought to a doctor’s attention, for run-of-the-mill constipation bouts, these non-drug constipation remedies just might do the trick.
Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to play a role in a large number of bodily functions, including digestion. Some studies have shown that omega-3s can be helpful in managing symptoms of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, which include constipation. Fish oil, derived either from diet or in supplement form, is a rich source of these fatty acids. Specifically, cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, halibut, sardines, tuna, and herring contain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Fish oil supplements also contain EPA and DHA.
As is the case with all dietary supplements, fish oil supplements should be taken with caution. High doses of any omega-3 fatty acids can increase bleeding risk, so it is especially important that people who bruise easily or have bleeding disorders be careful when using this home remedy for constipation. Blood-thinning medications also put people at risk for this same reason. In addition to blood thinners, diabetes and cholesterol medications, some steroids, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may produce possible adverse reactions when combined with omega-3 fatty acids like those found in fish oil.
Another downside to using this constipation remedy is that fish oil can cause gas and bloating, and in some cases diarrhea. And it is important to know the source of fish oil before using it as a constipation remedy, as some fish may contain heavy metals such as mercury and other contaminants.
Castor oil is a yellowish liquid that can be used as a home remedy for constipation because of its laxative property. One study in Nigeria found that oral castor oil helped children with chronic constipation to move their bowels. An upside to castor oil for constipation is that it works quickly.
For that same reason, however, castor oil should be cautiously administered as a constipation remedy. It should not be taken at bedtime, due to its quick effects. Another downside to this constipation remedy is that it tastes bad, so it is recommended that the castor oil be chilled and mixed with a sweetener such as orange juice. Castor oil is generally considered safe, but it can lead to overdose if taken in large amounts.
One of the best known home remedies for constipation is fibre. The recommended dosage — 20 to 35 grams per day — can be found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Fibre is also a convenient constipation remedy since most people already have these items in their homes. Fibre supplements such as psyllium (Metamucil) or methylcellulose (Citrucel) can be used as well.
The one downside to using fibre as a constipation home remedy is that it can actually make constipation worse if you don’t drink plenty of water with it. For the fibre to help alleviate constipation, it needs fluids to help move it through the digestive system. Fibre derived from supplements especially must be taken with water in order to avoid worsening constipation.
Herbal therapy is one of the oldest forms of constipation treatments — numerous cultures around the world have used herbs to cure constipation for thousands of years. This tried-and-true constipation therapy is generally divided into two categories: bulk-forming and stimulant laxatives.
Commonly used bulk-forming herbal laxatives include flaxseed, fenugreek, and barley. If you opt for flaxseed as a constipation remedy, you should remember that flaxseed oil is different from the actual flaxseeds, which are available as whole or crushed seeds; flaxseed oil is not a constipation remedy. Stimulant herbs for constipation include senna, Cascara segrada, and aloe.
One reason to think twice before using herbs for constipation is that the stimulant laxatives, particularly aloe, can cause cramping. Herbalists typically recommend a less powerful stimulant like senna before suggesting aloe. Along with side effects, herbal therapies for constipation can potentially interact with medications and supplements. Always speak with a qualified health care practitioner before taking any herbs.
Probiotics are the bacteria inside our intestines that promote digestion. Examples of probiotics are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Sacchromyces boulardi, and they are available in supplement form and some foods, such as yogurt. Some studies have shown that probiotics are an effective non-drug cure for constipation. Like fiber, probiotics are a relatively easy home cure for constipation because they are available in foods that many families already have in the refrigerator.
However, the jury is still out on probiotics for constipation. Recently, Polish researchers conducted a systematic review of trials on the effect of probiotics on constipation and concluded that there was not yet strong enough evidence to support their recommendation.