Modern busy lifestyles mean that many of us don’t always eat enough fiber, drink enough fluids, get enough exercise or get a chance to use the toilet when nature calls. All of these factors can lead to constipation. If you’re looking for an alternative to pharmaceutical laxatives, here are ten home remedies that could help get you going again.
1. Wheat bran
Wheat bran is an excellent source of insoluble fiber. Fiber eases constipation by increasing the water content and bulk of the stool, helping it to move quickly through the colon. Two tablespoons of wheat bran a day acts as a natural laxative. There are many ways to include wheat bran in your diet. Mix it into oatmeal, yogurt or smoothies. Or add it to the batter when baking muffins and quick breads.
2. Prune juice
Prunes are a natural source of sorbitol, a sugar alcohol with a laxative effect. Sorbitol stimulates bowel movements by drawing water into the large intestine and softening stools. Drink one eight-ounce glass of prune juice in the morning and one at bedtime. If you hate the taste of prunes, you can get a similar dose of sorbitol by eating a couple of large pears.
3. Castor oil
Castor oil has been used as a laxative for hundreds of years, but scientists have only recently discovered how it works. The ricinoleic acid in castor oil binds to a receptor in the intestines and causes contractions which promote the movement of stools. Castor oil works best on an empty stomach. Take one teaspoon before breakfast. You should have a bowel movement within four to six hours.
4. Abdominal massage
Abdominal massage relieves constipation by stimulating the constriction of the intestinal muscles and decreasing the time the stool takes to move through the colon.
Lie down and put one hand below your sternum. Stroke down your abdomen using moderate pressure. Follow with your other hand and continue cycling one hand over the other for about five minutes. Next, use your fingertips to massage your abdomen in small circular motions for another five minutes.
5. Epsom salt
Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) promotes bowel movements in two ways. It draws water into the bowel to soften stools and it promotes muscle contractions to help evacuate them. Mix two teaspoons of Epsom salt with a cup of water or juice and drink. Epsom salt usually takes between half an hour and six hours to work. If you have no relief after four hours, repeat the dose.
Okra (ladyfingers) is a vegetable which can become a slimy mess if overcooked. Its texture is due to its high concentration of mucilage. When eaten, this unctuous compound lubricates the digestive tract and provides bulk and softness to the stool. To get the laxative benefits of okra without the slimy mouth feel, avoid cooking it with liquid. It can be deep fried in batter, stir-fried, grilled or roasted.
Sitting on a toilet is not the best position in which to empty the bowels. When the body is seated the anal canal is bent and the rectum is partially obstructed by the puborectalis muscle. Squatting relaxes the puborectalis muscle and straightens the rectum to make elimination easier. If you’re not agile enough to squat with your feet on the toilet seat, you could try placing a footstool the same height as the toilet in front of it.
8. Mineral oil
Mineral oil is a lubricant laxative that coats and softens the stool so that it passes more easily through the colon. Mix one tablespoon of mineral oil into juice or herbal tea. Drink just before bedtime on an empty stomach. Follow the dose with an 8 ounce glass of water. You should find it easier to move your bowels the next morning. Note that mineral oil is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women.
Aloe is a stimulant laxative that induces bowel movements by increasing the contraction of muscles in the intestines. If you have an aloe vera houseplant, use a sharp knife to cut into one of the fleshy leaves and squeeze it to extract the thick fluid inside. Mix two tablespoons of the gel with fruit juice and drink it in the morning. If you don’t have a plant, drinking one cup of aloe vera juice will have a similar effect.
Traditional acupressure practitioners believe that stimulating certain vital energy points on the body can relieve constipation. Using two fingers, apply moderate pressure to the outer end of the elbow joint and massage in a circular motion. Grasp the flesh between your thumb and forefinger and massage it with the thumb of the other hand. Finally, use two fingers to massage the abdomen at a point three finger-widths below the belly button.