Published 29th June 2022

Natural home remedies to relieve constipation and help you poop

Pooping less than three times each week or finding it hard to poop could indicate constipation. However, there are a number of home remedies that can help.

There is no gold standard for how often you should poop. But medical professionals suggest that anything from three times each day to three times each week can be considered healthy.

Constipation affects millions of people, resulting in at least 2.5 million doctor visits in North America each year. It can be caused by lifestyle factors, diet, or health conditions.

Home remedies for constipation include keeping hydrated, consuming dried fruit, drinking coffee, and exercising. Read on for the complete list.

ZOE’s scientists are running the world's largest ongoing study of nutrition and gut health.

We recently ran the “blue poop” study, which showed that the time it takes food to move through your digestive system is linked to the types of bacteria that live in your gut.

The ZOE at-home test analyzes your unique gut microbiome — the range of bugs in your gut — and how they relate to your gut health. With the ZOE program, you get personalized nutrition advice to eat the best foods for your body and your gut health. 

You can take our free quiz to find out more.

Home remedies to help relieve constipation

Most of us will experience constipation at some point, although it is more common in women and older adults. 

If you poop fewer than three times each week, the stools are dry and solid, you have to strain to poop, or you aren't completely emptying your bowels, it's likely to be constipation. 

Other symptoms can include trapped wind, bloating, nausea, and cramps in your lower abdomen.

Occasional constipation may be nothing to worry about. However, chronic constipation can have a significant effect on quality of life.

Thankfully, there are several things you can try at home to ease constipation. 

Keep hydrated

The cheapest and easiest home remedy for constipation is drinking water. When someone is dehydrated, their poop is likely to be more solid, making it harder to pass.  

As Dr. Will Bulsiewicz — ZOE’s U.S. Medical Director and a board-certified gastroenterologist — says, “Your poop is a log, and you want to float that log down the river. Don’t let it get dried up on the rocks.”

Exactly how much fluid your body needs is unique to you. Around 6-8 cups, or roughly 2 liters, is a good starting point. 

If your pee is darker than a pale straw color or you have a dry mouth or chap lips, it’s a sign that you likely aren’t getting enough fluids. 

Dried fruit

Dried fruits, such as dates, prunes, figs, raisins, and apricots, are rich in fiber. Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate that helps stimulate regular bowel movements. 

However, prunes are also rich in sorbitol, which is a sugar alcohol. Sorbitol has an additional laxative effect.

This two-pronged approach of fiber and sorbitol is an excellent natural way to alleviate occasional constipation.

One study, for instance, found that 100 grams of prunes each day successfully relieved chronic constipation. You can also drink prune juice as an alternative.

Plenty of plants

Aside from dried fruit, plenty of other plants are high in fiber and may help with constipation. 

Apples, kiwi, citrus fruits, Jerusalem artichoke, green vegetables, legumes, and chia seeds all fall into this category.

You can read more about foods that can help with constipation here

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Coffee

Many of you may have noticed that a cup of coffee in the morning is a good way to get things moving before you start your day. 

One study found that nearly one-third of coffee drinkers pooped within 20 minutes of having coffee. However, it does not have this effect on everyone.

Although scientists do not know for certain why coffee helps ease constipation, they have some theories

For instance, caffeine appears to boost acid production in the stomach and stimulates the muscles in the gut. It may also stimulate the release of a hormone called cholecystokinin, which encourages digestion.

Senna

Senna is a plant-based laxative. It is available as a pill or liquid from most pharmacies. 

Senna causes the gut muscles to contract, which triggers the urge to poop. It takes around 8–12 hours to work.

Important note: Do not take senna if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or if you have inflammatory bowel disease. Also, using senna over long periods or at high doses can damage the liver. 

Generally, you should only use senna as an occasional laxative. If you are taking it more frequently, discuss it with a healthcare professional.

Exercise

There is evidence that regular exercise may help improve constipation. On the other side of the coin, a sedentary lifestyle is associated with infrequent bowel movements. 

Scientists don’t know exactly why exercise can ease constipation, but there are likely multiple factors involved. 

For instance, exercise can make the muscles of the abdomen work, which might help move food along the gut.

Also, being active may stimulate the release of gut hormones that encourage food to move along the digestive tract.

Probiotics 

Probiotics are live bacteria, similar to the “good” bugs in your gut.

Food manufacturers sometimes add them to food products, and they are available in pill form. Probiotics also occur naturally in fermented foods, such as kimchi and sauerkraut.

Unpublished ZOE research has found links between probiotics and how often a person poops. 

People who consumed more probiotics — whether in fermented foods or pills — had more bowel movements than those who didn’t. 

One of the most common probiotic foods is yogurt — but make sure it’s live yogurt without artificial sweeteners. 

Eating for your individual gut health

Our intestines contain billions of bacteria and other microbes. Collectively, they make up the gut microbiome.

Many studies, including a 2019 review, have found a clear link between the gut microbiome and constipation. Thankfully, you can alter your gut microbiome with changes to your diet.

But where do you start?

The scientists at ZOE are experts in gut health. They have identified 15 “good” and 15 “bad” gut microbes.

If you want to discover your unique gut microbiome, taking a poop sample is part of ZOE’s at-home test kit. We analyze your poop and identify the bugs in your gut.

ZOE’s personalized nutrition advice, based on your unique test results, includes tips for optimizing your diet to fit your gut’s unique requirements.

As part of the tests, we also measure your blood sugar and blood fat responses to foods, giving you a comprehensive overview of your dietary needs.

ZOE can help you eat the best foods for your metabolism, including your personalized “gut booster” foods that can help improve your gut health.

Summary

Occasional constipation is normal. It can be due to stress, dietary changes, or medication. 

Long-term ongoing constipation, however, can affect your quality of life. To get things moving, there are many things you can try at home. 

These include increasing your water intake, eating dried fruit and fiber-rich plants, and drinking coffee. Moving your body more regularly may also help, and there are over-the-counter laxatives you can try.

Consuming probiotics regularly can help keep you regular and improve your gut health. 

If you want to tailor your diet and lifestyle to fit your gut's unique requirements, our at-home test includes a gut health check that identifies the bugs that you currently have in your gut. 

You can take our free quiz to find out how ZOE can help you reach your long-term health goals.

Sources

Blue poo: Impact of gut transit time on the gut microbiome using a novel marker. Gut. (2021). https://gut.bmj.com/content/70/9/1665

Coffee consumption and risk of gallbladder cancer in a prospective study. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. (2017) https://academic.oup.com/jnci/article/109/3/djw237/2605758

Definition and facts for constipation. (n.d.). https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/constipation/definition-facts

Diet in irritable bowel syndrome: What to recommend, not what to forbid to patients! World Journal of Gastroenterology. (2017). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5467063/

Dried plums and their products: composition and health effects--an updated review. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. (2013). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24090144/

Effect of coffee on distal colon function. (1990). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2338272/

Effects of regular physical activity on defecation pattern in middle-aged patients complaining of chronic constipation. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology. (2005). https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00365520510011641

Epidemiology and burden of chronic constipation. Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology. (2011). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3206560/

Exercise therapy in patients with constipation: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology. (2019). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30843436/

Exploratory comparative effectiveness trial of green kiwifruit, psyllium, or prunes in US patients with chronic constipation. The American Journal of Gastroenterology. (2021). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34074830/

Fluid (water and drinks): Food Fact Sheet (n.d.). https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/fluid-water-drinks.html

Gut microbiota and chronic constipation: A review and update. Frontiers in medicine. (2019). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6379309/

Senna. (n.d.). https://bnf.nice.org.uk/drug/senna.html

Systematic review: impact of constipation on quality of life in adults and children. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics. (2010). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20180788/

Risk factors for constipation in adults: a cross-sectional study. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. (2019). https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07315724.2020.1727380

Who can and cannot take senna. (n.d.). https://www.nhs.uk/medicines/senna/who-can-and-cannot-take-senna/

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