Constipation is common, but thankfully, there are a number of things you can try that might provide relief.
For instance, finding the best way to sit on the toilet can help. There are also natural remedies, like drinking plenty of water, eating enough fiber, and exercising.
Some over-the-counter products may also work.
To keep you regular in the long term, it’s a good idea to improve your overall gut health.
ZOE runs the largest study of nutrition and gut health in the world. Our “blue poop” study 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 tells you about the range of bugs that make up your unique gut microbiome and how they’re related to your gut health. With ZOE’s personalized nutrition program, you can find the best foods for your body and your gut bugs.
You can take a free quiz to find out more.
How to sit on the toilet when constipated
How you sit on the toilet may affect your ability to poop when you’re constipated.
The way your body is usually positioned on modern, Western-style toilets may not be the best for easy bowel movements. Instead of sitting straight up, evidence suggests that getting your body into a squatting position can be helpful.
If you are struggling to poop, you may want to try:
elevating your knees above your hips by placing your feet on a stepping stool or stack of books
leaning over your thighs and resting your arms on your knees
straightening your spine
allowing your muscles to relax
Getting into this position helps your pelvic muscles relax, which allows your colon to straighten out and pass poop more easily.
Ways to help relieve constipation
Constipation can be very uncomfortable and can have a significant impact on your quality of life. If you’re struggling to go, there are some natural as well as over-the-counter options that may help.
Drink plenty of water
Drinking water may be the best natural remedy for constipation. According to a study involving over 9,000 adults, not drinking enough liquid was more closely linked with constipation than either diet or exercise.
That’s because water helps soften your poop and makes it easier to pass through your system.
While everyone’s needs vary, around 6-8 cups, or roughly 2 liters, of total fluid intake per day is a good place to start.
Eat enough fiber
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adult women consume about 25 grams of fiber per day, and adult men should aim for about 38 grams per day.
Some examples of fiber-rich foods include:
whole grains, like whole-wheat pasta, oats, brown rice, and bran cereals
legumes, such as beans and lentils
fruits with the skin on
If you’re looking to increase your fiber intake, do so gradually. Eating too much extra fiber all at once can lead to uncomfortable side effects, such as gas, bloating, and stomach pain.
Particular foods may help with constipation, like prunes, apples, green vegetables, and legumes.
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Get up and move
Being physically active is not only great for your overall health, it may also help to relieve constipation.
One study involving women with chronic constipation found that those who increased their physical activity and improved their diets got roughly 10% more relief from constipation than those who only made diet changes.
There are some over-the-counter products you can try to relieve constipation. They come in a variety of forms, such as pills or powders you can mix into a drink.
They are generally safe as long as you follow the instructions carefully.
Some over-the-counter options include:
Lubricants: make it easier to pass poop out of your body.
Stool softeners: add moisture to poop, making it softer and easier to pass.
Fiber supplements: add water to poop by absorbing it from the rest of the body.
Bulking laxatives: add bulk to poop, which helps it to pass through.
Stimulant laxatives: cause the muscles in your intestines to contract, moving poop along.
Osmotic laxatives: draw water into your intestines, which helps poop to pass through.
When to see a doctor
You can usually deal with constipation at home without a visit to your doctor. However, if colon or rectal cancer runs in your family or your symptoms are not going away, talk to a healthcare professional.
Call your doctor right away if you’re constipated and have serious symptoms such as:
bleeding from your rectum or blood in your poop
constant stomach pain
vomiting or fever
lower back pain
unintentional weight loss
anemia, fatigue, or weakness
How to improve your gut health and stay regular
While there are many possible causes of constipation, recent evidence suggests that poor gut health — specifically an imbalance between the “good” and “bad” bugs that live in your gut — can be a key factor.
There are changes you can make to your diet to help support your “good” bugs and improve your gut health:
Eat a variety of colorful plants
Brightly colored plants are high in fiber, and chemical compounds called polyphenols. Both of these helps promote a healthy and diverse gut microbiome.
ZOE's Scientific Co-founder, Prof. Tim Spector recommends aiming for 30 different plants in a variety of colors each week.
Limit ultra-processed foods
Ultra-processed foods include cookies, chips, and most prepackaged snacks. They are often high in unhealthy fats, sugar, and salt but low in fiber.
Evidence suggests that they can have a negative effect on your gut health, including promoting the growth of more “bad” bugs.
Eat fermented foods
Fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, aged cheeses, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha, contain probiotics — live bacteria similar to some of the “good” bugs in your gut.
Unpublished ZOE research showed that people who consumed more probiotics — as fermented foods and supplements — were up to 15% more likely to poop most days than those who didn’t consume them.
ZOE scientists are experts in gut health. Their research has identified 15 “good” gut bugs linked to better health and 15 “bad” gut bugs linked to worse health.
As part of ZOE’s at-home test, you can discover which of these bugs live in your gut.
We use this information, along with measurements of your blood sugar and blood fat responses, to give you personalized recommendations of the best foods for you. Our advice includes your personalized “gut booster” and “gut suppressor” foods.
You can take a free quiz to find out how ZOE can help you.
If you’re struggling to poop while on the toilet, changing how you sit on your toilet could help. Raising your knees, leaning forward, and allowing your muscles to relax is one position that researchers recommend.
Some over-the-counter products, including lubricants, stool softeners, and laxatives, can offer fast relief from constipation.
Lifestyle changes, like eating enough fiber, drinking the right amount of water, and exercising, could also make a difference.
Research has linked constipation to the health of your gut, in particular the balance of “good” and “bad” bugs that live there. Adding a range of plants and fermented foods to your diet and limiting ultra-processed foods can help your “good” bugs thrive.
The ZOE at-home test can tell you about the unique range of bugs that live in your gut. With our personalized nutrition program, based on your test results, you can find the best foods for your gut health and your overall health.
You can take a free quiz to find out more.
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Role of yoga therapy in improving digestive health and quality of sleep in an elderly population: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies. (2021). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1360859221000863
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