Constipation is one of the most common gastrointestinal problems in the world. In the United States alone, it affects up to 42 million people, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Many often turn to over-the-counter solutions to soften their stool, but those can often have unwanted side effects, such as cramps, nausea, bloating, gas, and other gut problems.
If your time on the toilet is troublesome and you’d rather not reach into the medicine cabinet, fear not, for there are plenty of natural ways to soften your stool.
Here are a few natural ways to soften your stool:
1. Eat More Fiber
Men should get 38 grams of fiber a day and women 25 grams, according to the Institute of Medicine. However, the average adult gets only about half that, so adding more to your diet is often a good solution.
There are two kinds of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber soaks up the moisture in food and slows digestion. This can help keep you regular if you make it part of your daily routine. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to your stool and relieves constipation faster, and has the added benefit of getting toxins out of your body quicker.
Good sources of soluble fiber are: oranges, apples, carrots, oatmeal, and flax seed.
Good sources of insoluble fiber are: nuts, seeds, fruit skins, and dark leafy vegetables.
2. Drink More Water
Stool becomes hard, clumpy, and possibly painful when it doesn’t have enough water content as it enters the colon. This can occur for numerous reasons, including stress, travel, and as a side effect of medications. Besides hard stool, dehydration makes a person feel more stressed, which can further complicate digestive problems.
Drinking enough fluids, especially water, can help avoid this uncomfortable situation, according to studies. But the eight-glasses-a-day rule isn’t a universal truth. Different people have different hydration needs, but here’s a general rule to follow: if your urine is dark yellow, low volume, and infrequent, you aren’t getting enough fluids.
3. Go for a Walk
Just like fiber, the average American doesn’t get enough exercise, and a full third are obese. Exercise helps stimulate digestion because as you move, your body also moves stool through the gut.
Besides momentary relief, exercise can help you lose weight, which has shown to decrease gastrointestinal problems such as constipation. Talking a 30 minute walk after a meal can help your body digest food better and promote regular digestion.
4. Drink an Epsom Salt-Water Mixture
Epsom salt and water is not only the greatest thing to ever happen to sore muscles, but it’s also good to loosen up some troubling stool.
Magnesium sulphate is a major component of Epsom salt, or bath salts. According to Mayo Clinic, it can be effective for relieving short-term constipation. They recommend dissolving the powder form in 8 ounces of water. The maximum dose for an adult or child over 12 years old should be 6 teaspoons. The maximum dose for a child between six and 11 years old should be 2 teaspoons.
This is not recommended for regular use, and because the taste is a bit foul, it might be worth squirting some lemon juice into the solution before you drink up.
5. Drink Mineral Oil
Mineral oil is a lubricant laxative. When delivered orally, it can promote bowel movement by coating the stool as well as the bowel in a waterproof film. This keeps the moisture within the stool so that it passes easier.
Studies also show that olive oil and flaxseed oil can be as effective as mineral oil for treating constipation in people being treated for kidney failure.