Constipation is one of the most common gastrointestinal problems in the world. In the United States alone, it affects around 42 million people, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
Many people turn to over-the-counter solutions to soften their stool, but those can often bring unwanted side effects. These side effects may include:
If your time on the toilet is troublesome and you’d rather not reach into the medicine cabinet, fear not. There are plenty of natural ways to soften your stool.
Here are a few of them:
1. Eat more fiber
Men should get 38 grams of fiber a day and women 25 grams, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 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 can help to quickly relieve constipation as long as you drink enough fluid to push the stool through. Insoluble fiber has the added benefit of getting toxins out of your body quicker.
Good sources of soluble fiber include:
Good sources of insoluble fiber include:
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. Here’s a general rule to follow: if your urine is dark yellow, low volume, and infrequent, you aren’t getting enough fluids and may already be dehydrated.
3. Go for a walk
Just like fiber, the average American doesn’t get enough exercise. More than a third of Americans are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Exercise helps stimulate digestion because as you move, your body also moves stool through the gut.
Besides offering 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. Try Epsom salt
Epsom salt and water aren’t just great for soothing sore muscles. They’re also good for loosening up troublesome stool.
Magnesium sulfate is a major component of Epsom salt. When taken orally, it can be effective for relieving short-term constipation. Dissolve 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 6 and 11 years old should be 2 teaspoons. Children under 6 shouldn’t take Epsom salts.
This isn’t recommended for regular use. It’s easy for bowels to become dependent on laxatives. 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. Laxatives are meant for short-term use only, so don’t use them for more than 2 weeks.
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. Pregnant women shouldn’t take mineral oil. Talk to your doctor before you use mineral oil on children.