Olive oil is often touted for its potential health benefits, which include lowering cholesterol and helping to balance blood sugar levels. The oil may also help treat constipation.

Constipation refers to the slow movement of stools through your bowels. You may only have a few bowel movements per week. The accepted norm is one bowel movement per day, but your individual habits may vary. With constipation, stools become hard and dry. This can make the stool harder to pass. Abdominal pain is a common symptom of constipation.

The laxative effect of olive oil is generally mild. Most people can also consume the oil without side effects. Even if it offers only slight relief, it may be worth adding this healthy oil to your diet.

Constipation has many possible causes. This can make it difficult to find out what’s causing your particular case of it. The cause can be as simple and easily fixed as a poor diet or as serious as colon cancer.

More benign causes of constipation include a low-fiber diet, poor hydration, and a lack of regular exercise. Sedatives and medications that lower blood pressure may also cause constipation.

Underlying medical conditions can also cause constipation. Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis both count constipation among their list of health complications. In many cases, serious constipation is related to a problem in the digestive tract. For example, an anal fissure or a narrowing of the colon can cause constipation.

Neurological problems that specifically affect the nerves around the colon and rectum, as well as pelvic muscle problems, can also cause constipation.

Olive oil is considered a healthy fat because it contains primarily monounsaturated fats. The body uses these fats to improve cardiovascular health. It’s also better for weight loss than saturated fats or trans fats, which can contribute to weight gain and other problems.

You can buy various types of olive oil at most grocery stores. Extra virgin olive oil is considered to be the purest because it doesn’t go through a lot of heating and chemical processing.

Because olive oil isn’t a medicine, there isn’t a standardized recommendation for its use as a laxative.

In a study published in the Journal of Renal Nutrition, researchers found that daily doses of olive oil were effective in improving most constipation symptoms in people undergoing hemodialysis for kidney disease. The doses started at 4 milliliters and increased as needed.

You can consider trying a spoonful mixed in with a glass of orange juice or a cup of warm milk. The oil can also be used as a salad dressing or as an ingredient in cooking. If constipation is a frequent problem, you may want to start drizzling it on salads, cooked vegetables, or eggs to increase its presence in your diet.

Read more: 6 natural constipation remedies »

Small doses of olive oil are well-tolerated by most people. Because it may have natural laxative properties, olive oil consumed in large amounts may contribute to diarrhea.

Olive oil packs a lot of calories into a small serving. One tablespoon, for example, has nearly 120 calories. If you’re carefully counting calories, remember to include olive oil in your tally.

If you have diabetes, you should talk with your doctor before using olive oil in this manner. Olive oil may lower your blood sugar levels.

Adding a little more olive oil to your diet or trying a spoonful here and there to treat constipation isn’t likely to carry any risk, even if it doesn’t wholly address the problem of constipation.

If you’ve consumed olive oil in the past without problems, adding more to your diet or taking it as a laxative should be fine. You should consult with your pediatrician before giving olive oil to your baby.

Read more: 5 safe remedies for constipation in pregnancy »

If olive oil doesn’t help, consider taking an over-the-counter laxative. Many of these products work within a few hours, so you shouldn’t take these if you’re unable to access a bathroom readily.

If you’ve tried olive oil or other treatments and you’re still constipated a few days later, make an appointment with your doctor or a gastroenterologist. If you don’t have a bowel movement for a week, you should seek medical attention. You should also seek medical attention if your bowel movements are painful or produce little stool.

Follow these tips to prevent constipation:

  • If you’ve started a new medication and
    constipation is one of the side effects, tell your doctor. An alternative
    medication or a lower dose may solve the problem.
  • You can also try adding more fruit and leafy,
    green vegetables to your regular diet.
  • Make sure you have at least eight glasses of
    water per day to prevent dehydration.
  • You can also limit the number of sugar-sweetened
    drinks you have because they’re high in calories and can lead to weight gain.
    Being obese or overweight can increase your risk of constipation.
  • Regular physical activity, even if it’s just a
    brisk walk every day, can also help improve your overall digestive health and
    help prevent constipation.