Teas for Constipation Relief

Medically reviewed by Alan Carter, PharmD on April 5, 2016Written by James Roland

Teas for relieving constipation

Many people like herbal teas for their soothing and relaxing properties. Some teas may help relieve constipation. Certain ingredients, including the herbs cascara and senna, have natural laxative properties. Herbal teas can be potent, though. You should limit how much herbal tea you drink and how often you drink it.

Constipation is characterized by infrequent bowel movements or difficulty having a bowel movement. It can be an uncomfortable condition. It may also leave you feeling bloated. The Mayo Clinic describes constipation as having fewer than three bowel movements per week. Because stools aren’t moving regularly, they tend to get dry and hard. This makes them more difficult to pass.

Why is tea used to treat constipation?

Regularly consuming fluids such as water and tea is one of the best ways to prevent constipation or treat it when symptoms develop. The more hydrated you are, the better lubricated your intestines are and the more moisture remains in your stools.

Certain herbs in teas can help with more than meeting your daily fluid requirements. Cascara, for example, has been used as a laxative for centuries. It’s found in some herbal teas and in supplement form, too.

Senna is another herb that many people use as a laxative. Like cascara, it’s in herbal remedy teas and you can take it as a supplement. This herb interferes with water reabsorption by your colon so that more moisture stays in your stools.

You should only use herbal teas, such as those containing senna or cascara, for short-term constipation relief.

What causes constipation?

The three most common causes of constipation are:

  • a low-fiber diet
  • a sedentary lifestyle
  • dehydration

Sometimes, traveling can lead to a change in bowel habits. Stress and anxiety may have a similar effect.

If you’re pregnant, you may find constipation to be a temporary but uncomfortable problem. Your child may become constipated if they’ve learned how to use the toilet but they try to hold in bowel movements.

Medical problems

Constipation can also be a symptom of a more serious medical problem, such as :

  • irritable bowel syndrome and other intestinal conditions
  • thyroid disease
  • cystic fibrosis
  • a mood disorder
  • some neurological problems, especially those affecting the nerves around the bowel and rectum

Delaying going to the bathroom

If you often delay going to the bathroom, this may also lead to constipation. It’s common for people who have hemorrhoids to experience this issue. Because hemorrhoids can make it painful to pass stool, people may delay going to the bathroom. If waiting to pass stool leads to constipation, it can make the next bowel movement even more painful.

Side effects of medication

Constipation is a potential side effect of many medications. These include:

  • certain narcotic pain medications
  • certain antidepressants
  • certain over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as antihistamines and antacids

Risk factors to consider

Only adults should consume teas that include herbs with laxative properties. If your child is constipated, consider exercise, more fluids, and adding more high-fiber foods to their diet. Some OTC laxatives also have doses designed for children.

If you’re generally healthy, it’s likely safe for you to try a commercial product, such as an herbal tea, to treat a bout of constipation. Be cautious about using herbal teas with unusual-sounding ingredients and promises that seem too good to be true.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate teas for constipation relief. Therefore, you can’t be entirely sure what ingredients are included in the tea. It’s not possible for you to know if there has been any reliable testing on the product’s safety and effectiveness.

If you’re pregnant, you should avoid certain herbal products due to potential risks. For example, teas with senna may raise your risk of diarrhea and dehydration if you’re pregnant. Talk to your doctor before trying any herbal or OTC product.

Learn more: 5 Safe remedies for constipation in pregnancy »

Which teas do people use to treat constipation?

Herbal teas can be made from a mixture of herbs, or a combination of herbs and tea leaves. You should always check the ingredients on the label so that you know what you’re drinking.

These teas are the most commonly used to relieve constipation:

  • Senna tea acts as a stimulant laxative, which works by stimulating the intestines to move stool along. Senna tea tends to have a bitter taste, so you may want to add honey or some other flavoring to make it more palatable.
  • Some people use dandelion tea to relieve water retention, but it can act as a mild laxative, too.
  • Cascara tea can have a strong laxative effect. You shouldn’t have more than is recommended. Cascara is available in laxative capsules as well as teas.
  • Peppermint tea may help treat and prevent cases of constipation. Peppermint is supposed to be good for digestive health.
  • Green tea also seems to have positive effects on digestive health. It has been used to help treat nausea, diarrhea, and constipation.
  • Hot or iced black tea may have a mild enough laxative effect that it can help prevent constipation, but you can consume it daily without long-term health risks. Adding honey or molasses to your tea may enhance its laxative properties.

How much tea should you drink?

Many teas marketed for their laxative effects come with instructions that suggest consuming one cup right before bedtime. Be sure to read the label and follow the directions carefully. Herbal teas, including those that help treat constipation, are sold in grocery stores, health food stores, and online.

For most laxative teas, the instructions recommend only one cup per day. However, if your constipation persists for more than a few days, you may need a stronger laxative medication. You should visit your doctor if your constipation lasts a week or more.

What are the side effects?

Teas sold specifically as constipation treatments are intended for short-term use only. Long-term use of these products may have risks. For example, your bowels may become dependent on these products, and you might eventually find it more difficult to have a bowel movement without them. Constipation may also be a symptom of a more serious medical condition.

Talk to your doctor if you have constipation related to a chronic health condition. Your doctor may recommend certain laxatives that you can take more regularly. You should take laxatives of any type as infrequently as possible.

It’s important to look into the potential long-term side effects of any herbal product that you take regularly. For example, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has reported that long-term use of cascara and senna can cause liver damage.

Herbal teas may also interact with medicines you currently take. If you take a prescription drug, be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist before using a laxative tea.

What is the outlook?

If your constipation is due to a low-fiber diet or not drinking enough fluids, one cup of laxative tea may be enough to help return your system to normal. But constipation has many different possible causes. If an underlying medical condition is causing your constipation, you may need to seek a stronger treatment.

You should help these teas and other treatments do their job by getting more physically active and following a high-fiber diet.

How to prevent future constipation

Preventing constipation is the best way to ensure that it doesn’t interfere with your quality of life. If you have a medical condition that causes constipation, prevention options might not work for you. Making certain lifestyle choices can help keep you regular if you’re in good overall health.

Diet

Eating a high-fiber diet can help prevent constipation. High-fiber foods include green, leafy vegetables, fruits, such as berries, and whole grains. These foods are sometimes called “roughage.” Aim to fill at least half your plate with fruits and vegetables and every meal. Throughout the day, try to make sure that at least half of the grain products you eat are whole grain. These foods have ingredients that benefit your digestive system and promote your overall health.

Staying well-hydrated is also essential for good digestive health. All of your body’s systems need water to work properly.

Exercise

You should also try to exercise for at least 150 minutes per week. You can break that goal down into five sessions per week that last 30 minutes each. Many different types of physical activity may help prevent constipation, including:

  • walking
  • jogging
  • swimming
  • aerobics

Getting more exercise also supports good heart health, and it may also help you feel healthier and more energized.

Keep reading: 6 Natural constipation remedies »

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