Many over-the-counter (OTC) treatments exist for constipation. Vitamins are a common option. Learn which vitamins are most useful for treating constipation and what precautions you should take.
Symptoms of Constipation
According to the Mayo Clinic, it happens when you have infrequent bowel movements or trouble passing stool. If you have fewer than three bowel movements per week, you probably have constipation.
Other symptoms of constipation include:
- having hard or lumpy stools
- feeling abdominal pain or pressure
- feeling like your rectum is blocked
- feeling like you’re unable to empty your bowels completely, even after a bowel movement
- needing to strain or push to produce a bowel movement
- needing to press on your abdomen with your hands to produce a bowel movement
- needing to use your finger to remove stool from your rectum
If you experience constipation for several weeks or longer, it’s called chronic constipation.
Causes of Constipation
Many lifestyle factors can contribute to constipation. For example, you may become constipated when you:
- don’t eat enough fiber
- don’t drink enough water or other fluids
- don’t get enough exercise
- have interruptions in your routine, for example, while traveling
- feel stressed
Other possible causes of constipation include:
- a bowel obstruction
- bowel disease, such as irritable bowel syndrome
- an anal fissure
- colon cancer
- rectal cancer
- abdominal cancer that puts pressure on your digestive system
Treatment for Constipation
In most cases, you can treat occasional constipation with lifestyle changes or OTC remedies. For example, it may help to drink more water, eat more fiber, and get more exercise. OTC laxatives or stool softeners may also provide relief.
Certain vitamins may also help ease your constipation. Many vitamins work as natural stool softeners. If you’re already taking them daily, increasing your intake may not help. However, adding certain vitamins to your daily routine may provide relief if you don’t already take them.
People Who Should Avoid Vitamins for Constipation Relief
You can purchase vitamins in most pharmacies, grocery stores, and health food stores. They’re safe for most people when taken in the proper dosage. However, some people may need to avoid certain vitamins. Some vitamins can also make your constipation worse.
As with all OTC supplements, you should speak with your doctor before taking a new vitamin or increasing your dosage. Your doctor and pharmacist can help you plan a safe and effective vitamin regimen.
Vitamins may not be a safe or effective for the following people:
Newborns and Infants
Talk with your baby’s pediatrician before giving your baby any type of constipation treatment, including vitamins or other supplements.
People with Gastrointestinal Conditions
If you have a history of gastrointestinal issues, vitamins and other OTC treatment options may not be effective for you.
People with Chronic Diseases or Illnesses
If you have a chronic health condition, tell your doctor if you experience constipation. It may be a side effect of your condition or treatment plan. It may also be a symptom of a larger problem.
In some cases, taking certain vitamins may make your health condition worse. Some vitamins can also interact with certain medications and supplements, which you may be taking to treat your condition
Vitamins That Can Treat Constipation
Taking these vitamins may help ease your constipation.
1. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin. Unabsorbed vitamin C has an osmotic effect in your digestive tract. That means it pulls water into your intestines, which can help soften your stool.
Too much vitamin C can be harmful, however. It can cause diarrhea, nausea, and stomach cramps. It can also cause some people to absorb too much iron from their food. Among other side effects, this may make your constipation worse.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the upper limit of vitamin C that most adults can tolerate is 2,000 milligrams (mg). The upper limit for children under the age of 18 is 400 to 1,800 mg, depending on their age. The recommended daily dosage is much lower.
2. Vitamin B-5
Vitamin B-5 is also called pantothenic acid. A research review published in the journal Acta Vitaminologica et Enzymologica found that a derivative of vitamin B-5 called dexpanthenol may ease constipation. It stimulates muscle contraction in your digestive system, which helps move stool through your bowels.
According to the NIH, the recommended daily intake for most adults is 5 mg of vitamin B-5 per day. Most breast-feeding women should get 7 mg daily. Children under 18 should generally get between 1.7 and 5 mg daily, depending on their age.
3. Folic Acid
Folic acid is also known as folate or vitamin B-9. It may help ease your constipation by stimulating the formation of digestive acids. If your digestive acid levels have been low, increasing them may help speed up your digestion and move stool through your colon.
When possible, aim to eat folate-rich foods instead of taking a folic acid supplement. Folate-rich foods are often fiber-rich too, which may also help get your bowels moving. Folate-rich foods include:
- black-eyed peas
- breakfast cereals
- fortified rice
Most people get plenty of folic acid from their daily diet. You may also want to take a supplement. According to the NIH, the upper limit that most adults can tolerate is 1,000 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid per day. Most children between the ages of 1 and 18 can take up to 300 to 800 mcg daily, depending on their age.
4. Vitamin B-12
Vitamin B-12 deficiency can cause constipation. If your constipation is caused by low levels of B-12, increasing your daily intake of this nutrient may help ease your symptoms.
You may prefer to eat more B-12-rich foods rather than take a supplement. Examples of foods rich in B-12 include:
- beef liver
- tuna fish
The NIH advises most adults to get 2.4 mcg of vitamin B-12 per day. Children under 18 can take between 0.4 and 1.8 mcg, depending on their age.
5. Vitamin B-1
Vitamin B-1, or thiamine, aids in digestion. When your levels of thiamine are low, your digestion may be slowed. This may lead to constipation.
Most women should consume 1.1 mg of thiamine daily, reports the NIH. Most men should consume 1.2 mg per day. Children between the ages of 1 and 18 should get between 0.5 and 1 mg, depending on their age.
Vitamins That Can Make Constipation Worse
Some vitamin supplements include the minerals calcium and iron, which can increase your chances of developing constipation. Some of the ingredients used to form vitamin tablets, such as lactose or talc, may also cause constipation.
If you suspect that your daily dose of vitamins is causing constipation, speak to your doctor. They may encourage you to stop taking vitamin supplements or lower your dosage. If you’re taking vitamins for a chronic health condition, don’t stop taking them without speaking to your doctor first.
Some vitamins can cause unwanted side effects, especially when mixed with other vitamins, supplements, or medications. Some vitamins can also aggravate pre-existing medical conditions. Speak with your doctor before taking any vitamins for constipation relief. Let them know if you experience any side effects.
Constipation happens to all of us. In most cases, it will clear up after a few days. If you try one of these vitamins as a treatment option, it may take three to five days before you see results.
If you still don’t find relief, it may be time to try a stimulant laxative or talk with your doctor about other options. In rare cases, chronic constipation can lead to complications, including tears in your rectal tissue or hemorrhoids.
Follow these tips to prevent constipation:
- Eat fiber-rich foods, such as beans, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Fiber adds bulk to your stool, which helps you pass it through your digestive system.
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially water. When your body has enough fluids to digest food properly, it can make it easier to pass stool.
- Get regular exercise to stimulate your digestive system and improve your ability to pass stool. Even regular walks around your neighborhood can help stimulate digestion.
- Take steps to reduce stress, which can interfere with your digestion. For example, avoid common stress triggers, practice relaxation techniques, and make time for activities you enjoy.
A healthy lifestyle can help you prevent and treat most cases of constipation. If you experience constipation for more than a week and you don't find relief through lifestyle changes or OTC treatments, make an appointment to see your doctor. You may need additional medical attention.