Many natural laxatives can help your digestive health by increasing stool frequency and improving its consistency. It also helps to stay hydrated, follow a balanced diet, and exercise regularly.

Laxatives can have powerful effects on digestive health, helping relieve constipation and promoting regular bowel movements.

They’re often used to treat constipation, a condition characterized by infrequent, difficult, and sometimes painful bowel movements.

Many natural laxatives available can be as effective as over-the-counter products at preventing constipation.

Several types of laxatives work in different ways. The main classes of laxatives include:

  • Bulk-forming laxatives: These move through the body undigested, absorbing water and swelling to form stools. Commercial options for bulk-forming laxatives include Metamucil and Citrucel, which are available in powder and capsule form.
  • Stool softener: These increase the amount of water absorbed by stools to make them softer and easier to pass. Stool softeners include docusate sodium and docusate calcium. They’re available in pill or tablet form.
  • Lubricant laxatives: These coat the surfaces of stools and intestinal lining to keep in moisture, allowing for softer stools and easier passage. Mineral oil is an example of a lubricant laxative available in liquid or enema form.
  • Osmotic-type laxatives: These help the colon retain more water, increasing the frequency of bowel movements. Examples of osmotic laxatives include milk of magnesia and glycerin. These are available as a liquid, caplet, enema, or suppository.
  • Saline laxatives: These draw water into the small intestine to encourage a bowel movement. Liquid magnesium citrate is one type of saline laxative.
  • Stimulant laxatives: They speed the movement of the digestive system to induce a bowel movement. Stimulant laxatives are available as tablets, pills, powders, chewables, liquids, and suppositories under brand names like Ex-Lax, Senokot, and Dulcolax.

Over-the-counter laxatives begin to work within a few hours or may take a few days to take full effect.

Though over-the-counter laxatives can be very helpful in alleviating constipation, using them too often can cause electrolyte disturbances and changes in body salts and minerals.

If you’re looking to achieve regularity, try incorporating some natural laxatives into your routine. They can be safe and inexpensive alternatives to over-the-counter products and have minimal side effects.

Fiber is really important for digestion and for presenting constipation.

Soluble fiber absorbs water in the gut to form a gel-like substance that helps soften stools. Insoluble fiber does not absorb water but moves through the body intact, increasing the bulk of stool for easier passage.

Studies show that increasing fiber intake can increase stool frequency and soften stools to ease their passage.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends eating 14 grams (g) of dietary fiber for every 1,000 calories. Per these recommendations, a person following a 2,000-calorie diet would eat 28 g of fiber every day.

The following foods contain a lot of fiber and other substances that help them function as natural laxatives:

  • Chia seeds: Chia seeds are particularly high in fiber, containing 9.6 g in just 1 ounce (28.4 g). They mainly contain insoluble fiber, but about 7–15% of the total fiber content comprises soluble fiber.
  • Berries: Most varieties of berries are also relatively high in fiber, containing both the soluble and insoluble types. For example, blueberries provide 3.6 g of fiber per cup (150 g).
  • Legumes: These include beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas, and peanuts. They are high in fiber. For example, 1 cup (180 g) of boiled lentils contains 14.2 g of fiber. Eating legumes can also help increase your body’s production of butyric acid, which may act as a natural laxative.
  • Flaxseeds: These have natural laxative properties. For example, one study of 90 participants showed that flaxseed flour was slightly more effective than lactulose at relieving constipation. They also contain a good mix of both soluble and insoluble fiber. A 3/4-cup (100 g) serving of flaxseeds provides 27.3 g of dietary fiber. That said, a typical serving of flaxseed is 1 tablespoon (tbsp).
  • Kefir: This is a fermented milk product that contains probiotics, which can help increase regularity while improving stool consistency and speeding intestinal transit.
  • Castor oil: This oil is made from castor beans. When consumed, it releases ricinoleic acid, which has a laxative effect by activating a specific receptor in the digestive tract.
  • Leafy greens: This includes spinach, kale, and cabbage. Eating them can help improve regularity and prevent constipation. For example, each cup (25 h) of raw kale provides 1 g of fiber. Leafy greens are also rich in magnesium, which helps draw water into the intestines to help pass stools.
  • Senna: Senna, extracted from the plant Senna alexandrina, is commonly used as a natural laxative in products like Ex-Lax and Senokot. Its sennoside content causes the digestive system to move faster and increases fluid absorption in the colon, relieving constipation.
  • Apples: These are high in fiber, providing 3 g of fiber per cup (125 gr), and pectin, a type of soluble fiber that may act as a laxative.
  • Rhubarb: This also contains sennoside, specifically sennoside A, which leads to a laxative effect. It also contains nearly 2.2 g of fiber per cup (122 g).
  • Oat bran: Produced from the outer layers of the oat grain, oat bran is high in soluble and insoluble fiber. In fact, just 1 cup (94 g) of raw oat bran packs a whopping 14.5 g of fiber.
  • Prunes: These contain 7.7 g of fiber in a 1-cup (248-g) serving. They also contain a type of sugar alcohol known as sorbitol, which acts as a laxative when consumed in large amounts.
  • Kiwi:One cup (180 g) of kiwi contains 5.4 g of fiber. The fruit also contains pectin, which can help relieve constipation.
  • Magnesium citrate: Magnesium citrate increases the amount of water in the intestinal tract, which causes a bowel movement. Magnesium citrate has been shown to be more bioavailable and better absorbed in the body than other types of magnesium.
  • Coffee: Coffee contains caffeine, which may affect the amount of time it takes for substances to move through your digestive tract, although the evidence is inconclusive.
  • Psyllium: Derived from the husk and seeds of the plant Plantago ovata, psyllium is a type of fiber. Psyllium husks are indigestible but retain large amounts of water, so they act as a stool-bulking agent. Although psyllium is generally safe, it can cause an intestinal obstruction if not taken with large amounts of fluids.
  • Water: Research shows that staying hydrated can help alleviate constipation by improving the consistency of stool, making it easier to pass. It can also amplify the effects of natural laxatives like fiber.
  • Sugar substitutes: These may have a laxative effect because they pass through the gut mostly unabsorbed, drawing water into the intestines and speeding transit in the gut. For example, case studies suggest that the excessive consumption of sugar-free chewing gum containing sorbitol may even lead to diarrhea.

What is the quickest laxative?

Among the laxative options included in this article, liquid magnesium citrate is the fastest-acting. You should feel its effects within half an hour.

However, the absolute fastest options are all rectally administered. Using a saline enema will be the fastest, followed by inserting bisacodyl or glycerin suppositories. That said, these options may not be best suited for every person.

Some natural laxatives can have negative side effects or carry risks. Before taking a natural laxative, speak with your doctor about these.

For example, the long-term, high dose use of senna is associated with liver toxicity, and psyllium, when not taken with ample amounts of water, can cause gastrointestinal obstruction.

What’s more, drinking large amounts of coffee can lead to caffeine toxicity, which causes tremors, irregular heart rhythm, and rapid heart rate.

Some laxatives should be used with caution if you have impaired kidney function.

Laxatives come with the risk of certain side effects, such as:

  • bloating
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • nausea
  • headache
  • loss of healthy bowel function

Some natural laxatives, such as dietary fiber, are part of a healthy diet. But if you find that you cannot have a normal bowel movement without using a laxative, speak with your doctor.

The long-term use of an over-the-counter laxative can change the way your bowel functions.

Many natural laxatives can help keep you regular by increasing stool frequency and improving stool consistency.

In addition to using these natural laxatives, make sure you stay well hydrated, follow a healthy diet, and make time for regular physical activity.

These steps will help prevent constipation and keep your digestive system healthy.