Many natural laxatives can help your digestive health by increasing stool frequency and improving stool consistency. You can also stay well hydrated, follow a healthy diet, and make time for regular physical activity.
Laxatives can have powerful effects on your 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
- Bulk-forming laxatives. These move through the body undigested, absorbing water and swelling to form stools. Commercial options of 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 that’s 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. Magnesium citrate is one type of saline laxative. It’s available in pill form.
- 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 a natural treatment and one of the first lines of defense against constipation.
It moves through the intestines undigested, adding bulk to stools and encouraging regularity.
Chia seeds are particularly high in fiber, containing
They mainly contain insoluble fiber, but about
Soluble fiber absorbs water to form a gel, which can aid the formation of softer stools to ease constipation.
Most varieties of berries are relatively high in fiber, making them a great choice as a mild natural laxative.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends eating 14 grams of dietary fiber for every 1,000 calories.
Per these recommendations, a person following a 2,000-calorie diet would eat 28 grams of fiber every day.
Berries contain two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber, such as that in chia seeds, 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.
Including a few varieties of berries in your diet is one way to increase your fiber intake and take advantage of their natural laxative properties.
Legumes are a family of edible plants that include beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas, and peanuts.
Legumes are high in fiber, which can encourage regularity.
For example, 1 cup (180 grams) of boiled lentils contains
Eating legumes can help increase your body’s production of butyric acid, a type of short-chain fatty acid that may act as a natural laxative.
It also acts as an anti-inflammatory agent to reduce the intestinal inflammation that may be associated with some digestive disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease.
Boasting omega-3 fatty acids and a high amount of protein, flaxseeds are rich in many nutrients that make them a healthy addition to most diets.
Plus, flaxseeds have natural laxative properties and are an effective treatment for both constipation and diarrhea.
Flaxseeds contain a good mix of both soluble and insoluble fiber, which helps reduce intestinal transit time and adds bulk to stools.
A 3/4-cup (100-gram) serving of flaxseeds provides
That said, a typical serving of flaxseed is 1 tablespoon.
Kefir is a fermented milk product.
It contains probiotics, a type of beneficial gut bacteria that have a variety of health benefits, including improved immune function and digestive health.
Consuming probiotics through either foods or supplements
After consuming 17 ounces (500 mL) per day for 4 weeks, they had increased stool frequency, improved consistency, and decreased laxative use.
Produced from castor beans, castor oil has a long history of use as a natural laxative.
After castor oil is consumed, it releases ricinoleic acid, a type of unsaturated fatty acid that’s responsible for its laxative effect.
Ricinoleic acid works by
Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and cabbage work in a few different ways to improve regularity and prevent constipation.
First, they’re very nutrient-dense, meaning they provide a good amount of vitamins, minerals, and fiber in relatively few calories.
For example, each cup (25 grams) of raw kale provides
Leafy greens are also rich in magnesium. This is the main ingredient in many types of laxatives, as it
Extracted from the plant Senna alexandrina, senna is an herb that’s often used as a natural stimulant laxative.
Senna is found in many common over-the-counter products, including Ex-Lax, Senna-Lax, and Senokot.
The constipation-relieving effects of senna are attributed to the plant’s sennoside content.
Sennosides are compounds that work by accelerating the movement of the digestive system to stimulate a bowel movement. They also
Apples are high in fiber, providing
Plus, they’re full of pectin, a type of soluble fiber that can act as a laxative.
Some research has found that consuming olive oil could be an effective way to alleviate constipation.
Rhubarb contains a compound known as sennoside A, which provides some potent laxative properties.
Sennoside A decreases the levels of AQP3, a type of protein that regulates the water content of stools.
This leads to a
Rhubarb also contains a good amount of fiber to help promote regularity, with
Produced from the outer layers of the oat grain, oat bran is high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, making it a good choice as a natural laxative.
In fact, just 1 cup (94 grams) of raw oat bran packs a whopping
Prunes are probably one of the most well-known natural laxatives.
They provide lots of fiber, with
Sorbitol acts as a laxative when consumed in large amounts.
Kiwifruit has been shown to have laxative properties, making it a convenient way to ease constipation.
This is mostly due to its high fiber content. One cup (180 grams) of kiwifruit contains
Kiwifruit contains a mix of both insoluble and soluble fiber. It also contains pectin, which has been shown to have a natural laxative effect.
It works by increasing the movement of the digestive tract to stimulate a bowel movement.
Magnesium citrate is a powerful natural laxative.
Magnesium citrate has been shown to be
Magnesium citrate increases the amount of water in the intestinal tract, which causes a bowel movement.
When combined with other
For some people, coffee may increase the urge to use the bathroom. Coffee contains caffeine, which may affect the amount of time it takes for substances to move through your digestive tract, although the
Brewed coffee does not contain any dietary fiber, but it does have other components that may help relieve constipation. One cup (248 grams) of brewed coffee contains
Derived from the husk and seeds of the plant Plantago ovata, psyllium is a type of fiber with laxative properties.
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
Water is essential for staying hydrated, maintaining regularity, preventing constipation.
It can also amplify the effects of other natural laxatives, like fiber.
For overall health, it’s essential to get an adequate amount of water every day.
Excess consumption of some types of sugar substitutes may have a
This is because they pass through the gut mostly unabsorbed, drawing water into the intestines and speeding transit in the gut.
This process is especially true for sugar alcohols, which are poorly absorbed in the digestive tract.
Lactitol, a type of sugar alcohol derived from milk sugar, has been investigated for its
Xylitol is another common sugar alcohol that acts as a laxative.
It’s usually found in small amounts in diet drinks and sugar-free gums. If you consume it in large amounts, however, it can induce a bowel movement or cause diarrhea.
Large amounts of the sugar alcohol erythritol could also exert a laxative effect in the same way, spurring a bowel movement by bringing large amounts of water into the intestines.
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
What’s more, drinking large amounts of coffee can lead to
Some laxatives should be used with caution if you have impaired kidney function.
Laxatives come with the risk of certain
- loss of normal 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.