Some supplements, including magnesium and probiotics, may help relieve constipation. But they can also cause side effects.
Constipation affects up to 20% of adults worldwide and can significantly affect quality of life. Its symptoms include infrequent bowel movements, hard feces, frequent straining to poop, and the sensation of incomplete emptying (
Healthcare professionals typically treat constipation with lifestyle changes, laxatives, and medications.
In certain cases, a healthcare professional may prescribe treatments such as biofeedback therapy, surgery, or transanal irrigation with a water enema (
In addition to these treatments, evidence suggests that certain supplements may help reduce constipation symptoms.
Here are 10 supplements that may relieve constipation.
Magnesium plays a number of essential roles in your body, and certain forms of this mineral may help with constipation.
For example, research has shown that magnesium oxide, magnesium citrate, and magnesium sulfate all improve constipation symptoms.
In a high quality, 28-day study in 34 women with mild to moderate constipation, taking 1.5 grams of magnesium oxide per day significantly improved stool consistency, quality of life, and the time it took digested food to move through the colon, compared with a placebo (
Keep in mind that magnesium sulfate may cause digestive side effects such as bloating and diarrhea.
As such, it’s best to consult a doctor or dietitian before taking magnesium.
Magnesium supplements may help reduce symptoms of constipation, though they may also lead to side effects.
Some research suggests that an imbalance in gut bacteria may contribute to certain types of constipation, including irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (IBS-C) (
Taking probiotic supplements may help support a balanced gut microbiome. Therefore, it may help reduce constipation symptoms.
A review of 14 studies in adults with chronic constipation found that probiotic supplements improved stool frequency, stool consistency, and the time it took food to move through the colon (
The authors concluded that the probiotic strain Bifidobacterium lactis was the most effective (
Meanwhile, a review of 21 studies in people with constipation suggested that taking probiotic supplements that contain Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium species may increase stool frequency and reduce food’s transit time through the colon (
Research suggests that some probiotic strains, including Bifidobacterium lactis, may help improve symptoms of constipation. Still, more studies are needed.
People often use fiber supplements to treat constipation.
Insoluble fiber supplements such as wheat bran help stimulate the mucous membrane of your colon. In doing so, they help stool soften and speed up fecal transit time through your colon.
However, not all types of fiber are appropriate for constipation relief. In fact, because some types of fiber may worsen constipation symptoms, you should consult a healthcare professional before starting a fiber supplement (
Many studies have shown that psyllium helps adults with constipation by increasing both the water content of stool and bowel movement frequency (
Other fiber supplements, including inulin and glucomannan, may also help treat constipation. One large review found that fiber supplements, including these types, significantly increased stool frequency and consistency, compared with a placebo (
Fiber supplements such as psyllium, inulin, and glucomannan may help improve constipation. However, some types of fiber may worsen constipation, so ask a healthcare professional to recommend a specific type and dosage.
People with intellectual and motor disabilities are more likely than the general population to have a carnitine deficiency.
In addition, people with these disabilities often take medications that increase carnitine excretion from the body (
Research links carnitine deficiency to constipation in people with severe motor and intellectual disabilities. Studies show that taking carnitine supplements may help relieve constipation symptoms in these populations.
For example, a study in 27 people with severe motor and intellectual disabilities found that carnitine levels were significantly lower in those who experienced constipation, and that low levels were significantly related to constipation severity (
The study also showed that constipation severity decreased significantly after people received carnitine supplements of 4.5–22.5 mg per pound of body weight (10–50 mg/kg) per day (
A deficiency in carnitine is linked to constipation in those with severe intellectual and motor disabilities. Carnitine supplements may help relieve constipation and correct carnitine deficiency in these populations.
People use aloe vera as a natural remedy for many conditions, including constipation. Studies show that it increases colon mucus excretion and has strong laxative qualities.
Furthermore, studies suggest that aloe vera supplements may help treat constipation, particularly if the constipation is related to IBS.
One review of 3 studies in 151 people with IBS, some of whom experienced constipation, found that aloe vera drinks and tablets of aloe extract significantly improved their IBS symptoms, compared with a placebo (
The review authors also noted that aloe vera was safe for the short-term treatment of IBS. The studies included in the review reported no adverse effects for up to 5 months. This review did not look at the effects of longer treatment periods.
While the authors of this review also noted that aloe vera was safe for short-term IBS treatment, some concerns exist over aloe vera’s long-term safety (
As such, you may want to consult a qualified health professional before trying aloe vera and avoid using it for long periods (
Some studies suggest that aloe vera may help treat constipation. However, research is limited and this plant’s long-term safety isn’t known.
Senna is an herbal laxative commonly used to relieve constipation symptoms. It’s found in many laxative supplements, including Ex-Lax and Senokot.
Senna contains compounds called sennosides, which promote the movement of matter through your digestive tract, as well as intestinal fluid accumulation, to relieve constipation (
In a high quality 28-day study, researchers gave 1 gram of senna daily to people with constipation. The treatment significantly improved stool frequency and overall quality of life compared with a placebo treatment (
Although senna is generally considered safe, it can lead to adverse effects when used for long periods at high dosages. Studies demonstrate that it may cause liver damage when used in large amounts for longer than 3 months (
Senna is a common ingredient in laxative products and may be an effective treatment for constipation. All the same, you should abide by recommended dosages and may want to avoid taking it long term.
Research suggests that the following products may also relieve constipation:
- Sujiaonori. This fiber-rich, edible green river algae is native to Japan. Some research suggests that treatment with sujiaonori powder may relieve symptoms of constipation and improve digestive function (
- Lactitol. This laxative is made from the milk sugar lactose. It increases stool volume and intestinal motility. A review of 11 studies found that lactitol supplements helped improve constipation symptoms and were well tolerated (
- CCH1. This Chinese medicine formulation includes Panax ginseng, ginger, Chinese licorice, baizhu, Aconitum carmichaelii, and Rheum tanguticum. Studies suggest that CCH1 may be an effective treatment for constipation (
- MaZiRenWan (MZRW). MZRW is another Chinese medicine formulation consisting of six herbs. Some high quality research has shown that MZRW improves symptoms in older adults with chronic constipation (
Although these treatments may be worthwhile if you’re looking for natural constipation remedies, you should first discuss them with your doctor. That’s because herbal supplements may react with common medications and cause adverse effects if used incorrectly.
Sujiaonori, lactitol, CCH1, and MZRW are treatments that may help relieve symptoms of constipation. To ensure your safety, consult your doctor before trying them — or any other supplement — to treat constipation.
While numerous supplements may relieve constipation, a few may also cause or worsen it. The following supplements have been associated with an increased risk of constipation:
- Iron. Iron supplements may cause digestive side effects, including constipation. Some forms, including ferrous sulfate, are more likely to cause constipation than other forms, such as iron bisglycinate chelate (
23, 24, 25).
- Calcium. Calcium carbonate, a form that’s commonly found in supplements, is more likely to cause constipation than calcium citrate, which is more expensive but less likely to trigger digestive symptoms (
- Berberine. Berberine is a naturally occurring compound concentrated in certain flowering plants. It’s also available as a supplement. Some evidence suggests that it may cause constipation when taken in high doses (
- Beta-sitosterol. This plant compound is taken as a supplement to treat conditions such as benign prostate hyperplasia. Reported side effects include digestive symptoms like nausea and constipation (
- Some fiber supplements. Although fiber supplements are commonly prescribed to treat constipation, some forms of fiber — such as wheat bran — decrease the water content of stool, which may worsen constipation (
Keep in mind that other supplements may cause constipation in some people. If you suddenly develop constipation after starting a new supplement, discontinue the supplement and get advice from your doctor.
Certain supplements, including iron and certain types of fiber and calcium, may cause constipation.
Even though most people experience occasional constipation, this condition is sometimes serious and may require medical attention.
It may be a symptom of an underlying health condition such as hypothyroidism, colorectal cancer, or bowel disease (
Constipation that passes quickly and isn’t severe typically isn’t a cause for concern.
However, if your constipation doesn’t improve with dietary changes such as drinking more water and increasing your fiber intake, or if you have a family history of colon cancer, you should consult your doctor.
Additionally, if you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms alongside constipation, you should see a doctor as soon as possible (
- bleeding from the rectum
- constant abdominal pain
- blood in your stool
- inability to pass gas
- lower back pain
- unexplained weight loss
You may feel uncomfortable talking about constipation with your doctor, but it’s important to keep them informed of any health changes, including changes in your bowel movements, so they can provide you appropriate care.
They’ve likely heard it all before and want you to feel comfortable discussing any symptom with them, no matter what it is.
While occasional constipation isn’t usually a cause for concern, chronic constipation requires professional treatment. If you also have symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloody stool, or lower back pain, contact your doctor as soon as possible.
Constipation is a common condition, but making basic dietary changes — including eating certain foods and taking certain medications or supplements — may improve your symptoms.
Supplements such as magnesium, fiber, probiotics, and senna may be particularly helpful.
However, many supplements interact with certain medications and may lead to adverse effects if you use them incorrectly. As such, talk with your doctor about supplements for constipation relief to find the best option for you.
Just one thing
Try this today: Did you know that the foods you eat may cause constipation? If you’re experiencing this condition, you may want to consider avoiding alcohol, processed grains, dairy products, and other foods. Check out this article for a complete list.