Constipation - Natural Tips to Get Regular (Aside from Blend11!)
For any health practitioner, constipation is one of the most common complaints. Here are some tried & tested natural tips for when you are feeling blocked up, if increasing fibre doesn’t seem to be helping & you don’t want to rely on laxatives.
Diet:Work with a dietitian, nutritionist or naturopath trained in the Low FODMAP diet, sometimes FODMAPs are the culprit in constipation (though they are more frequently associated with bloating, discomfort & diarrhoea). FODMAP’s can however provide fermentable fibre to promote microbial hydrogen production & then the consequent rise in constipating methane, produced by the methane-producing hydrogen-consuming gut bugs. So a low FODMAP fibre source can be really helpful here (ie Blend11). Try removing gluten & dairy for a few weeks, see if there’s any improvement (have spoken to many people over the years who are constipated when eating one or both of these, & can almost instantly improve when they’re removed). It can also be other food sensitivities but gluten & dairy are the most common. Meat can really slow things up for a lot of folks, try substituting lentils, beans & chickpeas, or just dilute meat using these mixed through (if legumes are tolerated). Also ancient grains like quinoa, millet, amaranth, etc. Veggies almost always need to be increased. Very few people actually get the amount of veg they need daily, despite them telling you they eat salad every day. A daily green smoothie helps many with constipation (great way to help with the above too!) Introduce fermented foods like sauerkraut & kimchee, just a teaspoon or 2 on the side of your plate is easy to get used to, then you can increase from there. Intermittent fasting / 5 hours between eating. Helps many with IBS / SIBO. Gives the digestive system the essential 'space' needed to ‘clean up’ after digesting.
Probiotic foods, capsules or powders:If you’re trying a probiotic for constipation, my suggestion is normally to take a capsule 2 or 3 x daily (you can go over the dose recommended on the bottle, that’s totally fine). Here’s one I like, that should be well tolerated by most: TERRA Flora PROBIOTIC (great customer & practitioner reviews).
Digestive bitters / liver herbs:Things like gentian, swedish bitters, butternut, andrographis, St Mary’s Thistle - all the bitter liver herbs can really help get things moving & many also have antimicrobial effects (there are many causes of constipation & microbial imbalance is often involved - microbial fermentation creates gases that can actually alter the way your bowels move - your gut bugs controlling their environment)! Not recommended for long term use, but great as a liver & bowel kickstart. Gentler digestive herbs for everyday use could be green tea, chamomile, peppermint or liquorice teas (all great for gut & liver support). Get advice from your pharmacist regarding interactions with any medications you may be taking prior to using concentrated herbal supplements.
Poo Position:The ’Squatty Potty’ or similar home made device (ie a couple of bricks, pile of books, DIY wooden step) - anything to get you squatting. The terrible poo position encouraged by the western loo can be an aggravator for many with constipation. Squatting with the knees above the hip level is the way to open up the bowels properly. If you’ve never watched their now famous ad, you should - great marketing for a tricky product, they've nailed it!
Hydration:Seems obvious, but pays to mention as it’s often forgotten. Take a water bottle with you everywhere, & fill it often.
Exercise:If you are not moving, neither is your digestive system! Adequate movement / exercise is one of THE most important factors in maintaining healthy digestive function. Even gut microbes change for the better with increased activity - sedentary people have unhealthy gut bugs….& are often chronically constipated. There is no getting around it - find something active you don’t hate & do it regularly. Even if you hate all kinds of exercise - choose what you hate the least, make yourself do it until you hate it less (it will happen). And so will good poos. And life just gets better from there. Just do it, & just poo it. Sorry.
Stress management:If you’re a stress-head, you’ll not be spending much time in your parasympathetic (rest & digest) mode because your sympathetic nervous system will always be switched on (fight or flight). You generally won’t feel like a poo when you’re in a stressful situation. But remember - a stressful situation is something that can vary greatly, depending on your attitude, interpretation & response to what is happening. Something that can completely destabilise one person, can have little to no impact on the next person. So - if you are a stressy type, you will need to find stress management techniques in order to get your digestion happening. Massage, yoga, meditation, exercise, catching up with mates, laughing more (funny shows / movies etc), making time to do what you love....stress needs to be addressed at the same time as gut for optimal results.
Magnesium:Many with chronic constipation (esp the stress head types) can find relief through magnesium supplementation, & often a quick laxative effect using a magnesium oxide powder (ie Colon Cleanse). Or try Magnesium Citrate or Sulphate (epsom salts). Magnesium is such a common deficiency, so definitely worth a try - it can really help to loosen things up, with added bonus chill out & sleep better effects, plus often more energy / better muscle recovery.
Structural Help:Some swear by an appointment with a chiropractor or an osteopath when severely constipated. Definitely recommend this for kids / babies & adults - especially if there are also structural issues ie back problems, nerve injury etc. Even some core-twisting yoga poses can be very helpful for some.
Massage:Start on the right hand side & work your way up & around & down (google images colon should show you but all be guided by touch & feel as we don’t all have a colon that looks like the one on google)! Better still, book in with a professional to do the first one & teach you. Post massage do a few jumps / hijack the kids trampoline or go for a brisk walk / jog / do some twisty core yoga poses.
Stomach acid:Apple cider vinegar, digestive bitters or betaine HCL before meals can help improve digestion. Not suitable for those with stomach ulceration or damage to their oesophagus, but many with either constipation, SIBO, diarrhoea, IBS, bloating etc - can be helped by addressing the stomach acid (most commonly it’s not acidic enough, yet so many people are put on PPI medications or antacids, which are known to cause IBS / SIBO as a ‘side effect’). They may help initially with the GERD symptoms, but they are guaranteed to throw everything out of whack further down the GIT & create more digestive problems in the long term. Last resort & only meant for short term use.
Colonics:I’m in 2 minds about colonics, my ‘gut feel’ is don’t go there unless your gut is really in a bad way, but definitely worth exploring as an option for those with a history of chronic constipation who've tried everything else! Some people swear by it & the procedure has apparently improved a lot since the days when you would read scary / negative reviews about it.
Enemas:For some people, it helps to just loosen things up at the exit point, to open the doors to freedom for the rest of the bowel. Get a professional to do it first, then the DIY kits can be used in emergencies at home.
FMT (Fecal Microbe Transplant):If you’ve tried EVERYTHING & are at your wits end, definitely consider discussing an FMT (faecal microbe transplant) with a professional & experienced team (the Sydney Centre for Digestive Disease are pioneers of this treatment in Australia). They apparently have achieved excellent results using this method with chronically constipated patients (as well as many other gut problems). It makes perfect sense, as it’s like literally ‘wiping the microbial slate clean’ & starting again - replacing a dysfunctional microbial ecosystem with a functional one. Ensure good diet is adhered to following this procedure, plenty of diverse prebiotic fibre to keep the new microbial guests well-fed & happy - or the old nasties will just grow back.
Gentler Laxatives:Castor Oil - mild stimulant, not for long term use. Can make a pack for external use (apply heat or massage) or take internally with care (get professional advice). PHGG - type of fibre (partially hydrogenated guar gum) that increases bifido & lactobacillus & SCFA’s, usually well tolerated by those with IBS C & D, helpful with bloating etc, safe long term. Found in many gut / fibre / prebiotic formulas. Inulin - prebiotic fibre, highly fermentable & often poorly tolerated by those with IBS (FODMAP), found in many formulas or as a powder. Lactulose - osmotic (pulls fluid into bowel & help soften) Can use to get going then decrease dose as bowel improves (also increases lactobacilli & acts as stool softener). Motion Potion - a great gentle herb & fibre blend to help become / stay regular. *If you are already kinda addicted to laxatives, relying on them to go each day, never try to just stop cold turkey. Much more likely to have success if you wean yourself off them more gradually. Ie try 2 days on, 1 day off, then every 2nd day, then as needed (whilst supporting digestive health / bowel function in every other way at the same time).
Super - Pooper Shopping List:
- pear / pear juice
- kiwi fruit
- prunes / prune juice
- linseed / linseed meal
- nuts & seeds
- coconut / coconut oil
- brown rice
- green leafy veg
- green smoothies
- beet greens
- bitter salad greens
- licorice tea
- dandelion & chicory root coffee
- regular coffee