Cedars-Sinai Blog

How to Relieve and Avoid Constipation Naturally

Constipation, Infrequent bowel movements, hard-to-pass, stool, pooping

Backed up? For otherwise healthy people, constipation (defined as 3 days without a bowel movement for most people) can be a frustrating and uncomfortable situation, but it isn't usually cause for alarm.

While over-the-counter laxatives are always an option, many people prefer a more natural remedy—or better yet, want to avoid needing one altogether.

"Your gut is a muscle, and it needs to move."

If you're seeking to relieve or avoid constipation without using medications, a few tweaks to your diet and lifestyle can help. Here, Kelly Issokson, a registered dietitian at the Cedars-Sinai Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center, shares expert advice to help get things moving naturally. 

Get enough fiber

Only 3% of Americans eat enough dietary fiber—a type of carbohydrate that encourages digestion and can be found in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. 

If you're one of the 97% not getting enough fiber, try to introduce it into your diet, eventually making it part of every meal. 

Start with an apple or an orange every 2 days and choose whole grain breads and pastas. Snack on nuts and dried fruits, and aim to work up to 5-10 grams of fiber at breakfast, lunch, and dinner (fiber contents are listed on food labels). 

Women should eat about 25 grams of fiber a day, and men should try for 30 grams, Issokson says. 

Drink fluids

As you eat more fiber, you need to drink more water, too. 

Try to drink about 2 liters of liquids a day. Hydration requirements do vary from person to person: Those who do more physical activity need to drink even more. 

Stick to mostly water, but Issokson says drinking warm fluids in the morning can help "wake up" your digestion, so it's ok to start your day with a cup of coffee or tea. Juices can also stimulate your intestines, so a glass of grape or prune juice works too.

Move around

Any physical activity, even light exercise such as walking, can help get your insides moving. 

"Your gut is a muscle, and it needs to move," Issokson says. 

Try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise—such as walking a few laps around the block—every day.

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Change a bathroom habit

Toilet stools that readjust the position of your body in the bathroom can be an effective tool to help with general constipation, Issokson says. 

"When we poop at an angle, it's relaxing a muscle and opening the gut so things can move out more easily," she says.

Try assuming a "squat" position, with knees bent and torso leaned slightly forward, or sit down and rest your feet on a small stepstool so that your knees are above your hips.

When to see a doctor

In most cases, constipation is uncomfortable, but not a serious medical concern.

But sometimes it can be a symptom of a larger health issue, so you should see a gastroenterologist if you experience lasting changes in your bowel habits.