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Constipation: The Complete Guide To Get Things Moving

Researched and Written by:
Jenna Swift, APD Dietitian Jenna Swift, APD Dietitian

You want to get things moving down there.  We get it!  So our research team scoured the world for research-backed ideas to help you make glorious poops. 

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    You want to get things moving down there.  We get it!  So our research team scoured the world for research-backed ideas to help you make glorious poops. 

    What we found...there are a lot of different ideas...dozens and dozens in fact.  So to save you time, we analyzed all the big ideas and assigned them an effectiveness rating.

    Enter the "Poopometer" rating system.

    The more poops, the more effective the idea will likely be for helping you find relief for occasional constipation.  (And obviously, 5 poops is our highest award.  The Oscar of the bowel movements world)

    Reach Your Dietary Fibre Target

    Dietary fiber is made of non-digestible carbohydrates derived from plant sources. It increases stool bulk and reduces transit time through the colon which can lower the risk of constipation, assist with weight control, stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of some cancers. 

    Tip: To meet the recommended 25-30g of dietary fiber try:

    • switching to whole grain products like multigrain bread and brown rice
    • include at least 2 fruit serves a day
    • fill 1/2 of your plate with vegetables 
    • snack on nuts, seeds, fresh veggie sticks, and hummus 

    Increase Intake of Insoluble Fibre-Rich Sources

    Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water; instead, it adds bulk to the stool and speeds up the movement of food through the digestive tract, which helps relieve constipation. Most plant sources contain both soluble and insoluble fiber; those particularly high in insoluble fiber include; nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, fruit, and vegetable skins.

    Tip: Include at least 1-2 sources of insoluble fiber at each mealtime:

    Breakfast: rolled oats 

    Morning Tea: 1 serving of fruit with the skin on (eg: apple)

    Lunch: 2 slices of multigrain bread

    Afternoon Tea: chia seed smoothie 

    Dinner: 1/2 cup cooked brown rice 

    Supper: 1 small handful of nuts 

    Drink Plenty of Water 

    When you are dehydrated your body soaks up whatever water it can from your colon, which results in hard stools that are hard to pass. Drinking plenty of water helps to soften stools and regulate bowel movements.

    Tip: Drink at least 8-10 glasses of water a day, which equates to approximately 70 fl ounces or 2 liters of water. 

    Reduce Stress Levels 

    When our body perceives stress, your brain activates the sympathetic nervous system and triggers the fight-or-flight response. This causes the adrenal glands to release stress hormones into the bloodstream. These include cortisol and adrenaline which direct blood flow away from the gastrointestinal tract towards muscles and vital organs. When blood flow to the digestive system is reduced it can slow down movement.

    Tip: Implement relaxation techniques and mindfulness activities to reduce stress and elevate emotional well-being. This may include meditation, exercise, drawing, acupuncture, journaling, or receiving counseling. 

    Reduce Alcohol Consumption

    Alcohol consumption is known to increase urine output and can interfere with hydration. When you are dehydrated the colon will soak up water from your food waste, which results in the hardening of stools that are difficult to pass. 

    Tip: Alternating between water and alcohol is the key to staying hydrated when drinking alcohol.

    Don’t fill up on empty calories 

    Processed foods tend to be low in fiber and high in fat. These two things slow digestion and allow more time for the colon to absorb water, resulting in hard, dry stools. 

    Tip: Reduce intake of fast food, refined grains, and overly processed food. Instead opt for fresh is the best approach including plenty of colorful vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.

    Sprinkle Some Flaxseeds 

    Flaxseeds from the flax plant provide a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber with stool-softening properties.

    Tip: sprinkle 1-2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed into your cereal, oatmeal, smoothies, soup, yogurt, and salad dressings. 

    Bulk-Forming Fibre Supplements 

    Fiber supplements are a convenient way to meet your dietary fiber needs. Psyllium fiber (Metamucil) is a source of both soluble and insoluble fiber that helps support digestive health and maintain regularity. Other commonly used fiber supplements such as methylcellulose (Citrucel) and Wheat dextrin (Benefiber) contain 100% soluble fiber.

    Tip: Fibre supplements can be taken at any time of the day with 8 fl oz (240ml) of water. Although it is recommended to leave at least 2-hours before or after taking medications. 

    Review Current Medications 

    Several medicines are known to cause constipation include; opiates (morphine), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen), antihistamines, iron supplements, calcium supplements, tricycle anti-depressants (amitriptyline), diuretics (furosemide), antihypertensives (clonidine), antiarrhythmics (amiodarone), beta-adrenoceptor antagonists (atenolol) and anti-nausea medications (ondansetron).

    Tip: If you suspect constipation is medication-induced then speak to your healthcare provider about strategies such as; stool softeners, alternative medications/supplements that are more gentle on the digestive tract, and whether lifestyle changes (i.e. fiber, water) will be beneficial. 

    Regular Physical Activity

    Maintaining a routine of physical activity can help with reducing colonic transit time by stimulating intestinal muscle contractions.  

    Tip: It is recommended that adults get a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, which is equal to just over 20 minutes a day. The key is to get your body moving whether that is walking, yoga, tai chi, cycling, swimming, water aerobics, dancing, or gardening. 

    Re-Adjust Your Toileting Position 

    Maintaining the correct toileting position helps to relax muscles so that stools pass more easily. For optimal toilet positioning, lean forward and place your elbows on your knees; at the same time making sure your knees are higher and wider than your hips.

    Tip: use of a toilet footstool can help you find the ideal position to promote bowel movement and reduce straining. 

    Retrain Your Bowels 

    Establishing a routine can strengthen your gastro-colic reflex — a reflex that is triggered by the presence of food in the stomach that signals to your colon to empty. Using a bowel program has been proven to help initiate the gastro-colic reflex and improve bowel movements.  

    Tip: Most people typically have the urge to use the bathroom shortly after waking or eating breakfast, therefore try sitting on the toilet after breakfast at the same time every day.

    Incorporate Fermented Foods to Boost Digestion

    Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, natto, miso, tempeh, and pickles contain beneficial live bacteria which aid digestion and have been shown to relieve constipation and improve bowel motions. 

    Tip: Here are some ways to include more fermented foods into the diet include:

    • add sauerkraut to coleslaw
    • make a creamy salad dressing from milk kefir 
    • top your cereal or granola with yogurt
    • serve kimchi as a side with steamed rice
    • mix miso into hummus 
    • pan fry tempeh and serve with dipping sauce 
    • or simply serve on their own 

    Probiotic Supplements 

    Eating too many processed foods, antibiotics, certain medications, stress, age, travel, and hormones can all throw off balance in the gut microbiome. Probiotics supplements deliver friendly microorganisms into the gut that can help stimulate movement through the digestive tract and reduce colonic transit time. 

    Tip: Look for a probiotic with the following bacteria strains known to help improve digestion and alleviate constipation:

    Bifidobacterium lactis, Bifidobacterium breve, Lactobacillus plantarum, L. reuteri, and Streptococcus thermophilus.

    Brew Some Herbal Tea 

    Dandelion, chamomile, peppermint, licorice root, and senna tea have compounds that help relax the digestive tract and help encourage bowel movements 

    Tip: sip after a meal to aid digestion and help alleviate constipation.

    Magnesium Supplementation 

    Magnesium can help to relax intestinal muscles and works as a laxative by drawing water into the intestines to soften hard stools. Certain forms are more easily absorbed than others and their properties aid different conditions. Some of these forms include;

    • Magnesium citrate
    • Magnesium glycinate
    • Magnesium oxide
    • Magnesium chloride
    • Magnesium sulfate
    • Magnesium malate
    • Magnesium taurate

    Tip: Here are a few things to consider when deciding on a magnesium supplement for constipation relief:

    -> Magnesium supplements usually contain a combination of the forms listed above. Choose a supplement with magnesium citrate and magnesium sulfate - both have a mild laxative effect. 

    -> Look for a supplement that uses the highest quality ingredients, is third-party verified, and contains no artificial colors or flavors.

    Chew Your Food 

    The digestive process starts when you first put food in your mouth. The physical process of properly chewing your food, allows large molecules to be broken down by digestive enzymes which reduced the risk of adverse gastrointestinal symptoms like constipation. It was Horace Fletcher, nicknamed the ”Great Masticator" of the Victorian Age, who said extra chewing led to better digestion and long life. 

    Tip: While there is no one magic number for the optimal amount of time people should chew their food, common advice suggests chewing each mouthful at least 30 times. 

    Try Your Hands at Abdominal Massage 

    Abdominal self-massage can be effective when your colon isn’t moving waste fast enough. It can accelerate transit time through the bowel, stimulate muscle contractions that move food along the digestive tract, and lower the discomfort that often accompanies constipation. 

    Tip: Perform self-abdominal massages 1-2 times a day for 10 minutes. Lying on your back you can stroke upwards from the bottom of your abdomen up towards your ribcage. Another technique involves applying firm pressure in a clockwise direction starting at the right lower side of your abdomen, imagine your large bowel is like toothpaste and you are squeezing it out of the tube. 

    Stimulation of Pressure Points Using Acupuncture  

    The ancient Chinese medicine-based practice of acupuncture has been found to increase the number of weekly spontaneous bowel movements in people with chronic constipation. In addition, the use of some medications for constipation has been reduced following acupuncture treatment.   

    Tip: Research shows that acupuncture treatment twice a week can alleviate constipation. Consulting with an experienced acupuncturist will determine an individual approach tailored to your needs.

    Dried Fruit - Slow and Steady  

    Remove all of the moisture from dates, prunes, figs, apricots, raisins, plums, and you are left with an energy-dense, high source of dietary fiber. They also contain sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that draws water into the large bowel and promotes bowel movements. 

    Tip: Start by including 2 tablespoons into your diet and slowly increase the amount over several weeks. High intakes can lead to abdominal pain, gas, and bloating. While they are a healthy addition; overindulging can also significantly increase your calorie intake and have you riding the sugar rollercoaster. Remember dried fruit is far denser compared to their whole fruit form. 

    Castor Oil as a Laxative 

    Castor oil is a vegetable oil extracted from castor beans. This natural remedy has been used by people for thousands of years for its laxative effect. It contains ricinoleic acid which is a type of fatty acid that binds to muscle cells lining your intestinal walls and stimulates the muscles to contract. 

    Tip: Castor oil works quickly therefore it is best taken during the day. It can be mixed with juice to make it more palatable. Side effects to be aware of include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and muscle cramps. Like other stimulant laxatives, intake is not recommended long term due to the possibility of reduced intestinal muscle tone and progression to chronic constipation.

    Supplement with Aloe Vera Juice 

    Barbaloin is an extract derived from Aloe Vera leaves. It plays a critical role as a laxative by increasing the amount of water in the intestines. 

    Tip: If you can’t tolerate the taste of aloe vera juice you can try mixing it into your favorite fruit juice or smoothie.

    Elimination of Dairy 

    Products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt may cause constipation in people sensitive to cow's milk protein, particularly in babies and toddlers. 

    Tip: If you suspect dairy might be a trigger, then undertaking an elimination diet under the guidance of a dietician may be beneficial. 

    Caffeine Consumption 

    Caffeine is a stimulant, which means that it can induce intestinal muscle contractions and promote bowel movements. On the flip side, caffeine is a diuretic that causes your body to produce more urine. Excessive intake can lead to dehydration and make constipation worse. 

    Tip: Wean intake of caffeine from coffee, black tea, chocolate, and some soft drinks and replace with water to optimize hydration status. 

    Colonic Cleansing

    Colonic irrigation is when large amounts of water are passed through a rectal tube into your colon. The aim is to flush out fecal waste, toxins, and gas from the large bowel (colon). It is one of the more invasive and expensive techniques for constipation relief. 

    Tip: Some people note improved evacuation in terms of frequency and completeness after a single colon hydrotherapy session. It is important to seek an experienced professional who delivers the highest quality in sanitation and safety.

    Evidence Based

    An evidence hierarchy is followed to ensure conclusions are formed off of the most up-to-date and well-designed studies available. We aim to reference studies conducted within the past five years when possible.

    • Systematic review or meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials
    • Randomized controlled trials
    • Controlled trials without randomization
    • Case-control (retrospective) and cohort (prospective) studies
    • A systematic review of descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method studies
    • A single descriptive, qualitative, or mixed-method study
    • Studies without controls, case reports, and case series
    • Animal research
    • In vitro research

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