Constipation. There is nothing quite like being constipated. It seems like the inability to complete a bowel movement wouldn’t be that big of a deal until it happens to you. Your whole existence becomes all about having a good poop, and you cannot stop thinking about it until it happens. Being constipated is not a localized event, but a whole body and mind phenomena. Somehow the lack of a bowel movement can turn your whole existence upside down. From bloating, gassiness and pain, to feelings of depression, fatigue, irritability and low self-esteem, being constipated is a condition that has far reaching side effects. The problem is that so many of us are constipated, and we don’t even know it. How is that possible? Because our definition of constipated is very skewed. You should be having at least one complete, strain-free bowel movement a day, if not two or three. The poop should be full bodied, not like pebbles or pencils, and should be soft, not dried out or watery. So if you have been dealing with constipation, this post is for you. How to get rid of chronic constipation naturally, without the use of addictive laxatives or medications.
How to Get Rid of Chronic Constipation Naturally
The following is a step-by-step guide to restore normal digestive health and to get rid of chronic constipation long-term. Unlike most solutions, this guide is designed to work on the root cause of constipation, rather than act as a band-aid. Since each body is different, please follow the steps starting at the top. Allow each step to build on the previous one until relief has been found.
1. Water – The Simple and Effective Solution
It is amazing how water is the solution to so many health conditions and issues. The reason being is that most of us are dehydrated. Water is the solution by which food is passed through the digestive system, and is needed in order to create a healthy, soft and easily passable bowel. Without water, constipation becomes inevitable. That is why drinking ENOUGH water is the first and most important step of how to get rid of chronic constipation naturally.
Find out how much water you should be drinking by referring to the water calculator here. Drink your allotted amount of water daily.
Next, eliminate/reduce any dehydrating and constipating beverages such as alcohol, energy drinks, diet soda and diet juice/tea, and coffee. Focus on drinking filtered water, fresh vegetable/fruit juice, herbal tea, kombucha and kvass. Try to drink only room temperature or warm beverages and eliminate cold beverages. Cold beverages contract the GI tract and can inhibit digestion. Try to also only drink your beverages before or after a meal, not with a meal. When you drink liquid during a meal you can dilute essential digestive enzymes decreasing their efficacy.
Finally, start your day off with one glass or mug full of warm water. Have this be the first thing that you do. Having a warm glass of water will stimulate digestion and encourage a bowel movement. Feel free to add a squirt of lemon or lime, but if you do, drink through a straw (the acidity of lemon and lime juice can erode the enamel of the teeth).
2. Create a Stress-Free, Bowel-Encouraging Routine
The body is a structure of habit and loves to have routines. It loves to know when it should poop, when it should eat, and when it should fall asleep. When we disrupt its routine, or fail to have one, it has a hard time anticipating what it should be doing and when. That is why when we travel (especially through time zones) our body gets completely out of whack, leading to the infamous travelers constipation.
The simple act of creating a structure in your day can greatly improve your ability to restore normal bowel movements. Try getting up around the same time every day, going to bed around the same time every night, and schedule your meals to fit within this structure. Once your body gets used to your timing, a rhythm will be created that will help encourage a first morning bowel movement. Drinking your glass of water first thing in the morning upon waking will also further solidify this pattern.
If you have problems sleeping or are trying to get to bed at the same time every day without success, try using a melatonin supplement. Melatonin is the hormone released by the brain that tells your body it’s time to go to bed. By taking melatonin before bed, your body will get back into its circadian rhythm, bringing you back into balance. This can also be incredibly helpful for those who travel or work night shifts. To learn more about circadian rhythms go here.
Recommendation: Melatonin by Premier Research Labs
The final step for creating a stress-free, bowel-encouraging environment is to find a safe place to poop. It is hard coded in our DNA to watch for danger when we are pooping, and to halt any bowel movement if danger is perceived. Therefore, it is very important to find a safe place to poop. Most of us don’t feel entirely comfortable pooping outside of the privacy of our own home, and therefore develop recurring constipation in exchange for not having to poop at work, at the gym or in a public space. For this reason, it is super important to start making time to poop in your safe zone. That may mean waking up earlier or starting work at home in order to accomplish this. You will be surprised how much this simple step can help.
3. The Constipation Relief Diet
Did you know that your diet is a huge piece of the puzzle in how to get rid of chronic constipation naturally? By eliminating constipating foods and replacing them with bowel encouraging foods, you can start addressing the root of your chronic constipation issue. Now don’t be mad at me for taking away some of your favorite foods, because you will eventually be thanking me when your belly is flat, your mood is lifted, and your body is pain-free.
Eliminate Constipating Foods
- Dairy: milk, cheese, ice cream, cream, sour cream, creme fraiche *cultured organic dairy such as kefir can be good for constipation relief, but only if you do not have a sensitivity to dairy. I would avoid all together until a dairy sensitivity can be ruled out. You can rely on other cultured foods listed below instead.
- Gluten: bread, bagels, crackers, pasta, pastries, cakes, filo dough, breading, pizza crust, pie crust
- Fried Foods: French fries, potato chips, fried chicken, spring rolls, tempura, donuts, fried calamari, onion rings, breaded meat, corn dog, falafel, Tater tots, tortilla chips
- Processed Foods: convenience foods such as microwave meals, instant foods, packaged foods, fast food, white sugar, packaged desserts
*There are some foods that we are sensitive to much like a food allergy resulting in health effects when we eat them. Foods like gluten and dairy are two of the top offenders. By eating them they can cause inflammation in the body leading not only to digestive issues like constipation but also migraines, headaches, body aches and skin disorders (eczema and psoriasis), and can exacerbate auto immune conditions and arthritis. If you suspect that you have a food sensitivity head on over to my food elimination diet page.
Focus on Constipation-Relief Foods
- Fiber-rich foods: dried fruits (prunes, figs, apricots), whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, fresh fruits especially apples, bananas, oranges, berries, legumes, fresh vegetables
- Fresh fruits and vegetables: especially cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts) and dark leafy greens (kale, collard greens, chard)
- Beans and legumes: lentils, black beans, garbanzo beans, mung beans, peas, kidney beans, lima beans
- Nuts and seeds
- Healthy oils: flax oil, olive oil, wild salmon, avocado, hemp oil, chia seeds, olives
- Homemade bone broth
- *Fermented cultured foods*: organic tempeh and miso, kombucha, kvass, sauerkraut, kimchi
*It is very important to include one serving of a fermented food into the diet daily. Fermented foods promote healthy bacteria in the digestive system. Without proper gut flora (healthy good bacteria), bad bacteria can overgrow causing a disruption in the gut ecosystem resulting in GI issues including constipation. If you have taken antibiotics or have had food poisoning it maybe necessary to take a probiotic supplement in addition to eating fermented foods.
Recommendation: Dr. Ohhira’s Probiotic
4. Support and Improve Digestion
Now that you have the diet down and are eating constipation-relief foods, it is time to improve your ability to digest them. Most of us, from years of poor food choices, stress, and just a plain old advancement in years have less than optimal digestive capabilities. In particular, our ability to release adequate levels of HCL (hydrochloric acid) and digestive enzymes has decreased.
HCL is a naturally occurring acid that is released by the stomach in order to break down proteins and protect against any potentially harmful bacteria. Similarly, digestive enzymes are released by the pancreas and intestines to break down proteins, fats, carbohydrates and sugars. When the body does not release enough HCL and digestive enzymes, the food we ingest cannot be properly broken down, absorbed and eliminated. It can rot in the gut causing irritation, toxicity and constipation. That is why ensuring that there are proper levels of HCL and digestive enzymes is a key component in addressing long term, chronic constipation.
In some cases HCL and digestive enzyme supplementation is only needed short term in order to jump start the system. This is more likely the case for younger people, those who have a good diet, and for those who practice good stress management. In other cases, life-long supplementation is needed. This is typically the case for those who have many years of poor eating under their belt, have a stressful life style, or are over the age of 40.
*Note: if you suffer from ulcers or acid reflux it is not appropriate to take HCL. You should take GastroVen instead.
5. Address Magnesium Deficiency
Magnesium is a mineral that has many powerful roles in the body, one of which is ensuring proper elimination of the bowels. Magnesium plays a key role in muscle function (the completion of a bowel movement is reliant on peristalsis, the constriction and relaxation of the muscles of the intestine) and ensuring adequate levels of water in the bowel. Without enough magnesium in the body, constipation can occur. For many, the simple step of taking a magnesium supplement can eliminate constipation.
Recommendation: Magnesium Citrate “Calm” by Natural Vitality
*Certain conditions and medications can cause magnesium deficiency. This includes Celiac disease, alcoholism, Chron’s disease, and Type II Diabetes. Magnesium can also interfere with certain medications and therefore should be avoided until consulting with physician.
Foods rich in magnesium
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Swiss Chard
- Sesame Seeds
- Black Beans
- Summer and Hard Squash
6. Reducing Stress + Clearing Emotional Trauma
Stress has been concluded to be a main culprit in the degradation of health, and its role in constipation is certainly clear. A stressful body and mind can cause constipation and must be addressed for full, long-term relief. How many of us have experienced a sick stomach at the first sign of a stressful event? Most of us have, which clearly indicates that there is a deep and intimate connection between our emotions and our stomach.
Putting in place solid steps to reduce stress on a daily basis is an essential part of the healing of constipation. The trick is to find what works for you. While many people can manage their daily stress through the practice of the tools below, some people need extra help. This is the case for those of us who have a very stressful job, are going through a particularly stressful time in life, or just have a personality that prevents us from chilling out. In these cases, I highly urge you to not only use the tools below, but also a supplement called Rhiodola. Rhodiola is an herb that can naturally reduce your stress levels while keeping you energized, active and focused. It also is helpful in improving sleep conditions related to stress.
Recommendation: Rhodiola by Gaia
Stress-Reducing Tool Kit
- Pranayama (breathing technique)
- Walking in nature
- Guided Meditations
- Sun bathing
Emotional and Energetic Constipation
For those of you whose tension and stress go far beyond the “normal” daily pressures, there is something more to explore. The stomach is a highly sensitive energetic spot, linked to the sacral chakra, and reveals a lot about our internal emotional health. When we hold onto fear, stress, anxiety, chaos, perceived threats or emotional pain, it gets stored in our stomach. When we are also feeling “stuck” in our lives (cannot end a relationship, want to change our job but don’t, have to leave a place or toxic relationship but don’t, are creatively stuck) our body literally mimics this emotion by causing us to be constipated. These emotions cause us to not only physically contract our stomach muscles, but that pain and fear gets lodged in our stomach causing our sacral chakra to shut down.
The sacral chakra is the core of our personality, our identity, of our ego, the center of our self-esteem, willpower and self-discipline. It is in control of taking responsibility for our life, taking action and making decisions. When it is shut down, like in people who are constipated, it causes you to have low self-esteem, anger and control issues, and makes it hard for you to make decisions and to move forward in life. You can also be fearful, especially to change or of rejection. Having your sacral chakra shut down is an often overlooked but very real root cause of constipation and digestive disorders that I urge you to look at.
I know that for most of us recognizing and addressing negative emotions is difficult, because we are all so damn good at stuffing and hiding our feelings, but we must release them in order to clear the space. Facing and letting go of fear and pain, and feelings of being stuck will allow the body to finally relax. As a result, we can get rid of emotional and energetic constipation, and therefore physical constipation.
The best ways to do this are through counseling, journaling, prayer, meditation and my personal favorites, reiki, shamanism and energy healing. Reiki, shamanism and energy healing have the ability to balance your chakras (energy centers like the one at your stomach), clear bad energy, heal past or current traumas, and cut the energetic cords to toxic relationships and situations. They also work with your guides to help deliver messages that will aid you in your healing. Finding a practitioner to work with is a great way to expedite your healing and to go beyond what you are able to do for yourself.
7. Mayan Abdominal Massage
Have you heard of Mayan abdominal massage? This has been one of my favorite new forms of therapy that has proven to have a multitude of benefits. Mayan abdominal massage is a type of massage that focuses on the intestines, pelvic area, low back and glutes. Its aim is to restore the flow of blood, lymph and nerve energy flow by repositioning internal organs that have shifted. It uses a gentle yet precise massage technique to encourages the movement of the bowels and thus alleviate constipation. The best part is that during a session you will also be taught a self care technique so that you can practice the abdominal massage at home, further healing the intestinal area.
Look for a practitioner in your area that performs Mayan abdominal massage. If you do not have access, check out this video for abdominal massage self care.
Help! I Need Relief Now!
While this post is designed to address how to get rid of chronic constipation naturally, if you are suffering from short-term, acute constipation (jet lag, travel etc.) or have not had a bowel movement in a day or so, then here are some ways to get relief now.
The tools and steps listed above is going to give you full resolution of your constipation issue, so do not dismiss those if this acute constipation is not a one time thing. The following tools will help you to move your bowels asap, but these are band-aids, not permanent solutions.
There are two supplements that I have found to be really effective in eliciting a bowel movement safely, gently and most importantly, quickly. This is Triphala and ColonMax. Unlike medications and laxatives, they do not cause cramping, the loss of control of your bowel movements, pain, electrolyte imbalances, water retention, dizziness, diarrhea, or damage to the bowels. For these reasons, we must always avoid over the counter laxatives and use natural and safe alternatives instead. Triphala is an Ayurvedic herbal blend that cleanses and supports the entire GI tract, improving digestion, elimination, and assimilation of nutrients. It is a product that is also excellent to take while cleansing. ColonMax works a bit differently in that it is more like a laxative. It does not contain senna or cascara sagrada though, the two ingredients that can cause cramping and diarrhea in some, but contains a blend of herbs and minerals. It also utilizes the power of triphala in addition to magnesium, aloe, rhubarb, slippery elm and marshmallow.
Enemas and Colonics
Finally, if the following formulas do not work, or if you have been constipated for 4 or more days, consider administering an enema at home or find a colon hydrotherapist in which to receive a colonic. It is very important at this stage of constipation to clear the bowels, and either treatment will help achieve that. Now don’t be afraid of the enema, it is definitely not as gross or scary as you might think. In fact, the only comments anyone has ever made was how much they actually like them! Learn more about the enema in my post here.
Please remember that you must always find a licensed well-reputable colon hydrotherapist in order to prevent any damage to the intestines. It is also a good idea to talk to your doctor before receiving one.
Still Having Trouble?
If you have tried everything, including all that is listed above (and I mean really given it a chance) without results then there might be something else going on. In some cases there are other aspects to address or avenues in which to pursue. The following are a few potential root causes of your chronic constipation.
IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or Leaky Gut: If you suffer from IBS (a condition that causes alternating constipation and diarrhea) or leaky gut I suggest that you do a series of intestinal cleanses. It is essential to start clearing the digestive system of toxins, reduce inflammation and to promote the passage of irritants out of the GI track with the Easy Intestinal Cleanse. You will then follow up with the Easy Intestinal Cleanse: Heal Leaky Gut to promote the healing of the intestinal lining.
Parasites: Parasitic infections are known to cause constipation. There different types of parasitic infections, some that infect the bowels and some that infect the liver/gallbladder area. Examples are round worm, hook worm, tape worms, liver flukes. Worms can gorge themselves in the human gut for months or years before they are detected, causing everything from foggy brain, allergies, chemical sensitivities, depression and hives to IBS, diarrhea, constipation, intestinal blockages and malnutrition. Parasites are extremely common (especially if you have traveled to a third world country, have a pet, or are an adventurous eater), and most people don’t even know they have them. If you suspect a parasitic infection, you might consider using a natural anti-parasitic treatment.
Recommendation: Artemisia and Clove by Bioray
*The Artemisia and Clove remedy is also effective with SIBO (small intestine bacteria overgrowth) and Candida. Both conditions can also be a hidden root cause of chronic constipation.
Medications: Some medications can cause frequent constipation including: antidepressants, antacids, calcium or iron supplements, anticholinergics, anticonvulsants, narcotics and diuretics. If you are on one of these medications consult with your doctor about options.
Other Conditions: Conditions such as PMS, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, thyroid disorders and menopause can contribute to constipation. Other issues that can be the root cause of chronic constipation are spinal injuries or neurological issues that affect nerves in the GI tract, or eating disorders.