Healthy Q & A: Help for Constipation


I’ve been dealing with constipation off and on for some time now.  I take laxatives sometimes, but I know it’s not good to take them all the time.  Do you have any recommendations for things to help with constipation? 


Though it may not be a glamorous subject to talk about, almost everyone has bouts of constipation at one time or another.  Constipation can have a variety of causes.  Poor diet and lack of exercise are the most common reasons, though there are quite a few medical conditions and medications which cause constipation as well.


Many people turn to over the counter laxative drugs when experiencing constipation, though laxatives should be used sparingly since long term laxative use can dependencies where the bowels become unable to function correctly without them.  For short term use, laxative herbs like senna and cascara sagrada are a natural alternative to use than over the counter drugs.  There are also several varieties of natural laxative teas available, which are a nice alternative to taking pills.


Diet is the first thing to look to when experiencing constipation.  The recommended daily intake of fiber is 25-35 grams per day; unfortunately Americans on average consume only 15 grams of fiber per day, many significantly less than that.  The easiest way to increase fiber intake is to eat less processed foods and more fruits and vegetables.  Reducing dietary intake of meats and dairy products can also help since meats and dairy don’t contain fiber.   Dairy products especially are well known to cause constipation, so reducing the amount of dairy in the diet may help.


Eating a high fiber bowl of oatmeal is a good way to start the day and prevent constipation.  If you aren’t crazy for regular oats, try steel cut oatmeal, which has a delicious slightly chewy consistency (I’m not a fan of regular oatmeal, but I love steel cut oats).


There are many fibers available which can help with constipation, though the one I would recommend most are flaxseeds.  Flaxseeds, in addition to being a great source of fiber, are good sources of omega 3 fatty acids, which are beneficial to cardiovascular health, joint function, and brain health.   Flaxseeds must be ground to release the beneficial oils, however.  One flaxseed product I’d especially recommend is Barlean’s Forti Flax, which has the date when it was ground on the label, to ensure freshness.  I also like Forti Flax since it has a coarser grind than many brands which often  grind the flaxseeds into an unappetizing powder.  Ground flaxseed has a nutty taste and is delicious sprinkled on cereal and salads or mixed in with yogurt or orange juice.


One supplement which can also help with constipation is magnesium.  Magnesium is crucial for many processes in the body, but is probably most well known for enhancing calcium absorption.  As an aside, calcium supplements which contain calcium carbonate can cause constipation as well, so switching to a different form of calcium can be helpful.  One of the side benefits of magnesium is that is can help to naturally soften stool, making it easier to pass.  Certain forms of magnesium can also help to relax the muscles, so it can be nice to take before bedtime.


Aloe vera juice can also be beneficial for constipation.  Aloe vera juice has a healing and regulating effect on the intestines and colon and helps to make bowel movements easier.  Some aloe vera juices have a bitter taste and can be a “rough drink” as my husband says.  The brand George’s has a nice aloe vera juice that is great tasting since they remove the component that makes it bitter. 


It’s also important to drink plenty of water to ensure regularity.  Coffee and soft drinks can dehydrate the body even further, so it’s important to drink extra water after having those beverages.


Exercise can also help to keep the digestive system working properly.  Stretches and walking are easy to fit in to any lifestyle and can help all body systems to work better, including reducing constipation.


Though constipation is a common problem, it’s not something to ignore, since chronic constipation can precipitate a number of health problems, as well as increasing the risks of colorectal cancer.