When it comes to your health, nothing’s taboo — including poo — and for good reason.
Constipation might not seem like a major problem, but it’s usually a sign that there’s something else going on in your body, says dietitian Kristin Koskinen, RDN, LD, CD.
And while turning to medications such as laxatives may seem like an easy solution, it’s important to figure out why you’re experiencing constipation, so you can treat it and avoid uncomfortable bouts in the future.
“I like to get to the root issue and resolve it,” says Koskinen. “What’s causing the constipation? Diet? Lack of exercise? Chronic dehydration? Could it be a medical condition like irritable bowel syndrome?”
If you’re dealing with chronic constipation without relief, try talking with your doctor — it may be a symptom of an underlying condition. But if you’re like most adults who deal with constipation here and there, it could just be a sign that it’s time for a lifestyle change.
As it turns out, the best treatments for constipation are also great practices to prevent it from recurring. So, if you’re feeling stuck (heh, literally), here are a few of the best ways to get things moving again.
“We hear that you should drink more water all the time, but here’s a very valid reason why hydration is important: The water from the colon is pulled back into the bloodstream when the body isn’t getting enough fluid from external sources. This leads to hard, slow-moving stools,” Koskinen says.
She recommends trying warm lemon water if you like a little flavor in your H2O.
Not sure how much water you should be drinking? Here’s a good guide.
“Your grandparents may have called it roughage; the technical term is dietary fiber. Insoluble fiber (meaning it doesn’t dissolve in water) provides bulk to stool, which helps to speed it along to a timely exit. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and helps to draw water in, which makes stool soft,” Koskinen says.
While studies show that dietary fiber does help ease constipation, the amount recommended daily varies. Try incorporating some high fiber foods into your diet — especially fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Make sure you get plenty of fluids along with that fiber.
And don’t overdo it: Research suggests that consuming too much fiber can have the opposite effect. You’ll want to aim for 25 grams of fiber per day (for women) or 38 grams per day (for men).
At the same time, Bryan Tran, DO, recommends that you avoid processed foods — which are often stripped of fiber — and opt for unprocessed snacks instead. This will not only help treat and prevent constipation but also leave you feeling full longer since dietary fiber has a positive impact on satiety.
Another great way to treat constipation?
“Onions can also have a laxative effect,” Koskinen says. “Eating a sauteed onion can get things moving right along.”
Kiwi is a great source of fiber, which can help get things moving. Studies suggest that green kiwi is especially good at increasing frequency, stool volume, and softness — as well as making it easier to, well, go — thanks to a handy little enzyme that stimulates your upper gastrointestinal tract.
Here’s another tip straight from grandma’s book, and it works. Research shows that prune juice can ease constipation symptoms and chronic constipation.
Some herbal ingredients that are used in teas can help relieve constipation. Consider a concoction that contains natural laxative properties, such as clover, fennel, and senna. But before you do, get the green light from your doctor to ensure that any herbs you want to try won’t interfere with any meds you’re taking.
Keep in mind: These types of teas are best for occasional use. Your body can become very dependent on ingredients such as senna, and eventually you’ll need more and more to get the desired results. If you use it too often, it’s even possible that you won’t be able to have a bowel movement without it.
Need an extra boost? Research suggests that drinking coffee (even decaf) can help get things moving again. Just make sure you aren’t drinking too much since caffeine is a diuretic and can actually leave you dehydrated.
Koskinen recommends steering clear of other caffeinated drinks if coffee isn’t your thing.
Psyllium is a soluble fiber that can pass right through your digestive system, and it has been shown to increase stool frequency. You can get it in pill or powder form.
But it can also block absorption of some fat-soluble vitamins, so avoid taking it too close to mealtimes (and maybe avoid taking it regularly). And be sure to drink plenty of water with it.
The jury may be out, but we think probiotics may be worth trying. Still, get the OK from your doctor first. And if you choose to use probiotics, start with small amounts and increase gradually until you get your desired outcome.
It might sound weird, but there’s some evidence that breathing exercises and abdominal massage may help increase frequency. But you’ll still need to change your diet to see more improvement.
It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but manually massaging your colon can help get your bowels moving. This can be helpful when a slow-moving stool is backing you up.
As it turns out, exercise is good for all kinds of health — especially digestive health.
“Walking, running, and strength training are all excellent promoters of bowel movements,” Tran says. “Exercise aids with mechanical digestion and breakdown of food, helping you to pass stools.”
One small study found that adding 60 minutes of exercise just 3 times a week was enough to significantly improve digestion over a 12-week period. So, it might be time to get moving if you want to get things, erm, moving.
Next time you feel the urge to poop, bring a small footstool into the bathroom with you. Place the stool in front of the toilet and put your feet up while you go. Research suggests that, when compared to a typical seated position, this squatted position can help you poop more easily.
Bottom line? Dealing with constipation isn’t fun, which is why prevention is also a great cure. It may sound repetitive, but, when it comes to your digestion, the habits that get things moving again can also keep them going over the long term.
“To prevent constipation, aim to eat at least 35 grams of dietary fiber per day,” Koskinen says. “Drink more water (aim for half your body weight in ounces as a general rule) and move more.”
Jandra Sutton is an author, historian, and public speaker. She lives in Nashville with her husband and their two dogs, and Pluto is still a planet in her heart. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.