Let’s talk about what not too many of us openly discuss: bowel movements and how to get rid of constipation. It was once wisely pointed out that everybody poops, so there’s no shame or embarrassment in it.
As a naturopathic doctor, I talk to all my patients about their regularity (often in some detail), and it’s shocking how many people are constipated. Some don’t even realize it. Let’s jump right in, shall we?
What Does “Normal” Looks Like?
Normal bowel frequency is minimum once per day. Anything less than daily is not enough and impairs your body’s detoxification functions. For some people just once is sufficient, while others go several times.
Normal stools should be some shade of medium to dark brown – not pale beige, not black, and certainly not red. They should be formed, solid, but not difficult to pass. Stools that are small and pebbly, break apart, very soft, liquid, or require a lot of straining are all signs of unhealthy digestive function.
The big exceptions to the above description are babies. The frequency and quality of a baby’s bowel movements are highly varied, so we’ll limit the discussion to adults.
What Could Be Causing Your Constipation?
The simplest causes of constipation are usually insufficient water or insufficient fibre intake. Correct those, and often bowel regularity follows.
Other constipation causes are not so simple. Those include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), specific food sensitivities, high-stress levels, hypothyroidism, sedentary lifestyle, travel, certain medications, and pregnancy.
How To Get Rid Of Constipation Naturally
If you haven’t already, try starting with the simplest solution: water and fibre. I once had a patient who simply didn’t eat enough to have a regular bowel movement – we tossed in some fibre in the morning, and voila! A regular porcelain date!
Use the popular guideline of 6 to 8 glasses of water per day (1.5-2 liters). To make things less boring, toss some blueberries, raspberries, mint, and/or lemon to make fruit infused water.
A big glass of lemon water first thing in the morning can sometimes be enough to stimulate your bowels.
An average adult ought to get between 30 and 50 grams of fibre per day, as a mix of both soluble and insoluble types. This chart helps you understand how much fibre you typically get, and what you can eat to boost the numbers.
Probiotics are good bacteria that inhabit our digestive tracts and do oh-so-much for us. One of their services is promoting good digestion and bowel transit. If the probiotic population gets disturbed, it can lead to constipation or diarrhea. Probiotics are generally safe to take but don’t take them without a doctor’s ok if you suffer from Crohn’s or colitis.
Magnesium citrate is a form of magnesium that is not absorbed in our intestines so well, which means that in a high enough dose, it can be a laxative. It won’t treat the cause of chronic constipation, but we can use magnesium for constipation if we suffer from a one-off, like while traveling.
Marshmallow root or Slippery Elm are herbs that are very gentle and safe to use, and they will act like lubricants in the bowel to soothe and ease transit.
Learn to give castor oil tummy rubs as an effective way for how to get rid of constipation. They are safe for any age. Start in the lower-right side of the abdomen, rub upwards, across, and down the other side to the lower left, and back over to the lower right. The castor oil and the massage gently nudge the bowel to move along.
Stimulant laxative herbs like Senna, Cascara, or Aloe should only be used for acute constipation on the advice of a practitioner, and never long term.
If your body isn’t moving, why would your bowel? Getting some regular exercise may be all you need to kick start regular elimination and get rid of your constipation.
A Caution About Laxatives
It may be tempting to use an over-the-counter laxative to relieve constipation (that includes the herbal ones like Senna), but there are cautions to be aware of.
Laxatives must never be used for more than a week as that can lead to dependence. They should also not be used during pregnancy as they can be too stimulating. Laxative abuse leads to a completely still bowel, and a vicious cycle of more constipation and more dependence on the laxative.
If you think that your constipation is caused by something more complicated, or you aren’t finding any cause or relief in your quest on how to get rid of constipation, it’s a good idea to see a licensed ND and get to the root of the problem.