This article explains what constipation is and outlines the symptoms. It also lists foods and drinks that can help eliminate it.

We also consider alternatives and discuss when a person should see a doctor.

Next, this article covers frequently asked questions about constipation, its causes, and treatments.

What is constipation?
Constipation is the medical term for a person’s reduced bowel movement and difficulty passing stool.

Everyone’s bowel habits are different, but people with constipation tend to have fewer than three bowel movements per week.

Constipation is common. 16 out of 100 adults in the United States have symptoms of constipation. The risk increases with age, with 33 out of 100 adults aged 60 and over developing constipation.

In addition to fewer than three bowel movements per week, people with constipation may experience the following symptoms:

hard, dry or lumpy stools
a chair that looks like a small stone or marble
pain and discomfort during bowel movements
a feeling of not being able to empty the bowels completely
Loss of appetite due to constant satiety
slightly swollen abdomen
A person may also notice small streaks of bright red blood in the stool or on the toilet paper after wiping.

7 foods and drinks to relieve constipation
People’s guts react differently to food. However, the following can help relieve constipation.

  1. Olive and linseed oil
    Olive and flaxseed oils are mildly laxative and help facilitate the flow of material through the intestines.

These oils contain compounds that improve digestion and have antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties.

A 2015 randomized controlled trial found that olive and flaxseed oil helped relieve constipation in people on hemodialysis.

This study compared the effectiveness of olive oil and flaxseed oil to mineral oil, which health professionals sometimes recommend as a treatment for constipation.

  1. Probiotics
    Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that improve gut health and help loosen stools.

A 2017 systematic review of 4 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) examined the effectiveness of probiotics in the treatment of constipation in older adults. Overall, studies show that probiotics improve constipation by 10-40% compared to placebo.

The authors noted that most RCTs involved the probiotic strain Bifidobacterium longum. Further RCTs are needed to determine the most effective probiotic strains, doses, and duration of treatment.

Yogurt and kefir
Many dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir, contain probiotics.

A 2017 study examined the effectiveness of kefir in preventing constipation in people with mental and physical disabilities. For 12 weeks, participants received 2 grams (g) of freeze-dried or “lyophilized” kefir with meals.

Studies have shown that kefir significantly reduces constipation. However, some people experienced complete relief from constipation, while others experienced no effect. The authors concluded that daily consumption of kefir helps prevent constipation.

Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage that contains probiotic bacteria that help improve gut health and relieve constipation.

A 2016 study found that two tablespoons of homemade sauerkraut contained the same amount of bacteria as a probiotic supplement.

  1. Vegetables and legumes
    Vegetables are rich in insoluble fiber. This type of fiber increases the size of the stool, which helps to normalize bowel movements.

Broccoli contains sulforaphane, a substance that protects the intestines and facilitates digestion.

Sulforaphane helps prevent the overgrowth of certain gut microbes that can interfere with healthy digestion.

In a 2017 study, healthy subjects ate 20 g of raw cauliflower sprouts or 20 g of alfalfa sprouts every day for four weeks. Researchers found that people who ate broccoli sprouts had fewer symptoms of constipation and faster bowel movements.

  1. Pulse
    Most beans, lentils, and peas are high in fiber.

A 2017 study found that 100 grams of cooked pulses provide about 26% of the daily fiber recommended by doctors in the United States.

100 g of pulses also contain a large amount of other nutrients that help reduce constipation, such as:

vitamin B6

  1. Fruit
    Fruits are rich in insoluble fiber, most of which have a high water content. This makes the fruit particularly effective in relieving constipation. People eliminate symptoms

yme actinidine, which alleviates Trusted Source upper gastrointestinal symptoms such as:
abdominal discomfort
Apples and pears: These fruits contain high levels of water, which can help ease digestion and prevent constipation. To get the most benefit from apples and pears, a person should eat them raw and whole, with the skin intact. These fruits contain several compounds that improve digestion, including:
Grapes: These fruits have a high skin-to-flesh ratio and are rich in fiber. They also contain a lot of water, which helps to add moisture to hard stools.
Blackberries and raspberries: These fruits are rich in fiber and water, which can ease constipation. A person can try eating a handful or two of raw, washed blackberries or raspberries a day.
Aside from containing a lot of fiber, prunes also contain sorbitol and phenolic compounds that may have gastrointestinal benefits.

A 2018 study investigated the effect of prunes on constipation severity in women aged 60 years and older. The researchers divided the 60 participants into two groups of 30.

Both groups continued to consume their usual diet. However, the treatment group received 50 g of rehydrated prunes every morning for three weeks.

Unlike the control group, the treatment group showed a significant reduction in the severity of constipation symptoms. These changes began at the end of the first week and continued until the end of the third week.

The authors concluded that prunes could be an effective complementary treatment for reducing constipation severity in older women.

  1. Whole wheat bread, cereals, and pasta
    Whole wheat products are an excellent source of insoluble fiber. To get the most nutrients from whole wheat products, a person should eat them raw or lightly cooked.

Wheat bran
Wheat bran is the hard outer layer of the wheat kernel. It is rich in insoluble fiber.

A 2017 study investigated the effectiveness of wheat bran as a treatment for constipation in infants and older children. Researchers assessed 51 children for seven months.

Over this period, researchers associated increases in bran intake with significant improvements in bowel habits. At the end of the study, 86% of children had improved bowel habits.

  1. Liquids
    Liquids add moisture to stools, making them softer and easier to pass. Below are some liquids that people can try for constipation.

Dehydration is a common cause of constipation. When a person becomes dehydrated, their intestines cannot add enough water to stools. Dehydration results in hard, dry, lumpy stools that are difficult to pass.

Drinking plenty of water can help ease or resolve the symptoms and avoid Trusted Source a person getting constipated.

Read more about drinking water here.

Clear soups
Clear soups may be particularly effective at easing constipation since warm liquids and foods are generally easier to digest.

Alternative treatments
If diet or lifestyle changes are not enough to ease a person’s symptoms, a doctor or pharmacist may recommend laxative medications.

There are several typesTrusted Source of laxatives available, including:

water-retention laxatives, such as magnesium hydroxide (milk of magnesia) and polyethylene glycol (MiraLAX)
bulk-forming laxatives, such as methyl cellulose (Citrucel) and calcium polycarbophil (FiberCon)
lubricants, such as mineral oil
stool softeners, such as docusate sodium (Docusate and Colace)
stimulants, such as bisacodyl (Correctol and Dulcolax)
Natural laxatives include:

castor oil
senna tea
aloe vera
magnesium citrate supplements
Epsom salt
When to see a doctor
A person should see a doctor if their constipation does not improve following appropriate dietary and lifestyle changes and treatment with over-the-counter medications.

Can constipation be a sign of something more serious?
Most cases of acute constipation are due to diet or lifestyle factors. However, chronic constipation can sometimes signal an underlying medical condition.

Some medical conditions that can cause constipation include:Trusted Source

irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
celiac disease
rectal prolapse
anal fissures
tumors of the rectum or anus
anxiety and depression
Parkinson’s disease
multiple sclerosis
spinal cord injuries or diseases
Can medications cause constipation?
Certain medications can cause or contribute to constipation. Examples include: Trusted Source

calcium channel blockers
Iron supplements may also cause constipation.

A doctor can help determine what may be causing a person’s constipation and provide suitable remedies and treatments to enhance bowel movement and frequency.

Frequently asked questions
Below are some answers to common questions about constipation types and causes.

What is the difference between acute and chronic constipation?
Acute constipation

n lasts for a few days, whereas chronic constipation lasts for several weeks or months.

Acute constipation usually results from lifestyle factors or medication use. Chronic constipation is generally related to gastrointestinal, metabolic, or neurological conditions.

What lifestyle factors cause constipation?
A wide variety of lifestyle factors can cause constipation.

A diet high in fats and low in fiber puts a person at risk of constipation. Other common issues that can increase the risk of constipation include:

sudden dietary changes
not getting enough exercise
not going to the bathroom enough, or trying to hold stools

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