It’s no wonder than many people seek a natural remedy for constipation instead of buying laxatives, as these can often cause uncomfortable symptoms such as abdominal cramps and lead to long term dependency. The good news is there are absolutely tonnes of natural alternatives! In the article below we explore some of the most common remedies.
A quick internet search for ‘home remedies for constipation’ throws up 3 million results. Many suggestions sound familiar, such as prune juice, grated apple, Epsom salts (these contain magnesium, which I will discuss later in more depth), or warm water with a squeeze of lemon first thing in the morning.
A selection of oils is often recommended too. I would personally recommend flax seed oil above other oils like castor oil, or you can have flax seeds soaked in water, or ground flax, both of which you can find at your local health food shop. Any fruits, or dried fruits, tend to work well as a home remedy - just don’t go overboard on the sugar content – even naturally occurring sugars can be problematic in high quantities.
There are many herbal remedies that can help constipation such as psyllium, senna, buckthorn, aloe and so on. Try taking a teaspoon of psyllium husks with a LARGE glass of water. This is a bulk laxative, and a great source of fibre to encourage bowel movements, and many people find it effective as a single remedy.
Senna and buckthorn work by aggravating the sides of the intestinal wall and stimulating peristalsis. If you would like to try one of these, I would recommend you start with buckthorn, as it’s a bit more gentle. If you have been recommended senna, always take it with something like ginger, as senna can cause griping or cramping, and ginger will naturally help to counteract this.
Herbal teas such as peppermint tea can sometimes be helpful; peppermint primarily helps with cramping or griping as opposed to encouraging bowel movements, but the simple act of drinking more fluids from the tea may help to ease constipation.
Dandelion Formula is a cracker of a formula – it covers many bases for addressing constipation issues.
I like this dandelion formula, which can help with constipation in the following ways:
The liver: Dandelion root and burdock stimulate the liver and gall bladder to release bile. Adequate bile release is important to avoid constipation because bile i) carries digestive enzymes into the digestive tract, ii) stimulates peristaltic action by the walls of the gut, and iii) emulsifies fats and ensures they are broken down fully.
The small intestine: Fennel and ginger can promote the breakdown of foods which are difficult to digest, such as pulses and meat. This helps to avoid large pieces of undigested food moving through to the lower bowel, which can be a cause of constipation.
The large intestine: Yellow dock is a classic herb used by Western herbalists to treat constipation. It stimulates the walls of the colon, increasing the peristalsis movement which ensures the food bolus is moved along through to the rectum, allowing a smooth and comfortable bowel motion.
This particular Dandelion Formula is available at the Finchley Clinic.
Please remember, it’s always a good idea to be in touch with a qualified herbalist in your area to ensure you have chosen the most suitable herbs to suit your individual needs.
Changing your Diet & Increasing Fibre
Changing your diet is probably the most natural of all the natural remedies! The main dietary recommendation for constipation is to increase your intake of fibre contained in fruit, vegetables, wholegrain cereals and brown basmati rice. Bear in mind that what is suitable for one person may not be the same for another. For example you may find that fruit is great at encouraging bowel movements, but that wheat-bran cereal has the opposite effect, whereas your friend or family member may have a different experience. We are all unique individuals and this cannot be ignored when we are dealing with our health. We should embrace it!
Increasing your intake of fruit & veg is a great way to build up your fibre intake and to discourage constipation. It doesn't have to be expensive, try buying tinned goods if you're on a budget.
Fluid intake is also very important both to relieve and prevent constipation. Nicola has written a whole post about water here, complete with tips on flavouring it naturally for those who aren't keen on the taste!
What's more, you should set aside time to prepare and eat meals without rushing. Gulping down ready-meals with little fibre content is an instant hunger-fix, but in the long term this isn’t the best way to look after your digestive system.
People who have a tendency towards constipation often have a lower than normal count of a certain type of beneficial bacteria in the gut called 'Bifidobacterium', which is found mainly in the large intestine. Those with constipation can therefore find it helpful to supplement with a natural probiotic, allowing the bowel to return to a comfortable and normal rhythm. OptiBac Probiotics provide an ideal probiotic called 'Bifidobacteria & fibre' (which used to be called 'For maintaining regularity') which contains the extensively researched strain Bifidobacterium lactis BB-12®, found in numerous clinical trials to help alleviate constipation.   
Try taking a probiotic supplement to top up your existing friendly bacteria; this is a vital part of maintaining a healthy digestive system in the long run.
If you want to supplement your diet with more natural remedies, magnesium is quite a big one to consider. The magnesium in Epsom salts is magnesium sulphate, whereas I would usually recommend magnesium citrate, which is thought to be more easily absorbed into the body.
Magnesium is necessary for healthy muscle function – specifically relaxation (whereas calcium is necessary for contraction). Our gut is lined with muscles, which contract and relax to cause a physical stimulation to move food along. Especially in cases of stress-related constipation, these muscles can be in a state of not relaxing properly, and so coordinated peristalsis does not occur. Furthermore, nutritional therapists often advocate that we are much more likely to be deficient in magnesium than calcium. By supplementing with an easily absorbable form of Magnesium, such as the citrate form, we can encourage the muscles to relax sufficiently, allowing smoother bowel movements, and maintaining regularity. Again, the Finchley Clinic do a well priced magnesium supplement.
Don't forget to comment and let us know what has worked for you!
References & Notes
Matsumoto M, Imai T, Hironaka T, Kume H, Watanabe M and Benno Y. Effect of Yoghurt with Bifidobacterium lactis LKM512 in Improving Fecal Microflora and Defecation of Healthy Volunteers. Intestine Microbiology Magazine 2001;14:97-102.
Murakami T, Miyahara H, Yukisato S, Nakamura R, Kanno H, Kotakemori M, Kamei T and Kobayashi O. Safety and effect of yoghurt containing Bifidobacterium lactis BB-12 on improvement of defecation and fecal microflora in healthy volunteers. Food, Health and Nutrition Research (Journal of Nutritional Food) 2006;9(1):1-12.
Uchida K, Akashi K, Kusunoki I, Ikeda T, Katano N, Motoshima H and Benno Y. Effect of fermented milk containing Bifidobacterium lactis BB-12 on stool frequency, defecation, fecal microbiota and safety of excessive ingestion in healthy female students -2nd report. Food Health and Nutrition Research (Journal of Nutritional Food) 2005;8(1):39-51.
Image of fruit courtesy of futureshape.