Constipation is one of the most commonly reported health problems, affecting about 16 percent of U.S. adults and one in three adults over age 60, according to the National Institutes of Health.
What helps relieve constipation fast? While a number of over-the-counter medications are available to treat this condition quickly, not all are considered safe. Instead, there are also natural laxatives that can work equally well for some people.
Natural laxatives, in the form of certain foods, beverages and herbs, have been used for wellness purposes to alleviate constipation for over 2,000 years.
People have always known that bowel movements are necessary for good health, but in today’s fast-paced society, a poor diet, stress or frequent traveling can get in the way of you and good digestion.
Related: Is Toxic Poop a Myth or Reality?
Who Can Benefit from Natural Laxatives?
Today, there are dozens of different laxatives available on the market to help those who frequently get constipated — everything from herbal teas and detox tinctures, to pills and enemas. Technically, there are several types of laxatives that work in various ways, which include: stimulant agents; saline and osmotic products; bulking agents; and surfactants.
However, natural laxatives (such as plain water) will often get the job done, without many of the unpleasant side effects that over-the-counter laxatives can cause.
It’s important to realize that while OTC or prescription laxatives might help solve constipation symptoms in the short-term, they ultimately don’t fix any underlying digestive issues. In fact, they can make the problem even worse. They may cause unwanted and dangerous side effects, and even become addictive since the body begins to rely on them over time to function properly.
Our bodies have an amazing natural ability to cleanse and detox on their own — we just need to provide the correct nutrients and hydrating fluids.
Short-term or chronic constipation can occur for many different reasons, including:
What’s considered “normal” when it comes to pooping? Most experts agree that it’s important to go to the bathroom at least three or more times per week at a minimum. But the number of bowel movements someone should have each day/week varies from person to person, so there is not one specific number that is considered completely “normal” and healthy.
The bottom line is that if you’re currently not going at least this amount, making changes to your diet and lifestyle first (for example, eating more fiber, exercising and reducing stress) are crucial to solving the problem long-term.
Best Natural Laxatives
What foods will make you poop right away? Most foods that promote regular bowel movements don’t work immediately, but rather help to keep you “regular” long-term. Here are the best natural laxatives to get into your daily, or at least weekly, diet:
Most adults, and children too, could afford to eat more fiber. While increasing intake of high-fiber foods alone might not solve all cases of constipation, it’s definitely one of the first steps to take.
What’s considered a high-fiber diet? Make sure you aim to get between 25–40 grams of fiber per day.
Adult men/larger individuals need a higher amount than women and smaller individuals. You always want to get your fiber from natural sources (unprocessed, whole foods) whenever possible, as opposed to artificially created fibers found in processed “high-fiber” bars, shakes, etc.
High-fiber fruits and vegetables include:
- Asian pears
- Brussels sprouts
The benefits of drinking water are legendary but often overlooked. Your kidneys and liver require water to clean your blood, produce urine and yes, help your body to get rid of waste.
When you drink water, you’re less likely to deal with constipation and diarrhea, which can be worsened in some cases by dehydration. Up your water intake in order to “keep things moving” and help you stay regular. The Institute of Medicine recommends between nine and 13 cups per day for adults.
3. Probiotic Foods
Probiotics are “good bacteria” in your gut that are able to balance various types of “bad bacteria.” They help create a healthy environment in your gut “microflora” and can help keep you free of digestive problems, including constipation or diarrhea.
Probiotic foods includes kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi and probiotic yogurt.
Just make sure that when buying dairy products, you always choose organic products, as they are easier on digestion, such as goat milk products, organic kefir, raw dairy products or dairy that doesn’t contain A1 casein. It’s possible that low-quality pasteurized/homogenized dairy, or too much dairy in general (especially if someone has symptoms of lactose intolerance), can cause inflammation and contribute to digestive dysfunction.
4. Aloe Vera
Sometimes called aloe “latex,” this substance comes packed with enzymes, vitamins, minerals and electrolytes that help soften stools and heal the gut. For example, anthraquinones are a type of compound present in aloe that act like a laxative by increasing intestinal water content, stimulating mucus secretion and increasing intestinal peristalsis naturally (contractions that break down food).
Aloe vera latex also has anti-inflammatory components that reduce swelling and and improve function of the digestive organs, making it easier to pass bowel movements. Some of the other benefits of aloe vera are its ability to help normalize acid/alkaline and pH balance, lessen yeast formation and encourage the growth of good digestive bacteria.
For constipation, take 100–200 milligrams of aloe vera daily.
5. Chia Seeds
One of the benefits of chia seeds is its ability to absorb water in the GI tract and, therefore, work as a natural laxative.
Chia seeds provide 10 grams of fiber per one-ounce serving. They combine with liquid to form a gelatinous substance that easily moves through your intestines. As a great way to increase the fiber in your diet, chia seeds swell and expand in the digestive tract, absorbing fluids. They’re best for constipation when you also increase your fluid intake, helping them move through the gut easily.
Consume between one and three tablespoons per day. To get the most nutrients out of your food and to maximize the potential benefits of chia seeds, try soaking them before adding them to a recipe or smoothie. Place them in a 1:10 ratio of chia to water and let them sit for between 30 minutes to two hours. This equates to about one and a half tablespoons of chia seeds in one cup of water.
Flaxseeds are an excellent source of fiber, which adds bulk to your stool and helps it pass through your intestines. They provide about 3 grams of fiber per tablespoon. As an added bonus, flaxseeds work to treat both constipation and diarrhea, according to research studies.
They’re practically tasteless, and one of the benefits of flaxseeds is it’s easy to use in recipes you already make, like oats, baked goods and smoothies.
To reap the most health benefits, experts usually recommend ground flaxseeds instead of whole flaxseeds. Consume 2–3 tablespoons per day.
Just remember that whenever you eat a lot of fiber, you want to also make sure to drink plenty of water, too — since a high amount of fiber without enough hydrating liquids can actually result in even more bathroom troubles!
7. Leafy Green Veggies
What’s one of the best natural laxatives to lose weight? Leafy greens!
Not only a great source of fiber, leafy greens like spinach and kale also provide plenty of magnesium. Magnesium is an electrolyte in leafy greens that has the natural ability to safely soften stool and help draw in water from your gut.
Without enough magnesium, it’s hard for stool to easily move through your system, especially since magnesium is a natural muscle relaxer, which can help stop cramping in the abdomen. If you notice that increasing magnesium-rich foods results in your stools becoming too loose and watery, you can adjust your intake until its comfortable and back to normal.
8. Psyllium Husk
For those with bad constipation, additional fiber intake in the form of psyllium is recommended by scientific studies over magnesium-based laxatives, which should be avoided due to potential toxicity.
When combined with water or another liquid, psyllium husk swells and produces more bulk, which stimulates the intestines to contract and helps speed the passage of stool through the digestive tract. Psyllium has also been found to be superior to docusate sodium for softening stools by increasing stool water content and has greater overall laxative efficacy.
For adults and children over 12 years of age, it’s 1 teaspoon of psyllium husk powder mixed into a liquid of your choice 1–3 times daily.
9. Coconut Water
Coconut water is good for you for many reasons — not only does it taste great as an alternative to plain old water or sugary drinks, but it also helps with maintaining healthy electrolyte levels, preventing dehydration and clearing out your urinary tract.
For centuries, coconut water has been used for a natural hydration boost due to its high electrolyte content, especially potassium (which it provides 12 percent of your daily value of in every one-cup serving). Because it tastes great, it’s one of the best natural laxatives for kids and a natural electrolyte drink.
In fact, coconut water can be so healing for constipation that some people find drinking too much loosens stools to an uncomfortable level, so start slow.
10. Senna Tea
Senna leaf, fruit and pods have been used in tea form as a purgative or natural laxative for centuries. Senna tea is approved by the FDA as a nonprescription laxative.
How can it help? Senna has been shown in controlled trials to soften stools while also increasing stool frequency and weight.
How long does it take for a senna laxative to work? On average, it takes about eight hours, but it can commonly take anywhere between six and 12 hours. A common recommendation is to have senna tea before bedtime to have constipation relief the next morning.
The most common potential side effects are gastrointestinal upset, but these can often be avoided by not taking more than a recommended dose and not using any senna product for longer than a week at a time.
11. Prune Juice
We couldn’t consider this a complete list without this old classic. Prune juice has long been regarded as an effective fighter against constipation, especially in the elderly population. The Cleveland Clinic recommends drinking prune juice daily as part of a constipation-prevention diet.
At least one reason for this improvement involves the fiber in prune juice. This insoluble fiber fuels the healthy bacteria in your digestive system responsible for digestive health.
- Over-the-counter laxatives are some of the most widely used over-the-counter medications. These may be effective constipation remedies in the short-term, but they pose risk for side effects like dependence, dehydration, bloating, diarrhea, electrolyte imbalance and more.
- For otherwise healthy adults, it’s likely okay to take laxatives every now and then, such as when you’re traveling and jet-lagged or dealing with a short-term stomach illness. If you do feel that you need to take a laxative, try a gentler, natural product such as castor oil.
- Certain foods, drinks and herbs can make it easier to pass bowel movements and prevent constipation, without posing much risk for side effects. That is why a healthy diet can be the best natural laxative available to you.
- Fruits, leafy greens and other veggies, seeds, certain herbs, and probiotic-filled foods can all serve as home remedies when it comes to softening stool and relieving constipation. By focusing on eating real, whole foods you’ll obtain both soluble and insoluble fiber, along with important electrolytes, vitamins and minerals that your digestive system relies on.
- Want to know how to get rid of constipation fast at home? Try natural laxatives that work fast for constipation relief, which include: aloe vera, leafy greens, chia and flax seeds, high fiber fruits, probiotic foods, and coconut water.
- Also make sure to drink plenty of water/fluids when consuming natural laxatives, since these work with high fiber foods to help soften stool.