Constipation is a common condition affecting people of all ages. It occurs when stool passes through the large intestine too slowly, causing it to become hard, dry and difficult to eliminate. While constipation is rarely serious, it can be uncomfortable and negatively impact quality of life. Making dietary and lifestyle changes is usually the first line of treatment, and certain beverages may help get things moving again.
Causes of Constipation
Constipation can be caused by a variety of factors, including:
- Inadequate fluid intake
- Low fiber diet
- Lack of exercise
- Certain medications
- Ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement
- Diseases affecting the colon
Dehydration is a key contributing factor, as water is essential for keeping stools soft and easy to pass. Fiber gives bulk to stool and helps move it through the colon, so a low fiber diet can allow stools to become hard and dry. People who are sedentary, pregnant, taking certain medications like painkillers, or who suppress the urge to go also tend to get constipated more easily.
Lifestyle Changes to Help Constipation
Before turning to laxatives or other constipation aids, there are several lifestyle approaches to try:
- Drink plenty of fluids – Especially water, but prune juice and other juices can help too.
- Eat more fiber – Found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds.
- Exercise regularly – Physical activity stimulates the intestines.
- Establish bathroom habits – Don’t ignore the urge to go.
- Reduce stress – Anxiety and tension can inhibit bowel movements.
Making sure to stay hydrated and get adequate fiber from whole plant foods are particularly important. Getting regular physical activity and setting time aside each day to have a bowel movement, like first thing in the morning after breakfast, can also help establish consistency. Relieving sources of stress through practices like yoga, meditation and deep breathing may also improve bowel regularity.
Beverages to Help Relieve Constipation
While plain water should be the primary beverage, there are other drinks that can be useful for alleviating constipation when taken in addition to getting more fiber, exercise and fluids:
Prune juice is a time-tested constipation aid, as it contains sorbitol, a sugar alcohol with natural laxative effects. Sorbitol draws water into the intestines to soften and loosen stool. Prune juice also contains fiber, potassium and vitamin A. It’s best to drink it heated, preferably first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. Start with 4-8 ounces and allow time for it to take effect.
Warm Lemon Water
Some research suggests that starting the day with a glass of warm lemon water on an empty stomach may help stimulate the bowels. Citric acid from the lemon interacts with digestive juices to get things moving. Make sure to use warm rather than hot water to avoid damaging the lemon’s enzymes.
The caffeine in coffee can have a laxative effect for some people. It stimulates muscles in the intestine to contract and promotes the release of gastrin, a hormone that aids digestion. Enjoy a regular cup of black coffee when constipated, but avoid adding cream and sugar, which can have the opposite effect.
Kefir is a fermented milk beverage with probiotic cultures that help balance gut bacteria. Probiotics may reduce constipation by speeding up transit time in the colon and make stool easier to pass. Kefir also contains magnesium, which draws water into the intestines. Try drinking a cup two times per day.
Like kefir, yogurt contains probiotics that can improve bowel regularity. Look for yogurts that contain active cultures like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria. You can find yogurt drinks like lassi and ayran that make it easier to consume daily. When buying commercial yogurts, avoid added sugars.
Oat milk is rich in fiber, containing about 2 grams per cup. Fiber encourages more frequent bowel movements by adding bulk to stool. The beta-glucan fiber in oats also helps pull water into the intestines to ease passage. Enjoy oat milk on its own or use it in smoothies.
Warm, broth-based soups like chicken noodle can effectively hydrate when you’re constipated. Make sure to choose low-sodium options to limit water retention. The heat may also relax pelvic muscles involved in bowel movements. Soups with veggies and legumes provide extra fiber too.
Certain herbal teas have natural laxative effects. Popular options include senna, peppermint, green tea and ginger tea. They contain compounds like sennosides, menthol and gingerol that stimulate contractions to move stool through the colon. Green and ginger tea also provide antioxidants.
The carbonation in sparkling water can trigger muscle contractions in the intestines when consumed in larger amounts. Opt for plain seltzer water over sweet sodas. Fizzy water also adds fluid volume to help soften stool. Limit carbonated drinks if you have irritable bowel syndrome though.
Fresh vegetable juices provide hydration along with important nutrients that play a role in digestion. Good options for constipation include carrot, cucumber, beet and cabbage juices. These supply fiber, vitamin C and potassium. Limit store-bought juices high in sodium. Dilute if drinking large amounts.
Blackstrap molasses is a thick syrup that contains magnesium, which acts as an osmotic laxative that pulls water into the colon to ease the passage of stool. It also moves slowly through the digestive tract. Consume 1-2 teaspoons diluted in warm water or tea. Purchase unsulfured molasses only.
Tea made from dandelion leaves and roots has diuretic properties that can help relieve constipation. Compounds in dandelion promote intestinal contractions and increase urine output, which moisturizes stool. Steep leaves or roots to make tea and drink several cups per day as needed.
Like dandelion tea, fennel tea has diuretic effects to relieve constipation. It also contains antioxidants and fiber. Fennel helps stimulate bile production to improve digestion as well. You can add fennel seeds to hot water or boil the root vegetable to make tea. Drink 1-3 cups daily.
Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil are rich sources of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids that lubricate the intestines. Pour boiling water over ground flaxseed and steep 3-5 minutes. You can add lemon for flavor. Be sure to drink the tea promptly before it gels up.
Other Remedies for Constipation
In addition to drinking more water and juices, other ways to alleviate constipation include:
- Over-the-counter stool softeners containing docusate
- Fiber supplements like psyllium husk and methylcellulose
- Exercise like walking, jogging or yoga
- Probiotic supplements
- Natural laxatives like magnesium citrate
- Enemas and suppositories
- Prescription laxatives if necessary
See your doctor if you experience persistent constipation to identify any underlying causes and get properly treated. Rarely, severe cases may require medication or even surgery if bowel obstruction is present.
When to See a Doctor
You should consult a doctor if you experience:
- No bowel movements for 3+ days
- Hard, painful stools
- Rectal bleeding
- Persistent abdominal pain and bloating
- Unexplained weight loss
- Always needing laxatives for a bowel movement
These symptoms may indicate an underlying condition causing constipation, like an intestinal obstruction, bowel disease or neurological disorder. The elderly and immobile should also seek medical care when constipated.
Making a few key lifestyle changes can help prevent constipation from recurring:
- Drink plenty of fluids aim for 8 cups of water daily
- Eat more high-fiber foods like vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils, oats
- Exercise most days of the week
- Establish a bathroom routine, don’t ignore urges
- Reduce stress through yoga, meditation, massage
- Limit dairy products if they cause issues
- Talk to your doctor about medications that cause constipation
Being proactive helps avoid the symptoms of constipation and keep your bowel movements regular. Focus on getting more fiber and fluids, especially water. But certain beverages can offer additional relief when needed.
The Best Drinks for Constipation
If you’re constipated, try including more of these beneficial beverages in your diet:
|Beverage||Reasons It Helps||How Much to Drink|
|Water||Softens stool and hydrates||8 cups daily|
|Prune juice||Natural laxative with sorbitol||4-8 oz daily|
|Lemon water||Stimulates digestion||1 cup warm daily|
|Coffee||Stimulant laxative effect||1-2 cups max daily|
|Kefir||Probiotics improve bowel regularity||1 cup daily|
|Yogurt drinks||Probiotics promote bowel movements||8 oz daily|
|Oat milk||High in fiber||1 cup daily|
|Soups||Hydrate and provide fiber||1 serving daily|
|Herbal tea||Sennoisides stimulate contractions||2-3 cups daily|
When Constipation Persists
Severe or persistent constipation may require further treatment under a doctor’s care. This can involve:
- Prescription laxatives
- Medications to treat pain and bloating
- Biofeedback training
- Surgery to correct an obstruction or other colon abnormality
- Removing part of the colon (colectomy)
If constipation remains poorly controlled after making diet and lifestyle changes, don’t hesitate to see your physician. They can rule out any underlying disorders and help develop an effective treatment plan.
Constipation in Infants and Children
Constipation sometimes occurs in infants and children. Common causes include:
- Switching from breastmilk to formula
- Introducing solid foods
- Picky eating leading to low fiber intake
- Withholding stool
- Cow’s milk protein intolerance
Giving extra water between regular feedings can help soften stools. Fruit juices like prune, pear and apple juice also provide hydration and sorbitol. Do not give juice to infants under 1 year old though. Older babies can also be given pureed high-fiber fruits and vegetables. Make sure children get regular physical activity too. See a pediatrician if constipation persists over 2 weeks.
Constipation affects 40-50% of pregnant women. Reasons include:
- Hormonal changes slowing digestion
- Iron supplements
- Pressure on the intestines from the uterus
Drinking plenty of water and non-caffeinated fluids can help soften stools. Eating high-fiber foods like bran cereals, fruits and vegetables is also recommended. Light exercise such as walking aids bowel movements too. Let your doctor know if you experience persistent constipation during pregnancy.
In the Elderly
Constipation is very common in the elderly, affecting 50% of those over 65. Causes include:
- Poor mobility
- Weakened pelvic muscles
- Diseases like diabetes and neurological disorders
- Ignoring urge to have a BM
- Diet lacking fiber and fluids
Older adults should stay well hydrated and eat prunes, bran cereal, yogurt and high-fiber fruits and vegetables. Light exercise like walking helps as well. Seek medical advice for significant or worsening constipation.
Constipation can usually be managed with lifestyle measures like increasing fiber and fluid intake. But adding certain beneficial beverages like prune juice, kefir, herbal teas and oat milk can provide additional relief when needed. Seek medical attention if you experience severe, persistent or unexplained constipation to get proper treatment. Consuming a healthy diet with plenty of water and physical activity can help prevent constipation episodes.