Women are talking more about their bodies than ever, but one common issue is still pretty taboo: constipation.
Well, we’re here to change that! After all, 16% of women regularly suffer from difficult bowel movements, while even more of us deal with it every once in a while, according to research.
Fun fact: Constipation is more common in women than in men, possibly due to hormones.
Yep, there’s no end to the list of things that can throw your bathroom habits out of whack.
Think: your monthly cycle, dietary changes, stress, sleep problems, even travel. Seriously, what’s that last one about?
If you’re feeling blocked up, don’t wait more than two or three days before dealing with it, says Lisa Ganjhu, a gastroenterologist and clinical associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center.
“Your body is going to tell you it’s uncomfortable, so pay attention to it,” she says.
And, good news: It can be pretty easy to get your bowels moving without any medication.
“Natural laxatives are definitely gentler than some of the prescription laxatives, and even a little gentler than what you can get over the counter,” she says.
Bonus: You probably have some of them already hanging out in your fridge or pantry. Laxative foods to the rescue!
Here, we share eight natural laxatives that can get your bathroom habits moving again. Better yet, integrate them into your regular diet to keep things, well, regular.
Just like staying hydrated is good for the rest of your body, it’s helpful for your digestive system, too. “Water basically lubricates everything and softens the stool,” says Ganjhu. “The whole point of the stool getting to the colon is for it to try to absorb all of the extra water [along the way] in order to solidify.”
The longer stool stays in the colon, though, the longer the water has to get sucked back out of it, eventually becoming rock hard – ouch.
“Getting fluid back into your body helps to soften the stool and stimulates the colon to empty out,” she says.
2. Greek yoghurt
Yoghurt and other probiotics are generally good for your gut and for digestion.
“Whether you’ve got diarrhoea or you’re constipated, probiotics help your bowels because they reset your gut microbiome,” says Ganjhu. “We all have a billion bacteria in there, and if it’s not the right ones that are working well, that’s what can lead to indigestion, bloating and changes in our bowels. Probiotics add more of the healthy bacteria to your gut and reconstitute your digestive track with that good bacteria.”
Look for Greek yoghurt varieties that list “live and active cultures” on their label, she recommends.
3. Leafy greens
Leafy green veggies like spinach, kale and cabbage are the most dense in terms of fibre, which is what your system really needs in order to get moving.
“That fibre stimulates the colon to contract – it gives it a sense of fullness, which it wants to push out,” says Ganjhu.
Considering the fact that most people don’t get close to consuming the recommended 25g of fibre per day, upping your intake of leafy greens could be a quick way to jumpstart your digestive track. Plus, leafy greens are chock full of magnesium, which can help naturally soften stool, she says.
4. Aloe vera
You’ve probably used aloe for sunburns or in other beauty products, but you may have noticed the ingredient popping up on your grocery store shelves lately, most likely in juice form.
“Aloe is one of the most common natural laxatives people are taking,” says Ganjhu. “It makes the stool a little more lubricated, which makes it easier to pass.”
Research shows that aloe contains 75 vitamins, enzymes, minerals and sugars, in addition to natural laxative compounds called anthraquinones, which up the amount of water in your intestines, help your body produce more mucus, and increase the contractions the keep food moving through your GI system.
5. Chia Seeds
You probably know if you leave chia seeds in water, they turn into a kind of jelly. That’s what makes them so helpful as natural laxatives, says Ganjhu. “In your system, when the chia seeds combine with liquid, they expand, and that gel-like texture makes it easy for the stool to move through the bowels,” she explains.
And considering the fact that one ounce contains 10g of fibre, sprinkling some chia seeds into your meal is almost guaranteed to make you need to go.
One tablespoon of flaxseed contains almost 3g of fibre, according to the USDA, which is a lot for a tiny food that’s easy to hide in smoothies or salads. “All that extra fibre will stimulate the bowels,” says Ganjhu.
The seeds contain “mucilage”, a gummy compound that coats your digestive system to make bowel movements proceed more smoothly. Flaxseed is also high in magnesium, so that can help stimulate the urge to go, too, she says.
7. High-fibre fruits
Like leafy greens, certain fruits are packed with fibre. Stock up on fresh fruits like berries, which “provide the fibre but won’t make you as gassy as leafy greens or apples and pears might,” says Ganjhu. Plus, the antioxidants in berries have anti-inflammatory properties that could soothe your GI system.
Dried fruits such as apricots, figs, and – shocker – prunes are a good option, too.
“Dehydrated food has a combination of dense fibre and extra sugar, which can increase the bowel movements,” she says.
Consuming a bit of olive oil, mineral oil, flaxseed oil or castor oil could lube up your bowels.
“I prescribe a lot of olive oil or mineral oil,” says Ganjhu. “Just drink a tablespoon. It goes down your digestive track and softens the stool, making it a little more slippery or softer so it doesn’t hurt as much as if you’re trying to pass a hard stool.”
If the idea of knocking back a shot of olive oil makes you queasy, use the oil as a cooking agent or salad dressing. Just remember that this natural laxative option is anything but kilojoule-free. One tablespoon contains 502kJ.
This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com
Image credits: iStock