Laxatives can have powerful effects on your digestive health. Due to their effects on the body, laxatives can help relieve constipation and promote regular bowel movements. Surprisingly, there are many natural laxatives available that can be as effective as over-the-counter products to prevent constipation. This article will examine 20 natural laxatives and how they work.
What are Laxatives and How Do They Work?
Laxatives are substances that loosen stool or stimulate bowel movement. They can also accelerate intestinal transit, which helps accelerate the movement of the digestive tract to stimulate bowel movement. Laxatives are often used to treat constipation, a condition characterized by infrequent, difficult and sometimes painful bowel movements. There are several types of laxatives that work in different ways. The main classes of laxatives are:
- Mass-forming laxatives: These move through the body without being digested, absorbing water and inflammation to form stool.
- Stool softeners: Increase the amount of water absorbed by the stool to make it softer and easier to pass.
- Lubricant laxatives: These cover the surface of the stool and the intestinal lining to maintain moisture, allowing softer stools and an easier passage.
- Osmotic type laxatives: These help the colon retain more water, increasing the frequency of bowel movements.
- Saline laxatives: These attract water to the small intestine to stimulate bowel movement.
- Stimulant laxatives: accelerate the movement of the digestive system to induce a bowel movement.
Although over-the-counter laxatives can be very helpful in relieving constipation, using them too often can cause electrolyte disturbances and changes in acid-base balance, potentially leading to long-term heart and kidney damage. If you are looking to achieve gentle and regular bowel movements, try to incorporate some natural laxatives into your diet. They can be a safe and cheap alternative to over-the-counter products, with minimal side effects. Here are 20 natural laxatives you can try.
1. Chia Seeds:
“Fiber is a natural treatment and one of the first lines of defense against constipation”.
It moves through the intestines without being digested, adding volume to the stool and promoting regularity. Studies show that increasing fiber intake can increase the frequency of bowel movements and soften stool to facilitate its passage. Chia seeds are particularly high in soluble fiber, since they contain almost 11 grams in just 1 ounce (28 grams). Soluble fiber absorbs water to form a gel, which can help form soft stools to relieve constipation.
Most berry varieties are relatively high in fiber, making them a great option as a mild natural laxative. Strawberries contain 3 grams of fiber per cup (152 grams), blueberries provide 3.6 grams of fiber per cup (148 grams) and blackberries have 7.6 grams of fiber per cup (144 grams). The American Dietetic Association recommends 25 grams of fiber per day for women and 38 grams of fiber for men to add volume to feces and prevent chronic diseases. Berries contain two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber, like that of chia seeds, absorbs water in the intestine to form a gel-like substance that helps soften stool. The insoluble fiber does not absorb water, but moves through the intact body, increasing the volume of feces to facilitate passage. Including some varieties of berries in your diet is a way to increase your fiber intake and take advantage of its natural laxative properties.
Legumes are a family of edible plants that include beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas and peanuts. Legumes are rich in fiber, which can encourage regularity. One cup (198 grams) of boiled lentils, for example, contains 15.6 grams of fiber, while 1 cup (164 grams) of chickpeas provides 12.5 grams of fiber (15, 16). Eating legumes can help increase the production of butyric acid in your body, a type of short chain fatty acid that can act as a natural laxative. Studies show that butyric acid could help in the treatment of constipation by increasing the movement of the digestive tract. It also acts as an anti-inflammatory agent to reduce intestinal inflammation that may be associated with some digestive disorders, such as Crohn’s disease or inflammatory bowel disease.
4. Flaxseed Seeds:
With its omega-3 fatty acid content and a high amount of protein, flax or flaxseed seeds are rich in many nutrients that make them a healthy addition to any diet. Not only that, but flaxseeds also have natural laxative properties and are an effective treatment for constipation and diarrhea. A 2015 animal study showed that flaxseed oil increased the frequency of feces in guinea pigs. It also had an antidiarrheal effect and was able to reduce diarrhea by up to 84%. Flaxseeds contain a good blend of soluble and insoluble fiber, which helps reduce intestinal transit time and add bulk to stool. One tablespoon (10 grams) of flax seeds provides 2 grams of insoluble fiber, plus 1 gram of soluble fiber.
Kefir is a fermented dairy product. Kefir contains probiotics , a type of beneficial intestinal bacteria with a variety of health benefits, including improved immune function and increased digestive health. The consumption of probiotics through food or supplements can increase regularity while improving stool consistency and accelerating intestinal transit. It has been shown that kefir, in particular, adds moisture and volume to feces. A 2014 study examined the effects of kefir in 20 participants with constipation. After consuming 17 ounces (500 ml) per day for four weeks, participants had an increase in stool frequency, improvements in consistency and a decrease in the use of laxatives.
6. Castor Oil:
Produced from castor, castor oil has a long history of use as a natural laxative. After consuming castor oil, ricinoleic acid is released, a type of unsaturated fatty acid that is responsible for its laxative effect. Ricinoleic acid works by activating a specific receptor in the digestive tract that increases the movement of the intestinal muscles to induce bowel movement. One study showed that castor oil was able to relieve constipation symptoms by softening the consistency of stool, reducing effort during defecation and decreasing the feeling of incomplete evacuation.
7. Leafy Green Vegetables:
Leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale and cabbage work in different ways to improve regularity and prevent constipation. First, they are very nutrient dense, which means they provide a good amount of vitamins, minerals and fiber with relatively few calories. Each cup (67 grams) of kale, for example, provides 1.3 grams of fiber to help increase regularity and only has about 33 calories. Leafy green vegetables are also rich in magnesium. This is the main ingredient in many types of laxatives, as it helps extract water in the intestines to help pass stool. Some studies have shown that low magnesium intake could be associated with constipation, so making sure you have an adequate intake of this mineral is crucial to maintain regularity.
It is extracted from the Senna alexandrina plant, senna is an herb that is often used as a natural stimulant laxative. Senna is found in many common over-the-counter products, such as Ex-Lax, Senna-Lax and Senokot. The relief effects of senna constipation are attributed to the plant’s sennoside content. Sennosides are compounds that act by accelerating the movement of the digestive system to stimulate bowel movement. They also increase the absorption of fluids in the colon to help in the passage of stool.
Apples are high in fiber, providing 3 grams of fiber per cup (125 grams). In addition, they are full of pectin, a type of soluble fiber that can act as a laxative. One study showed that pectin was able to accelerate the transit time in the colon. It also acted as a prebiotic by increasing the amount of beneficial bacteria in the intestine to promote digestive health. Another study gave apple fiber to some rats for two weeks before administering morphine to cause constipation. They found that apple fiber prevented constipation by stimulating movement in the digestive tract and increasing stool frequency.
10. Olive Oil:
Some research has found that the consumption of olive oil could be an effective way to relieve constipation. It works as a lubricating laxative, providing a lining in the rectum that allows an easier passage, while stimulating the small intestine to accelerate transit. In studies, it has been shown that olive oil works well both to stimulate bowel movements and to improve symptoms of constipation. In one study, researchers combined olive oil with a traditional colon cleansing formula and found that the formula was more effective when paired with olive oil than with other laxatives, such as magnesium hydroxide.
Rhubarb contains a compound known as sennoside A, which provides some powerful properties as a laxative. Sennoside a lowers levels of AQP3, a type of protein that regulates the water content in feces. This leads to a laxative effect by increasing water absorption to soften stool and facilitate bowel movements. Rhubarb also contains a good amount of fiber to help promote regularity, with 2.2 grams of fiber in each cup (122 grams).
12. Aloe Vera:
Aloe vera latex, a gel that comes from the inner lining of the leaves of the aloe plant, is often used as a treatment for constipation. It obtains its laxative effect from anthraquinone glycosides, compounds that attract water to the intestines and stimulate the movement of the digestive tract. One study confirmed the effectiveness of aloe vera by creating a preparation using celandin, psyllium and aloe vera. The researchers found that this mixture was able to effectively soften stool and increase the frequency of bowel movement.
13. Oat Bran:
It is produced from the outer layers of oat grain, oat bran is high in soluble and insoluble fiber, making it a good choice as a natural laxative. In fact, only 1 cup (94 grams) of raw oat bran can contain up to a total of 14 grams of fiber. A 2009 study evaluated the effectiveness of oat bran in the treatment of constipation through its use instead of laxatives in a geriatric hospital. They found that participants tolerated oat bran well. It helped them maintain body weight and allowed 59% of participants to stop using laxatives, making oat bran a good alternative to over-the-counter products.
Probably. Prunes are one of the best known natural laxatives around the world. They provide a lot of fiber, with 2 grams in each 1 ounce serving (28 grams). They also contain a type of sugar alcohol known as sorbitol. Sorbitol is absorbed very little and acts as an osmotic agent, attracting water to the intestines, which helps induce bowel movements. Several studies have found that prunes can increase stool frequency and improve consistency better than other natural laxatives, including psyllium fiber.
Kiwi has been shown to have laxative properties, which is a convenient way to relieve constipation. This is mainly due to its high fiber content. One cup (177 grams) of kiwi contains 5.3 grams of fiber, covering up to 21% of the recommended daily intake. Kiwi contains a mixture of insoluble and soluble fibers. It also contains pectin, which has been shown to have a natural laxative effect. It works by increasing the movement of the digestive tract to stimulate bowel movement. A four-week study examined the effects of kiwi on constipated and healthy participants. It was found that the use of kiwifruit as a natural laxative helped relieve constipation by accelerating the transit time in the intestine.
16. Magnesium Citrate:
Frequently found in pharmacies as an over-the-counter supplement, magnesium citrate is a powerful natural laxative. Magnesium citrate has proven to be more bioavailable and better absorbed in the body than other forms of magnesium, such as magnesium oxide. Magnesium citrate increases the amount of water in the intestinal tract, which causes better bowel movement. It has been shown that when combined with other types of laxatives, magnesium citrate is as effective as the traditional colon cleansing regimens used before medical procedures.
For some people, coffee may increase the need to use the bathroom. It stimulates the muscles of the colon, which can produce a natural laxative effect. This is due in large part to the effects of coffee on gastrin, a hormone that is released after eating. Gastrin is responsible for the secretion of gastric acid, which helps break down food in the stomach. It has also been shown that gastrin increases the movement of intestinal muscles, which can help accelerate intestinal transit and induce bowel movement. One study gave participants 3.4 ounces (100 ml) of coffee, then measured their gastrin levels. Compared to the control group, gastrin levels were 1.7 times higher in participants who drank decaffeinated coffee and 2.3 times higher in those who drank coffee with caffeine. In fact, other studies have shown that caffeinated coffee can stimulate the digestive tract as much as a meal and up to 60% more than water.
Derived from the husk and seeds of the Plantago ovata plant, psyllium is a type of fiber with laxative properties. Although it contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, its high soluble fiber content is what makes it especially effective in relieving constipation. Soluble fiber acts by absorbing water and forming a gel, which can soften stool and facilitate its passage through the rectum. It has even been shown that psyllium is more effective than some prescribed laxatives. One study compared the effects of psyllium with those of sodium docusate, a laxative medication, in the treatment of 170 adults with constipation. The researchers found that psyllium had a greater effect on stool softening and increased evacuation frequency.
Water is essential to stay hydrated, as well as to maintain regularity and prevent constipation. Research shows that staying hydrated can help relieve constipation by improving stool consistency, making it easier to pass. It can also amplify the effects of other natural laxatives, such as fiber. In one study, 117 participants with chronic constipation received a diet consisting of 25 grams of fiber per day. In addition to the increase in fiber consumption, half of the participants were also told to drink 2 liters of water per day. After two months, both groups had an increase in the frequency of bowel movements and less dependence on laxatives, but the effect was even greater for the group that was also drinking more water.
20. Sugar Substitutes:
Excessive consumption of some types of sugar substitutes may have a laxative effect. This is because they pass through the intestine almost without being absorbed, attracting water to the intestines and accelerating the transit in the intestine. This process is especially true for sugar alcohols, which are not properly absorbed in the digestive tract. Lactitol, a type of sugar alcohol derived from milk sugar, has actually been investigated for its potential use in the treatment of chronic constipation. Some specific case studies have even linked excessive consumption of sugar-free chewing gum containing sorbitol, another type of sugar alcohol, to diarrhea. Xylitol is another common sugar alcohol that acts as a laxative. It is usually found in small amounts in diet drinks and sugar-free chewing gums. However, if consumed in large quantities, it could attract water to the intestines, inducing a bowel movement or even causing diarrhea. Large amounts of erythritol sugar alcohol could also have a laxative effect in the same way, stimulating bowel movement by attracting large amounts of water in the intestines.
There are many natural laxatives that can help you maintain a regular evacuation routine by increasing the frequency of bowel movements and improving stool consistency. In addition to using these natural laxatives, make sure you stay well hydrated, follow a healthy diet and take time for regular physical activity. These steps will help you prevent constipation and keep your digestive system healthy.