Vitamins for constipation: Do they work?
Can supplements help constipation?
Constipation is defined as fewer than three bowel movements per week and is one of the most common digestive problems accounting for over 2.5 million doctors visits every year. Essentially when you are constipated it means you are moving waste through your system slower than usual.
Chronic constipation should be taken seriously as it can negatively impact quality of life and result in many health problems down the road.
Symptoms of constipation may include:
- Less than 3 bowel movements per week
- Straining during bowel movements
- Passing hard or lumpy stools
- Incomplete bowel movements
Constipation can arise for many reasons and may be associated with certain health conditions such as:
- Lack of fiber
- Poor dietary choices
- Lack of water intake
- Lack of exercise
- Travel or time changes
- Medications and supplements such as acid blockers, diuretics, pain medications, calcium, iron, anticholinergics, anticonvulsants, and narcotics
- Nutrient deficiencies such as magnesium
- Poor sleep
- Overuse of laxatives
- Issues with the colon including irritable bowel syndrome or diverticulosis
- Hormonal imbalances such as low thyroid function
- Delaying of bowel movements to occur
Depending on the cause of your constipation, supplements can help to correct certain imbalances and restore healthy bowel function while you address the root of the issue and adopt a balanced diet.
Constipated? These 3 Supplements for Constipation Can Help
Constipation is one of the most uninspiring states to be in. You’re bloated, you’re feeling sluggish and won’t dare glance at your skinny jeans. Aesthetics aside, constipation is a heavy issue (no pun intended) because it’s harmful to your health. The most illustrative way of explaining what constipation does to your body is to compare it to “not taking out the trash enough”. Just like garbage rotting, the food in your digestive tract ferments and creates a build-up of toxic sludge in your intestinal tract. Sometimes constipation is a rare occurrence, usually related to a food intolerance, sensitivity, dehydration or stress. But when constipation is left untreated and becomes a regular occurrence, it can lead to severe health problems not only in the digestive tract but throughout all systems in the body. Whether you experience rare or frequent constipation, there are natural nutritional supplements that can help.
Here are 10 supplements we recommend to alleviate constipation, support digestive health and get things moving again.
1. Magnesium Citrate
Magnesium is a well-known essential mineral for relaxing the nervous system, and certain forms of magnesium such as magnesium citrate can have a gentle laxative effect.
Magnesium deficiency can be a cause for constipation thus it is essential that we obtain this mineral from our diet or through supplementation. Though there are many foods that provide magnesium such as almonds, cacao, cashews, mackerel, cooked spinach, avocado, and pumpkin seeds, it is estimated that up to 68% of the westernized population is not getting enough magnesium (1).
Magnesium's relaxing effects can help to relax tightened muscles. Often, constipation is the result of stress and when we’re stressed, our muscles tighten. Your small and large intestines contain smooth muscle tissue and in order to have a bowel movement, your muscles must relax.
Magnesium citrate also works to relieve constipation by increasing water in the small intestine, helping to flush waste out of your system. Supplementing with magnesium citrate can soften stool and relax the bowels, helping you to become constipation-free.
2. Essential Fatty Acids
Think of EFA’s as a lubricant for your intestines. Healthy fats such as omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids help keep digested food flowing through the intestinal tract. Essential fatty acids also help the body make prostaglandins, which help regulate digestion. Check-in with your fatty acid consumption. Chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp hearts, oily fish, and nuts and seeds (in moderation) are excellent food sources of omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids. Taking a high-quality fish oil such as Ascenta Nutra Sea’s Omega 3 Fish Oil can also be helpful for relieving and preventing constipation.
A healthy bowel requires plenty of intake of fiber. As a society, we consume so many refined and processed foods that have been stripped of their fiber - it’s no wonder we’re so backed up!
The recommended daily amount of fiber is roughly 35 grams per adult every day however the average human is consuming only 15 grams per day.
It's important to obtain a variety of fiber from food, including soluble and insoluble fiber which can be found in nuts, seeds, grains, and fruits and vegetables.
Avoiding refined foods such as white flour and sugar can help alleviate constipation while adding a high-quality fiber supplement to your diet will help to increase your fiber intake, cleanse the bowels and promote elimination.
Be sure to increase your daily intake of fiber slowly while consuming plenty of water in order to avoid making constipation worse or experiencing unwanted symptoms such as bloating.
NutraCleanse is our top recommendation as it contains important nutrients to the digestive system such as dandelion root, fenugreek, and flaxseed to help soothe and support bowel movements. NutraCleanse is also a source of omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids. In addition to these 3 recommendations, be sure you’re drinking a sufficient amount of water each day (your body weight divided by 2 = ounces of water you should be drinking daily), exercising, and managing your stress levels in a way that works best for you.
Research has shown that an imbalance in the gut microbiome, also known as dysbiosis, can contribute to constipation and including irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (IBS-C) (2).
According to Harvard Medical School, clinical research trials have found some promising results from taking a probiotic supplement, showing that patients suffering from constipation were able to increase the number of weekly bowel movements by 1.3 while making bowel movements easier to pass (3).
Taking a probiotic supplement may help to improve stool transit time and regular bowel movements by supporting healthy gut bacteria levels.
6. Castor oil
Castor what? Castor oil comes from the castor bean, and it has been used for thousands of years for many ailments, including as a laxative support for constipation.
Ricinoleic acid is the main fatty acid found in castor oil, and responsible for the laxative effects that promotes the smooth muscles in the intestinal walls to contract and move waste through the colon. It also has similar stimulating effects on the uterus and has been used to stimulate labor therefore it is recommended to avoid during pregnancy.
Castor oil can work quickly at relieving constipation by reducing straining and promoting complete evacuation (4).
Castor oil can be taken internally or applied externally on the skin in the form of a castor oil pack, however we recommend checking in with your health care practitioner to ensure you are taking a quality oil and using it correctly.
7. Aloe Vera
The aloe vera plant is commonly used to treat digestive dysfunction as it is highly anti-inflammatory and soothing to the digestive tract. The whole aloe vera leaf is specifically effective for constipation as it contains anthraquinones, powerful plant laxatives.
Aloe vera is typically taken as a gel or juice and provides many essential vitamins, minerals, and enzymes for additional nutritional support. Be careful with how much you consume as you only need a little to go a long way, refer to the instructions on the bottle or your health care provider.
It has also been shown to reduce digestive complaints associated with IBS such as abdominal pain and bloating (5)(6).
Castor oil is recommended to use for short-term relief and not long term as its effects are largely unknown over longer periods of time.
An ancient Ayurvedic herbal formula which includes the dried fruits of of haritaki, bibhitaki, and amalaki, triphala is a naturally occurring laxative. The best part is that it does not promote dependence and it is none irritating, acting gently in the intestines to improve the frequency of bowel movements but also helping to relieve gas and indigestion (7).
It is a much more gentle alternative to over the counter stimulant laxatives, while also nourishing the intestinal tract, protecting cells from oxidative damage, and cleansing the colon (8).
A popular herbal stimulant laxative, senna can help to treat short term constipation by improving intestinal transit time and the frequency of bowel moments (9).
Be careful not to take laxatives such as senna too often or for too long as it can create dependency. Avoid using at high doses for over 3 months as this can potentially induce liver damage (10).
You should not have to depend on laxatives to go to the bathroom and instead get to the bottom of the issue so you can find long-term relief.
This supplement is well known for its energy and cognitive enhancing abilities as well as supporting weight loss. But it is also associated with improved bowel habits. Carnitine is needed for optimal mitochondrial function and energy production.
A study showed that supplementation with carnitine has been shown to significantly improve symptoms of constipation (11).
Deficiency in carnitine influences gastrointestinal motility and patients experiencing gastrointestinal manifestations such as infrequent bowel movements have been shown to be lacking in serum levels of carnitine (12).
Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.