If you’re like the majority of newly Paleo folk, your digestion has probably improved threefold since eliminating grains, processed foods, and excess sugar. However, it’s not uncommon for even the strictest of gluten-free eaters to experience a bout of constipation.
Whatever the reason behind feeling a little stopped up, one things is certain: it’s uncomfortable. Of course, we want this overly-full and bloated feeling to go away as soon as possible, so we might reach for an over-the-counter laxative.
The problem with doing this is that, for one, over-the-counter laxatives can be overly harsh on the digestive system, causing cramping; and two, laxatives can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances if used incorrectly or too often (1).
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Luckily, there are several foods you can eat that act as gentle, natural laxatives to get your digestion back on track, without the scary side effects of store-bought laxatives.
8 Natural Laxatives
1. Chia Seeds
A great source of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds also possess gentle laxative characteristics. Like flaxseeds (which we’ll talk about below), chia seeds form a gel-like consistency when soaked in water, which may help lubricate the intestines and help promote regularity (2). This type of fiber is a far cry from popular supplements that use insoluble fiber as their fiber source, creating bulk in the intestines that can actually make the problem worse. Instead, chia seeds contain soluble fiber, which is more viscous to help “move things along” (3).
Add chia seeds to your daily diet by making chia pudding (soaking chia seeds in water or almond milk), adding seeds to a smoothie, or making homemade fruit jams.
2. Aloe Vera
Aloe is probably one of the most popular remedies for an immediate laxative effect. Unlike fiber, which takes time as it works to clear out constipation, aloe offers slightly faster relief.
One study even found that compared to a placebo, aloe vera was “stronger than the stimulant laxative phenolphthalein.” This stimulant property comes from a class of compounds in aloe called anthraquinones, which increase peristalsis and draw water into the intestines (4).
In addition, aloe vera contains several anti-inflammatory properties that help soothe the digestive lining, which can lead to improved digestion as a whole (5).
Of course, even though aloe is a mastermind at moving things along, it still doesn’t treat the root cause of continuous constipation. If you find you’re constantly using aloe for its laxative effects, it might be worth it to analyze your diet and discover the true cause of the issue.
The fiber in flaxseeds is similar to chia seeds in its ability to create stool bulk and help quicken stool movement through the colon (6).
But that’s not all. The oil and mucilage components of flaxseed have also been studied for their ability to act as natural laxatives by drawing water into the intestines, while also lubricating hard stools (7). This is truly the key to getting rid of constipation, since using bulking fibers like Metamucil will exacerbate the problem by creating more bulk in your intestines without helping it move out!
Add a couple tablespoons of flaxseed to your daily smoothie, yogurt, and Paleo baked treats for a constipation-relieving boost.
Almost everyone has heard of drinking prune juice for constipation, even before the start of the nationwide natural food movement.
The recommendation remains strong, showing that prunes (which are dried plums) are even more effective at treating constipation than psyllium supplements, another popular constipation treatment (8). One study even stated that the fiber found in prunes will “double” bowel movement frequency “with 6 dried plums eaten twice daily” (9).
With that being said, be sure to try eating whole dried prunes before opting for prune juice. This will help you avoid blood sugar spikes and also guarantee you’re getting the goodness of the fiber as well.
5. Probiotic Foods
The build-up of bad bacteria in the gut due to a high-sugar, processed food-filled diet is a recipe for digestive troubles like constipation.
Probiotic foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and raw yogurt contain beneficial bacteria and enzymes that help fight and keep this bad bacteria at bay. Studies find supplementing with just a few strains of probiotic species “improved stool consistency and frequency” in constipated patients (10).
Aim to add at least one of these probiotic foods to your meals every day to keep your digestion regular and running strong. For instance, use sauerkraut or kimchi as a flavorful topping in salads or stews, or try drinking a daily kombucha drink with your meals.
6. Dark Leafy Greens
Dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, dandelion greens, collard greens, and Swiss chard not only contain soluble and insoluble fiber (proven to increase waste movement through the colon), but also a great deal of magnesium (11).
Magnesium is a powerful electrolyte that, unfortunately, most Americans are deficient in. Among a huge list of benefits, magnesium is responsible for pulling in and retaining water in the intestines, which softens stool and increases its mobility. It’s also commonly used as a natural relaxant, which may help stool flow more easily through the stomach (12).
7. Apples and Apple Cider Vinegar
An apple a day keeps constipation at bay – that is how the saying goes, right?
Well, it definitely should be a variation of the traditional phrase, considering the constipation-relieving fiber found in apples. This type of fiber, called pectin, is a water-soluble form of fiber that has been shown to stimulate bowel movements and increase their frequency when eaten regularly. It does this by increasing “bulk” in the stools while also fermenting short-chain fatty acids that stimulate and accelerate waste movement through the colon (13).
But the stomach-loving benefits of the apple don’t stop there. The liquid sibling of the apple, apple cider vinegar, is also useful for treating and preventing constipation. The by-product of apple fermentation that is abundant in apple cider vinegar is acetic acid, which helps in normalizing the pH of the digestive system while also fighting potentially harmful bacteria. Both of these factors are crucial when it comes to normalizing digestive function for smooth, regular bowel movements (14).
One thing to note: when you’re purchasing apple cider vinegar, be sure to go for the bottle “with the mother” (it will state this on the label). Your apple cider vinegar should contain natural strands and beneficial debris, which you’ll be able to clearly see.
It turns out your morning cuppa not only wakes up your brain, but your colon as well. Coffee contains a compound called chlorogenic acid, which has been shown in studies to “increase colonic motility”, aka stimulate movement in the colon (15).
And don’t worry if fully-loaded coffee gives you the jitters – decaf coffee also contains chlorogenic acid. As a bonus, it also contains a host of antioxidants that can help fight inflammation, possibly helping to ease an irritated gut (16).
One thing to note: coffee is similar to aloe in that, yes, it can be used to get quick relief from constipation. However, it should not be used continuously for its laxative effects without addressing the root cause of your constipation first.
The Bottom Line
With all of these natural options, constipation doesn’t have to equal downing harsh and dehydrating laxatives. The beauty of these foods is that not only do they help push along stopped-up stool, but they simultaneously nourish the gut lining and promote future gut health. Try adding a few of these to your daily routine, even if it’s just to keep you consistently regular.
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