Natural laxatives generally include any food that has a high fiber or water content, such as whole grains and fruits. Another category of natural laxatives contains foods such as yogurt that promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the intestinal tract. Other options are agents such as aloe vera that cause contractions of the intestinal walls, or peristalsis. A perhaps lesser-known but medically-accepted method of getting the bowels to move is to exercise. Any agent used for constipation relief and bowel regularity, even if natural in origin, should be used with caution to prevent problems such as dehydration.
Fiber is part of plants or carbohydrates that the body can’t break down easily during the digestion process. Adding this substance to a person’s diet generally relieves constipation. Experts divide it into two large classes, soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber absorbs water easily to form a gel-like substance. It makes people feel full longer and slows digestion so the body has a little more time to extract all the nutrients from eaten food. It also plays a role in controlling blood sugar and cholesterol. The insoluble type adds bulk to stools so they pass through the intestines faster. It therefore is important for removing toxins from the body.
People need both forms of fiber in order to digest food properly and stay regular. Virtually any food that has a high fiber content can have a natural laxative effect. Those with a high percentage of the insoluble variety are especially effective because of their ability to regulate bowel movements, however.
Foods that are high in insoluble fiber include whole grains such as wheat and rye, greens such as collards and kale, lentils, peas, carrots, celery and beans. Most fruits are nutritious alternatives, as well, with prunes, bananas, avocados, apples, berries, pears and kiwi fruit all good choices. Nuts such as walnuts and cashews are natural laxatives that also provide healthy fatty acids and an excellent energy boost.
Stools need bulk if they are to move through and out of the intestines, but they also need a sufficient amount of water. Without this essential substance, stools become very hard and don’t move around the intestinal curves as easily. This can lead to painful intestinal blockages.
Any food with a high water content can work as a natural laxative. Perhaps the best-known example is watermelon, but lettuce actually has more water than watermelon does. Other choices for increasing hydration include apples, grapefruit, broccoli, tomatoes and cucumber.
Of course, foods are not the only way to get the water necessary. Simply drinking water is the best way to keep the body hydrated. Experts debate how much intake is sufficient, but they all recommend paying attention to thirst and drinking more when thirst becomes more noticeable.
Healthy digestion and bowel regularity depends on good bacteria living within the intestinal tract. Most high-fiber foods act as food for these organisms, but other foods such as yogurt, citrus fruits like oranges, asparagus, artichokes, peas and beans are known to promote bacterial growth. With bacteria keeping the intestines operating the way they should, stools move more easily and with greater speed out of the body.
Some plants have chemical compounds called anthraquinones that increase the amount of peristalsis in the gut. Peristalsis moves stools along and out of the body. An example of a plant with this property is aloe vera, which contains the stimulant aloin. In addition to increasing peristalsis, aloin stops the intestines from reabsorbing water so stools stay softer. Rhubarb and cassia senna are two additional plants that contain anthraquinones. Using these plants for extended periods typically is not considered safe, but it is possible to use them under medical supervision for short periods for temporary constipation relief.
Although most people think of laxatives as something an individual ingests, activity also is a bowel-stimulating agent. Professionals such as doctors still are not exactly clear why exercise encourages bowel movements, but they know that those who have become bedridden from disease or surgery experience constipation problems. They suspect that physical activity decreases the time food is in the large intestine, thereby preventing the intestine from taking too much water from the stool. Exercise also may encourage bowel movements because accelerated heart rate and increased oxygen intake stimulate peristalsis.
Doctors point out that large amounts of exercise are not needed to receive the digestive benefits physical activity offers. Even a short walk or going through certain yoga poses can be helpful. Gentle aerobic exercises such as swimming are also sufficient.
Natural Versus Safe
People sometimes associate the term “natural” with “safe,” but the two words are not synonymous. Even natural laxatives can cause problems such as excessive diarrhea and subsequent dehydration. The body can become dependent on natural substances in the same way it can become dependent on manufactured products. Additionally, many individuals have allergies to foods people recommend for laxative use, such as nuts. Anyone who wants to try a natural remedy for constipation therefore should consult with a physician prior to starting a regimen.