When it comes to constipation, there's good news and bad news. The bad news: it's pretty common, estimated to affect up to 20% of the population. After heartburn, constipation is one of the most common symptoms that patients complain about. The good news: scarfing down bowlfuls of cardboard-tasting, high-fiber cereal isn't the only way to lose that plugged-up feeling. Here, 8 other ways to get things moving.
1. Drink your coffee
Your morning latte does more than wake up your brain—it can also perk up your bowels. Caffeine is a stimulant, which means it can stimulate muscle activity in your colon. One study concludes that coffee is 60% stronger than water when it comes to triggering movement through the colon. There's no research pinpointing the optimal amount of coffee to produce a poop, but one cup should do the trick.
2. Snack on yogurt
Feeling clogged up? Eat some yogurt. Many contain live bacteria known as probiotics, which also naturally reside in your body and help keep your gut healthy. A review of studies noted that probiotics led to 1.3 more bowel movements weekly and reduced "gut transit time" (how long it takes for stool to pass) by 12.4 hours. Plus, probiotics can increase the amount of water in stools, which makes them softer. Tip: Look for yogurt that contains the probiotic Bifidobacterium lactis (Activia is one), which has proven especially helpful for getting things moving.
3. DIY massage
Spa treatment it's not, but a perennial massage—which involves applying external pressure to the perineum, a.k.a. the area between the anus and genitals—can help spark a bowel movement. If poking around down there seems icky, abdominal massage is another, albeit less-effective, alternative.
4. Get more magnesium
Magnesium, a mineral found in the body that plays a role in muscle function, helps stool move through the intestines, and an insufficient supply can lead to pooping problems. Low magnesium intake had an even greater effect on constipation than low fiber, and that women who had low intakes of magnesium were more likely to be constipated. While magnesium is found in everything from spinach to avocado to bananas, you're probably not getting enough magnesium from food to get a laxative effect. A better bet: Milk of magnesia, which you can buy over the counter, and, will cause looser stools.
5. Break a sweat
Whether exercise prevents constipation is up for debate—there are no rock-solid studies proving that it does—but doctors say that getting your body moving is beneficial for bowel health. While doctors can't say how much or what type of exercise is ideal, they agree that regular movement is probably best.
6. Drain your water glass
Contrary to popular belief, water may be an even stronger antidote to constipation than fiber. Low liquid consumption was a better predictor of constipation than fiber intake. Everyone's heard the eight-glasses-a-day rule, but that's a lot to swallow. Generally, people are advised to increase the amount of water they're drinking up to the point they can tolerate.
7. Hit the laxative aisle
Over-the-counter laxatives can beef up your body's fiber supply (which increases the water content of poop, making it easier to slide through the colon), make stool slippery (i.e., no straining necessary), and stimulate the intestinal lining (which triggers the urge to go). Still, doctors advise using laxatives with caution.
8. Pop some prunes
There's a reason your grandma pops prunes like they're candy: The fruit (and its liquid counterpart) can ease that plugged-up feeling. Prunes and prune juice contain sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that draws water into the small intestine, and, in turn, makes pooping easier.
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