Most of us will experience constipation at one time or another in our lives. While there are many laxative products and medications that will help with constipation, using natural laxatives may be a better option for many people.
What is a natural laxative? – Natural laxatives are foods that help with digestion and keep bowel movements regular. Foods that are high in fiber work well as natural laxatives. Fiber that comes from food isn’t digested by the body, but rather passes through the stomach, small intestine, and colon. Fiber adds bulk and water to stool which helps speed up colon transit time.1,2
As well, there are some fruits that contain sorbitol, a sugar alcohol, which can have laxative effects when used in moderation.2
Natural Laxatives Benefits
Using natural laxatives is a choice made by many people who want to avoid the side effects and risks linked to laxative products. Over-the-counter and prescription laxatives may be helpful on occasion for treating constipation, however they should be used with caution. With prolonged use, laxatives may cause serious side effects, such as inhibiting the colon’s ability to contract on its own. This can make constipation problems worse than they already are.3,4
Unlike laxative products, natural laxatives come with very little, if any, risks or side effects. Foods that are natural laxatives contain no additives or medication, but rather have a stimulating effect on the digestive and bowel systems of the body.2 Natural laxatives are often high in nutritional value and may be an effective option for children, people with chronic conditions or expecting mothers.
Natural laxatives for pregnancy are considered one of the safest options for constipation relief. Pregnant women should avoid laxative products as they may contain ingredients that are harmful to the baby.
Laxative Foods & Herbs
When it comes to maintaining a healthy digestive system, or treating an existing constipation problem, there are many natural laxative foods and natural laxative herbs to choose from. Most people will already have these natural laxatives around the house, making it cost effective.
Following is a list of best natural laxatives and laxative drinks.
Constipation may be naturally alleviated with plant-based milks such as almond or soy milk. With natural laxative effects, both plant-based milks may help promote regularity. Almond milk is also said to have prebiotic properties and contains vitamin E, which helps protect against free radical reactions.5
Aloe Vera has been used in traditional Indian medicine to aid gastrointestinal conditions and reduce constipation. With natural laxative effects, aloe vera also works as a stool softener and helps to promote regular bowel movements.6
Bananas contain non-digestible fibers that quickly move through the stomach, small intestine, and colon. Bananas absorb water, which helps to improve the function of the colon and help with regular bowel movements.7 Some people with constipation find relief after eating a banana, natural laxative effects occur within 1-2 hours.
Blueberries and Other Fruits
Are blueberries a natural laxative? – Blueberries are considered good source of dietary fiber, which helps promote regularity. Other fruits that are considered natural laxatives include apples, grapes, kiwis, oranges, and pears. Daily consumption of fruit, particularly raw fruit, may help prevent constipation.1
Cascara, also known as coffee cherry tea, is a natural laxative tea that also works as a stimulant. Glycosides found in cascara pass through the small intestine to help soften the stool so that it moves more smoothly through the bowels.8
Chia, an ancient grain, is a good source of dietary fiber and is beneficial for the digestive system. Added to a daily diet, it may work as an effective natural laxative.9
With coconut milk, natural laxative properties have been attributed to its fiber content and easy digestibility. Often added to curries, coconut milk is good for promoting digestion and healthy bowel function.10
When it comes to natural laxatives, coffee is effective in maintaining regularity, as well reducing symptoms of constipation. With coffee, natural laxative properties reduce pressure in the oesophageal sphincter and stimulates muscle contractions in the small intestine. This can quickly lead to a bowel movement.11
Cranberry and Other Juices
Is cranberry juice a natural laxative? – Cranberry juice, and other fruit juices such as apple and pear, may have a laxative effect on the body. This is a result of the high amounts of fiber and sorbitol found in the fruit.2,12
Curry and Other Spices
For adults, constipation relief may be found after eating curry. Natural laxative effects may be due to the combination of traditional spices and coconut milk. Both ginger and cumin, spices commonly found in curry, are known to speed up the body’s metabolism which may expedite the break down of foods.13,14
Natural tea laxatives, such as dandelion tea, are widely used in traditional Chinese and Mexican medicine systems. Dandelion, commonly known as a bothersome weed, can help to improve digestive health. It is also used as a mild laxative to help alleviate constipation and to maintain regular bowel movements.15
Dates and Dried Fruits
Constipation can be treated by eating dates, natural laxative properties being the reason why. Other dried fruits, such as apricots, figs, prunes, and raisins are also effective. Not only are these dried fruits high in fiber, they also contain sorbitol, which is a natural laxative.2,12
Considered a function food, flaxseed is rich in fiber and bulk. It moves quickly through the digestive system, helping to prevent and naturally alleviate constipation.16
Kale and Leafy Greens
Is kale a natural laxative? – Kale and other leafy greens, such as collard, spinach and Swiss chard, are high in magnesium, which helps to soften the stool and make it easier to pass. Leafy greens are also high in fiber and water, which help keep bowel movements regular.1,3,22
Legumes – Lentils and Chickpeas
Beans, such as lentils, chickpeas, and peas are high in dietary fiber, many with over 10 g of fiber per serving. As a source of plant fiber, they are very effective in maintaining regular bowel movements.2
Licorice, as a natural laxative, may be another effective natural ingredient for relieving constipation. It works by promoting mucus secretion in the stomach and small intestine, making it easier for food to pass through.18
Some people claim that regularly using olive oil may help prevent constipation. It’s believed that the high fat content is responsible for the olive oil natural laxative effects, and that with regular consumption, the movement of food through the bowel is easier to pass.19
Probiotics are helpful in promoting a healthy gut environment. This can help to keep stools soft so that they pass more quickly and easily. Good options for probiotic foods include sauerkraut, tempeh, and kefir.20
Senna is a small shrub native to North Africa. It contains chemicals called sennosides, which naturally force the colon to contract and eliminate body waste. Its leaves are commonly used as a laxative in traditional medicine.21
When it comes to natural vegetable laxative choices, the list is extensive. Most vegetables are a good source of dietary fiber and are beneficial in softening the stool and preventing constipation.1
Natural Laxatives for Children Babies, and Toddlers
Young children and babies are often affected by constipation, and many of the natural laxatives for adults are also safe and effective for younger age groups. The list above contains many good natural laxatives for kids. This includes almond milk, bananas, blueberries, and juices. As well, a healthy diet of high fiber fruits and vegetables will act as natural laxatives for toddlers and help with regularity.7
Natural laxatives for babies include foods that are easy to digest. Best choices are mashed bananas, pureed pears, and apple juice.7
Consuming Too Many Natural Laxatives – What Happens?
It’s important to keep in mind that some foods and herbs are fast acting natural laxatives that can quickly take effect in the colon, causing diarrhea and a loss of too many fluids. Other risks of natural laxatives if eaten in excessive quantities include dehydration and high levels of electrolytes in the blood, which can lead to kidney damage and an abnormal heart rhythm. An imbalance of electrolytes can cause muscle weakness, confusion, and tiredness. Natural laxative foods, when part of a healthy daily diet and not consumed in excessive amounts, are safe to use to prevent constipation.4
Scientific Research Referenced in this Article
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- Bae, S. H. (2011) Diets for Constipation. Pediatr Gastroenterol Hepatol Nutr, 17(4), 203-208. doi: 5223/pghn.2014.17.4.203
- Portalatin, M. & Winstead, N. (2012) Medical Management of Constipation. Clin Colon Rectal Surg, 25(1), 12-19. 1633-1653. Retrieved on December 07, 2017 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3348737/
- Basilisco, G. & Coletta, M. (2013). Chronic constipation: A critical review. Digestive and Liver Disease, 45(11) Pp 88-893. Retrieved on December 07, 2017 from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1590865813001163
- Sethi, S. & Tyagi, SK. (2016). Plant-based milk alternatives an emerging segment of functional beverages: a review. J Food Sci Technol. 53(9), 3408-3423. Retrieved on December 07, 2017 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5069255/
- Foster, M & Hunter, D. (2011). Chapter 3 Evaluation of the Nutritional and Metabolic Effects of Aloe vera. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Retrieved on December 07, 2017 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92765/
- Sampath-Kumar, KP. & Duraivel, S. (2012). Traditional and Medicinal Uses of Banana. Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry. Vol 1, No. 3: p 51. Retrieved on December 07, 2017 from http://www.phytojournal.com/vol1Issue3/Issue_sept_2012/9.1.pdf
- Wang, X. & Yin, J. (2015). Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Chronic Constipation. Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Article ID 396396, 11 pages. Retrieved on December 07, 2017 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1378422/
- Ullah, R. & Nadeem, M. (2016). Nutritional and therapeutic perspectives of Chia. Journal of Food Science and Technology, 53(4), 1750-1758. Retrieved on December 07, 2017 from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13197-015-1967-0
- Ganguly, S. & Roy, S. (2015). Medicinal Plants and Herbs: A Review. Int J of Pharm. Life Sci. Retrieved on December 07, 2017 from http://www.plantsjournal.com/vol1Issue1/Issue_may_2013/5.pdf
- Brown, SR. & Cann, PA. (1990). Effect of coffee on distal colon function. Gut, 31(4), 450-453. Retrieved on December 07, 2017 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1378422/
- Khan-Sohaib, A. & Madiha, K. (2017). Dry Fruits and Diabetes Mellitus. International Journal of Medical Research and Health Sciences, 6(4): 116-119. Retrieved on December 07, 2017 from http://www.ijmrhs.com/medical-research/dry-fruits-and-diabetes-mellitus.pdf
- Mashhadi, NS. & Ghiasvand, R. (2013) Dry Anti-Oxidative and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Ginger in Health and Physical Activity: Review of Current Evidence. Int J Prev Med, 4(Suppl 1): S36-S42. Retrieved on December 07, 2017 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3665023/
- Aggarwal, BB. (2010) Targeting Inflammation-Induced Obesity and Metabolic Diseases by Curcumin and Other Nutraceuticals. Annu Rev Nutr, 30, 17-199. doi: 1146/annurev.nutr.012809.104755
- Rodriquez-Fragoso, L. & Reyes-Esparza, J. (2008) Risks and Benefits of Commonly used Herbal Medicines in México. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol, 227(1): 125-135. doi: 1016/j.taap.2007.10.005
- Goyal, A. & Sharma, V. (2014) Flax and flaxseed oil: an ancient medicine & modern functional. J Food Sci Technol, 51(9), 1633-1653. doi: 1007/s13197-013-1247-9
- United States Department of Agriculture. (2016, May). Basic Report: 16056, Chickpeas (garbanzo beans, bengal gram), mature seeds, raw. Retrieved December 11, 2017 from – View Reference
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- Ghanbari, R. & Anwar, F. (2012) Valuable Nutrients and Functional Bioactives in Different Parts of Olive. Int J Mol Sci, 13(3), 3291-3340. doi: 3390/ijms13033291
- Choi, CH. & Chang, SK. (2015) Alteration of Gut Microbiota and Efficacy of Probiotics in Functional Constipation. J Neurogastroenterol Motil, 21(1), 4-7. doi: 5056/jnm14142
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- Rock, W., Rosenblat, M., Borochov-Neori, H., Volkova, N., Judeinstein, S., Elias, M., & Aviram, M. (2009). Effects of date (Phoenix dactylifera L., Medjool or Hallawi Variety) consumption by healthy subjects on serum glucose and lipid levels and on serum oxidative status: A pilot study. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 57(17), 8010-7.DOI:1021/jf901559a
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