How to Treat Constipation Safely

By Michael A. Smith, MD

Occasional constipation is usually not a big deal. For most of us, with better hydration, it resolves itself without much of a hassle.

However, chronic bouts of constipation are not only uncomfortable, but also can inflame your colon’s mucosal lining. This inflammation can cause bowel motility problems in the future.

The problem with chronic constipation is that no one really knows how to define it or treat it. The conventional approach usually involves bowel stimulants which can be unpredictable and ineffective.

Not only that, but who wants to have to rely on bowel stimulants for long periods of time? They're just not a good option for effective relief.

Mixing Fibers and Probiotics Shows Promise for Constipation

Researchers from the Univeristy of Sao Paulo reported that mixing fructooligosaccharides with two probiotics, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, improved the number of bowel movements in people with chronic constipation after 30 days of supplementation.1

Combining prebiotic fibers with probiotics is known as a synbiotic. The prebiotics in this case were called fructooligosaccharides. This is a non-digestible fiber that provides a beneficial effect by stimulating growth of healthy gut bacteria. Or to put it another way … prebiotics are the food source for the probiotics.

For this study, the researchers recruited 100 women with constipation and assigned them to either two doses of the synbiotic or a placebo. The results showed that the frequency of bowel movements increased in the synbiotic group, but no changes in bowel movement were noted in the placebo group.

Additionally, the researchers reported that stool consistency and shape improved for the synbiotic group. This positive change in stool resulted in less severe abdominal symptoms and a decrease in the intensity of constipation.

The researchers were satisfied with the results, but insisted that larger clinical trials are necessary before any conclusions can be made. But at this point in time, synbiotics look promising as a safe treatment for people with chronic constipation.

Lifestyle Suggestions for Chronic Constipation

Increase your fiber intake and add more fruits and vegetables to your diet. Whole grains, bran and legumes can also help if consumed daily. They are among the foods that offer the most fiber per serving and they encourage the growth of bacteria in the colon, adding to stool bulk.

Cut back on low-fiber foods such as meats, cheeses, and processed foods. And definitely drink plenty of water — about eight full glasses a day. As you increase your intake of fiber, you may also need to step up your fluid intake.

Keep in mind that caffeine-containing drinks such as coffee, tea, and colas have a mildly dehydrating effect on the body, but they do promote contractions in the bowel and can sometimes facilitate bowel movements.

Lastly, exercise. Exercise is an important factor in the management of constipation. Regular exercise, especially abdominal muscle exercises, and brisk walking can help manage constipation and aid in digestion.

See Your Doctor if Your Bowel Habits Change Abruptly

Among middle-aged or elderly people, severe constipation or an abrupt change in bowel habits should prompt a thorough medical evaluation.

Patients should be screened for thyroid hormone levels as well as electrolyte levels — such as potassium, calcium, glucose, and creatinine. Other measures might include evaluation of your stool for blood and white blood cells.

Colorectal screening is mandatory in patients older than 50 years who experience a change in bowel habits. Screening tests include a sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy and possibly a barium enema. These tests are used to detect colorectal cancer and diverticular disease.

The bottom line is this: Managing chronic constipation without stimulants is possible. Consider taking a synbiotic, be sure to exercise, and improve your diet for safe and effective relief!


  1. J. Clinical Nutrition. Aug 24, 2012. Doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2012.08.010



Jon Sam said...

Fiber is a natural substance found in fruits, vegetables and grains. It is an essential part of healthy digestion. Additionally, fiber adds bulk to your diet, making you feel fuller sooner and longer. It helps aid digestion and can prevent constipation. :)

LifeExtension said...

Jon Sam - Well said! Thanks for chiming in. :)

Kate More said...

I had this problem too, and then I tried to go without any wheat for a few days. The problem went away! Now, I usually go through the day without any gluten, but now and then I go out to a restaurant and order a sandwich for a treat and the problem comes right back. This has happened so many times, and so predictably, that I am completely sure that the gluten is at the root of the problem.

LifeExtension said...

Kate More - Glad you found the culprit behind your problem! Thanks for sharing your experience. :-)

Joe Z said...

Very nice article! Ive had to deal with constipation for my son and fiber ended up being what he needed. Added a lot of fruits and even gummi fiber drops too. Thanks for a nice article.

LifeExtension said...

Joe Z - We appreciate the feedback! Gummy fiber drops? --> interesting!

Anonymous said...

You might need a stool softener, not a laxative. I had oral surgery and was prescribed amoxicillin (antibiotic) and endocet (pain reliever containing acetaminophen and oxycodone). In the patient prescription information for endocet it lists constipation as a possible side effect, and goes on to say “To prevent constipation, eat a diet adequate in fiber, drink plenty of water, and exercise.” I had not had side effects from medication before that I can remember, and unfortunately, I did not read all of this prior to using this medication. After the surgery I became severely constipated.

I had not eaten anything for several days, so when my bowl movements stopped I did not notice. Rarely in my life have I been constipated. Once I started eating again, I became uncomfortable within a few days and realized that I was constipated. I tried prune juice, laxatives such as Ex-Lax, Phillips Milk of Magnesia, SenokotXtra, and a self-administered rectal suppository. Nothing worked. Days were going by and I was becoming extremely uncomfortable and was very close to going to the emergency room for a rectal water enema. I decided to call my doctor (general practitioner) first to ask his advice, but he was on vacation so I spoke to another doctor in the office. I related the story above. Although I was seeking advice on what over the counter medication I should take, I was advised instead to go to the emergency room and have an x-ray because I might have a tumor. Of course, I thought that was ridiculous. I did not suddenly develop a tumor. Although I had not read it, it seemed to me my problem was the result of taking pills for several days while not eating much of anything. Then I called a pharmacist, who then recommended medications that I had already taken. No new ideas there either. Finally I called the dental surgeon who operated on me. This seemed at the time to be an odd question for him, but I was getting desperate.

He immediately said I needed a stool softener and recommended Colace. He said such problems were common in hospitals and this is what patients were often given. I bought it, took it, went for a long walk around the neighborhood and periodically walked around the perimeter of the backyard for 15 minutes at a time, and in 12-18 hours began to have relief. The stool came out in hard compact clay-like nuggets. It was difficult and a bit painful to pass and I squatted in the shower to do it, but once the process started I experienced relief in increments over the next 12 hours.

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