For some, constipation proves to be a discomforting and utterly irritating, whereas for others it can be outright painful. And while commercial laxatives are there to solve the problem, natural alternatives shouldn’t be ignored. In this article, we take a closer look at 10 different foods that double up as laxatives.
Why Natural Laxatives?
Certain laxatives like fiber supplements or stool softeners directly affect the composition of feces (in their own special way) to ease bowel movement. Whereas those like the stimulant and osmotic variants target the nerves or the water-bloodstream pathway in the large intestine respectively, in order to produce an excretion conducive atmosphere. Needless to say, these drugs can have harsher side-effects in some people.
This brings us to the topic of natural laxatives. Simply put, these are normal foods that naturally regulate bowel movements, and because of their natural attributes, they don’t produce undue side-effects like their medicinal counterparts.
Mentioned below is a descriptive list of 10 foods that offer relief from constipation apart from imparting nutritional inputs to your body.
1. Water: It may be considered a boring drink by the younger lot but the truth is that you could suffer from chronic constipation from not drinking enough water. A dehydrated body looks deep into it’s reserves for water and in doing so absorbs more water from the intestines than what’s deemed necessary.
Less water in the bowel translates to harder stool and constipation. In that respect, drinking ample quantity of water not only lubricates the intestinal walls, but also softens the stool as it passes through the gastrointestinal tract. Plus, it hydrates the system so that it doesn’t have to look elsewhere for water.
2. Prunes: Otherwise known as died plums, this sticky chewy food is naturally blessed with fibers and sorbitol. Fiber when passed down to the intestinal area mixes with the stool to add volume as well as soften it, whereas sorbitol is a natural carbohydrate that performs a similar stool bulking function. In fact, the laxative qualities of prunes are so good, that they can heighten bowel movement (and cause running stool) in a normal person when taken in large quantities.
3. Whole Grains: Unlike their refined counterparts, whole grain produce aren’t stripped of their most nutrient-rich parts i.e. the bran and germ. A notable mention is brown rice, which has good amounts of dietary fiber, magnesium and trace selenium minerals. Fiber provides the necessary bulk and softening attributes to stool, while both magnesium and selenium are well known for their laxative qualities.
4. Yoghurt: Gut flora or good bacteria found in the digestive tract help in breaking down a large chunk of the processed food we consume on a daily basis. As such, fresh, natural bio yoghurt rich in acidophilus and bifidobacterium strains, when taken daily during breakfast, can certainly contribute to your ‘gut flora’ and therefore keep a check on irregular bowel movements.
4. Coconut: Be it the soft flesh of a ripe coconut, or the sweet water tapped straight out of green coconuts, the laxative effects are quite prominent. Coconut flesh is high on fiber and so consuming a good chunk of it regularly does a lot of good for your bowels. Similarly, coconut water is an excellent hydrating fluid, with a laxative potency high enough to cause watery bowels in some people when consumed in excess!
5. Aloe Vera: For the uninitiated, ‘aloin’, a liquid encapsulated inside the skin of aloe-vera plant is highly effective in relieving constipation. That’s why certain commercially available, herbal laxative pills contain aloin extracts in them. Another chemical component found in aloe-vera is ‘anthraquinone’, which can help in reducing rigidity in stool.
6. Flax Seeds: Now, it would be unfair to pick from the colossus health benefits of flax seed or its oily derivative. But, since we are talking wholly about laxatives in this article, it would be helpful to note that flax seeds can promote bowel movement. This gentle laxative effect is partly due to the fiber content and partly due to its oily content that acts like a coating for the intestinal wall.
7. Blakstrap Molasses: Pure sugarcane juice boiled to a concentrate and crystallized yields regular molasses. When the same is boiled the third time, the result is blackstrap molasses which contains a range of vitamins and minerals. Magnesium is one such mineral found in this sweet food, which also happens to be a good laxative agent.
8. Raw Vegetables: Incorporating a variety of raw vegetables into your dietary cycle can ensure a healthy body along with a fit gastrointestinal tract. The one major component in green leafy vegetables is fiber which is a known promoter of healthy bowel movement. Additionally, certain vegetables like carrot, beet, tomatoes and cabbage among others are specifically known for their mild laxative qualities.
9. Raw Fruits: There is a lot to gain in terms of colon cleansing by incorporating raw fruits into your diet. While bananas act like natural bulk-producing laxatives, apples on the other hand, contain pectin in them, which stimulates intestinal action while imparting volume to the stool. Likewise, melons are great in colon cleansing because they are so easy to digest that they proceed directly to the intestines. Also, fruit derivatives like lemon juice or apple cider are equally effective in regularizing bowel movement.
10. Legumes And Beans: It’s the mix of carbohydrates, fibers and other minerals like magnesium, selenium etc that make lentils, peas, beans, and nuts natural laxatives. Together, the above contents can regulate intestinal action and impart bulk to the stool.
Foods apart, factors like sedentary lifestyle and stress can also cause constipation. Therefore, a fully decked solution has to be a trifecta of healthy diet, exercise and stress free living. Also, it’s worth noting that some people might be allergic to the foods mentioned above. If so, then they should first consult a doctor before trying them as a remedy for irregular bowel movement.
The term ‘bowel movement’ signifies the action of passing stool. Therefore, if a person is not able to experience adequate bowel movement, then he or she is said to be suffering from constipation.
Now, certain types of food or drugs can promote bowel movement mainly by loosening the stool or by allowing the contraction in the intestinal muscles to mobilize the solid waste towards the anal opening for extraction. Such a bowel voiding substance is termed as a purgative.
General Information On Purgatives
Purgative otherwise referred to as laxative or aperients can be a food, herbal extract, fluid, chemical compound or drug that you can take to loosen the stool. While a purgative medicine may be taken once in a while by an individual who is experiencing problems in passing stool, general food with purgative properties should be consumed on a daily basis in order to keep one’s bowel movement normalized.
Role, Working And Benefits Of Purgatives
The primary benefit of taking a purgative medication is for providing relief from constipation. Based on their manner of working, purgatives can be of different types. Some of the more prominent ones are described below along with their respective benefits:
Bulk-Forming Laxative: Deemed safe for long term use, these common laxatives are high in fiber content and work by increasing the overall mass of the stool while keeping it soft, so as to aid in bowel movement. The results are generally seen within 12 hours but in some it may even take 2-3 days.
Stool Softeners: Available in pill as well as liquid form, this class of purgative contains chemicals that add moisture to the stool. As such, stool softeners are especially helpful if you are suffering from constipation caused due to hardened stool. Considered safe for elderly as well as pregnant patients, the bowel relieving results of the purgative could take anywhere between 1-5 days to kick in.
Lubricant Laxative: Similar in action to stool softeners, these laxatives include the likes of mineral oil. Consumed orally, the purgative provides the stool with a water-proof coating, thereby softening it and promoting bowel movement within 6-8 hours.
Enemas: Administered via the rectum, enemas contain a mixture of cream and fluid for stimulating contractions. They provide quick relief from constipation and are used in hospitals prior to operations on the digestive tract.
Natural purgatives primarily play a role in regulating bowel movements, and while some can be used for treating constipation, the relief effects will not be immediate as seen with laxative drugs. Different types of natural purgatives include:
Foods Rich In Dietary Fiber: These include the likes of whole grains, vegetables (both raw as well as green leafy ones), prunes, legumes, beans, peas, raisins and all such foods that are high on dietary fiber. Fiber cannot be processed by the body, but it does manage to increase the overall bulk of the solid waste while making it softer, thereby regularizing bowel movements.
Fluids: Water, coconut water and citric juices are fantastic laxatives that soften the stool. Water is perhaps the best of them all, given that it is readily available. Upon intake, the fluid effectively gathers wastes from different parts of the digestive system and guides them through for discharge in the form of stool. Similarly, coconut water cools the belly and softens hard stool for easy purging.
Aloe Vera And Omega-3 Oils: When the dried latex derived from the inner lining of aloe vera leaf is consumed orally, it acts as a natural form of lubricant laxative, and therefore promotes bowel voiding. Oils derived from olives, flax seeds and avocado also work in a similar manner when consumed in small amounts by mixing with citric juices.