If you have trouble taking care of business in the bathroom—and by that, we mean being constipated and having problems pooping—then you might be looking for a natural laxative. Humans have been relying on laxatives for longer than you might have assumed. In fact, research published in The Lancet noted that a 5,300-year-old mummy, which was found in 1991, proved that people living thousands of years ago took advantage of natural laxatives.
Although they might have known about one or two colon-calming and bowel-boosting options back then, there are plenty of food and drink choices available these days that you can use.
“Some people are looking for more ‘natural’ solutions to their constipation because they perceive them to be better for them and are afraid that over-the-counter laxatives might be habit-forming,” says Antonella Dewell, MS, RD. “For many, OTC laxatives don’t work consistently, or, conversely, can lead to diarrhea or may even cause cramping. They can also be expensive if one needs to rely on them long-term.”
With that in mind, there are plenty of natural laxatives out there to try. “These foods and drinks work by increasing stool frequency, improving stool consistency, and softening stool to make it easier to pass,” says Chun. “The amount of each food or drink needed to act as a laxative may vary depending on the individual and their specific needs. It’s also important to stay well hydrated, follow a healthy diet, and make time for regular physical activity to promote healthy digestion and regular bowel movements.”
Here are 11 dietitian-recommended natural laxatives you can find at the store, and for more healthy gut tips, check out the 19 Best Foods for Gut-Health.
“Prunes are perhaps the most famous natural laxative,” says Dewell. When it comes to their effectiveness, she tells us they work “because they are high in fiber and sorbitol, a sugar alcohol that has an ‘osmotic effect’ when consumed in high amounts.” Dewell adds that “sorbitol can pull more water into the gut, helping to soften stools and promoting bowel movements.”
While a study found in The American Journal of Gastroenterology confirms that prunes effectively helped with constipation symptoms, “you would need to consume about 8-10 dried prunes to get a laxative effect, which might be hard to do for some people,” Dewell points out. “Some studies have shown that 8 ounces of prune juice can help relieve constipation, which is more feasible but contributes an additional 182 calories. In addition, some people reported experiencing bloating and gas.”
The same study found in The American Journal of Gastroenterology noted that kiwi was an option for those who are looking for relief from constipation. On top of that, Dewell says, “Kiwifruit has been shown in several clinical trials to be effective in relieving constipation, without any side effects.”
“Kiwis are not just high in fiber, but their fiber is viscous and able to retain water, increasing the softness of the stools,” Dewell explains. “Kiwis also contain an enzyme called actinidin that is thought to improve laxation by stimulating receptors in the colon. Incidentally, this enzyme is found primarily in green kiwis, with lower levels in the golden variety. Studies have shown that all you need is to eat two medium peeled green kiwifruits a day to see a significant improvement.”
“Rhubarb has been shown in some research to have a laxative effect,” says Dewell while offering you another option. “In addition to its fiber content, rhubarb contains compounds (sennosides and others) that have laxative effects by promoting intestinal contraction and movement.”
As for how to enjoy it, Dewell notes that “rhubarb is not just for pie or crumbles but can be stewed, roasted, and pureed and added to oatmeal or salads or used to make a chutney.”
“Acacia powder is another example of a soluble fiber supplement that can help with constipation,” says Dewell. “It is made by grinding up acacia gum, a product of the acacia tree. Similar to psyllium, it is gentle on the gut because it is slowly fermented and is not likely to cause bloating or gas.”
While you can enjoy acacia as a drink, Dewell is sure to add that “the effective dose can vary greatly in research studies.” That’s why she says, “As with any fiber supplement, start with a small dose, as recommended on the package, and increase as needed, making sure to add enough water.”