You’re all plugged up and can’t poop. You feel more backed up than a rush hour traffic jam.  

Maybe it feels like there’s something in there that refuses to budge.

Your stomach is so bloated it looks like you swallowed a bowling ball.

If you have chronic constipation, we’re sure you’ll agree when we say it’s a real pain in the butt.  

The good news? There are ways to get things moving again. But before we go into constipation relief, we’ll talk about what constipation actually is and what causes it. 


What Is Constipation?

From a conventional medicine perspective, constipation is defined as having less than three bowel movements per week. 

Functional medicine providers, on the other hand, usually want patients to have one to three bowel movements per day. That’s because they recognize the importance of bowel movements for removing toxins and other waste products.

Constipation can also refer to unhealthy stool. Doctors use what’s known as the Bristol Stool Chart to determine the health of a patient’s poop. This type of chart describes stool as being one of seven types. Type 1 (separate hard lumps) or type 2 (lumpy and sausage shaped) both indicate constipation.  


What Causes Constipation? 

Constipation can have a variety of causes, which is why it’s also a good idea to work with a functional medicine provider to find the root cause. 

In some cases, people can have structural and anatomical issues that cause constipation. Medications like opioid drugs can also lead to constipation. 

When those are not the issue, the most common causes of constipation are:

The Good Bugs vs. the Bad Bugs

The collection of microbes in your gut—both good and bad—are called the gut microbiome. When the microbes that make up the microbiome become imbalanced—either by the bad outnumbering the good or by too much of one type of microbe—it can lead to gastrointestinal problems, including constipation. 

Indeed, research shows that an imbalanced gut microbiome can affect how quickly food moves through your bowels and cause constipation. On the other hand, researchers have shown that a healthy gut microbiome prevents constipation. They accomplished this by performing what’s known as a fecal transplant, a procedure where fecal matter from patients who are healthy is transplanted into someone who has gastrointestinal problems. When scientists performed this procedure on patients with constipation, the patients’ gut microbiota and their constipation symptoms improved.   

Because constipation is linked to an imbalanced gut microbiota, it’s also linked to other health problems you would never think have anything to do with the gut. For example, people with constipation are at an increased risk of having hay fever


Candida or Yeast/Fungal Overgrowth

An infection with Candida or any other type of fungus can lead to an imbalance in the gut microbiome. This spells trouble for GI health and stool not moving as smoothly through the intestines. 


Sluggish Thyroid

The thyroid gland is important for many processes in our bodies. When it’s underactive—a condition known as hypothyroidism—it causes the body’s processes to slow down. Hypothyroidism slows down the speed at which food moves through the digestive tract. 



If you want to know how to relieve constipation in adults, drinking enough water is one of the best solutions. 

The large intestine isn’t supposed to be the Sahara desert. It needs fluids to function. When you haven’t had enough water, the colon will grab it from the food, turning stools hard, dry, and more painful to pass. Being well-hydrated also keeps food moving through the intestines. 


Parasite Infection 

Usually, a parasitic infection starts with acute diarrhea soon after the infection started, like right after returning from a trip. But in my clinical practice I regularly see parasite-caused diarrhea turn into either chronic constipation or constipation alternating with diarrhea. 

Patients who have parasite-caused constipation also have bowel movements that feel incomplete.


Pregnancy-Related Constipation

Constipation is a common complication of pregnancy. Nearly half of all pregnant women get constipated at some point during their pregnancy.

During pregnancy, constipation is caused by the dramatic increase in the hormone progesterone, which affects the intestinal muscle and causes food to move through the intestines more slowly.   


Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth—SIBO for short—is another common cause of constipation. SIBO is an abnormal increase in the bacterial population of the small intestines, especially with species of bacteria not usually found in this area of the body.   

Diarrhea is a more common symptom of SIBO. When constipation occurs with this condition, it’s usually due to the methane-dominant form of SIBO. In this type of bacterial dysbiosis, there is an overgrowth of bacteria that make methane which can be detected on SIBO breath tests. 


 How To Relieve Constipation in Adults 

It’s no fun being all backed up. Your body can’t get rid of waste and digestion is hampered. You may lose your appetite and when the poop finally comes out, it hurts. While you have probably tried the popular recommendations of drinking water and taking fiber, it may not have been enough. Here are my tried-and-true chronic constipation treatments to get my patients regular again.

Stay hydrated – Drink at least eight glasses of filtered water every day. Coffee and juice don’t count. Neither does tea unless it’s herbal tea. Helpful hint: put a pinch of sea salt in the water. This will help you absorb the fluid better. 

Also, sip on warm water with lemon first thing in the morning. Drink this slowly and it will stimulate the gastrocolic reflex, which controls the movement of food through the GI tract after a meal.    

Get a good night’s rest – Our bodies have their own internal clocks which control our circadian rhythms. When we ignore our natural circadian rhythms, it can lead to many problems, including constipation. That’s why between 48% and 81.9% of people working either rotating or night shifts have some form of GI problem including constipation. 

Researchers also have found that morning IBS symptoms were worse after a night of poor sleep. The IBS symptoms improved after the study subjects slept better.

One reason why lack of sleep causes constipation is because it can affect the gut microbiota.  

Get Moving – Walking and yoga are both helpful for constipation relief. Exercise is linked to what scientists call better gut motility—in other words it helps move food faster through your digestive tract. 

Use a Squatty Potty – As the name implies, this allows you to squat when you poop. It’s a better, more natural angle and decreases straining. 

Biofeedback –  Biofeedback is a way to control some of your body’s functions. You can use it to help train your colon muscles to become more coordinated. 


Foods to Help Constipation in Adults

I have found that a paleo diet can really get things moving again. This diet mimics a hunter-gatherer diet of meat, fish, eggs, seeds, nuts, fruits, veggies, and healthy fats and oils. In the paleo diet, there is no sugar, refined flour, gluten or dairy. 

A low FODMAP diet or specific carbohydrate diet (SCD) has also worked in many of my patients with constipation. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols. These are nondigestible carbohydrates which can trigger gut symptoms in some people. The SCD eliminates most carbohydrates including grains, starches, dairy, and sugars with only specific carbohydrates that require minimal digestion allowed. Fresh fruit, most vegetables, grass fed meat, and wild-caught fish are allowed while starches, grains, and processed or canned foods are prohibited. Usually, these types of diets are used for chronic diarrhea, but I’ve seen them kickstart bowel movements, especially when a patient has a chronic infection or an imbalanced gut microbiome.  

If you find that your constipation gets worse with starches and sugars, stop eating sweets, which is really a good idea for your health anyway. Avoid using flours. Eat only whole food carbs like root veggies and whole grains if tolerated. Examples of root vegetables are daikon radish, beets, carrots, and parsnips. Beets are the best option especially if you notice that insoluble fiber makes your constipation worse.

Increasing healthy fats from olive oil, ghee, coconut, organic butter, and eggs is also helpful. Make sure you’re getting 2 tablespoons or more per meal—6 tablespoons per day. Fats can increase the rate at which foods move through your digestive tract.   

If you tolerate dairy, try making 24-hour yogurt from full-fat cream. Yogurt is a good source of probiotics, which nourish the gut microbiome.

Unless you know or suspect that FODMAP veggies make your constipation worse, get more fiber in your diet by eating seven to 11 servings of vegetables per day.

It’s also a good idea to boost potassium intake. A great way to do this is by making homemade juice with cucumber, tomato, spinach, chard, and melon. Ripe bananas, avocados, and kiwi are also rich sources of potassium.  

Fermented foods like chia soaked in kombucha are another ideal choice. These can promote a diverse and balanced microbiome.  


Supplements for Constipation 

The most common method of constipation relief are laxatives and stool softeners. Warning: these are gut irritants and are not a friend to the gut lining. What’s worse, you can become dependent (otherwise known as habituated) on laxatives so that your gut “forgets” how to poop regularly on its own. 

People also often use fiber supplements for constipation, but this can backfire. Fiber supplements can make some people worse. Acacia and partially hydrolyzed guar gum (PHGG) are often the fiber supplements that constipated people can handle the best.

Digestive enzymes and a hydrochloric acid (HCL) supplement are other good choices.  Bile support, especially in people who have trouble digesting fats, can help regulate gut motility and transit time (the amount of time food takes to get through your intestines). MegaGuard is a bile support supplement that works well for my constipated patients.

Magnesium oxide or citrate (500 – 2,000 mg at night) can get things moving. Work up to the higher dose slowly. Some people do better with magnesium hydroxide. Magnesium is osmotic, which is just a fancy way of saying it pulls water into the colon. Remember, the colon needs water and magnesium helps there. Natural Calm is a high-dose magnesium supplement you can try.

Another way to increase magnesium levels is to take an Epsom salt bath before bed. This will also soothe away stress.

Buffered vitamin C (2,000 mg) before breakfast and lunch will get your bowels moving. Colon Rx, which includes both Magnesium Oxide and the Ayurvedic herb triphala, has been used for millennia for bowel regulation. Both of these are non-habituating and very safe ways to reduce constipation.

If you have methane-dominant SIBO, Atrantil can treat constipation. It works for many people, but not everyone. It can take up to 21 days to see the full effect.

If you have a severe episode of constipation and nothing else is working, try glycerin suppositories or enemas using water, saline, or coffee. These can make a huge difference to get the gut moving in quick time.

Herbal formulas can work. But be cautious with ingredients like Senna, rhubarb, and aloe. You can become dependent (or habituated) on all of these stimulant laxatives if you use them too often and for too long. If you’ve been taking any of these ingredients, taper slowly while using other support. 

Some herbal formulas I like are:

Smooth Move tea is another herbal option to help with constipation relief. It also contains Senna, so only use it occasionally and work with your functional medicine provider to uncover and address the root causes of your constipation.


Probiotics for Constipation 

In choosing a probiotic supplement, avoid formulas that have too high a level of fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), inulin, chicory, or arabinogalactan. These ingredients at too high a level can cause a flare in imbalanced gut microbiota. If you have a gut infection, wait until it is cleared to take any supplements with those ingredients.

Some probiotics for constipation that I like: 

Test one species first. Start with about 40 billion and then ramp up as far as 300 billion by doubling your dosage every three days. Stop if your symptoms worsen.


Critical Tests If You Have Chronic Constipation

As you read earlier in this article, there are a lot of causes of constipation. Some of them could be damaging more than just your GI tract. That’s why it’s important to test for parasitic and other gut infections, Candida and fungal overgrowth, and an imbalance in the gut microbiota. Depending on the specifics of your case, we might choose to use the GI-MAP, the Parawellness Stool Pathogen panel, or the BiomeFX panel. We might also include Lactulose and Fructose Breath Testing for gasses that can indicate SIBO.

You really don’t want to tackle these types of gut imbalances on your own. Instead, book a free 15-minute troubleshooting call with me to find out the best course of action. If after the call you come on board as a patient, I’ll order the right tests, recommend a plan customized for you, and put you on the path to feeling like your regular self again.