4 Remedies for Constipation That Won’t Accidentally Give You Diarrhea

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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Before you play around with fiber supplements, talk to a doctor or registered dietitian. These pills and powders can impact how well some medications work, and some health conditions, like celiac disease, can flare up as a result of some fiber sources (like those involving wheat).

If you try a supplement, Dr. Sreenivasan recommends increasing the dosage very gradually, given that going from zero to a hundred can cause diarrhea and other discomfort. His advice: Take a third of whatever the package recommends then, after a day or two, increase it to a half, and after a day or two try the full recommended amount. (Talk to a doctor about whether you should keep taking the supplement regularly after a given bout of constipation passes.) Again, everyone’s bodies react to fiber differently, so go slow to find the dose that works for you, Dr. Sreenivasan says.

3. Move your body.

Parking yourself in a chair for hours on end is also thought to bring your bowels to a screeching halt. “I always tell people: If you’re sitting around all day and not moving, your intestines are sitting around all day and not moving,” says Dr. Sreenivasan.

To combat this, move your body as much as you can throughout the day. (Research indicates that physical activity stimulates your abdominal muscles and speeds up your poop’s journey through your rectum.) You don’t need to do an hour-long HIIT class at the gym or go on a five-mile jog (though vigorous activity will surely help, evidence shows). Standing up and moving around every hour or so, going on 20- to 30-minute walks each day, or stretching a bit as you watch TV can wake up your bowels, says Dr. Sreenivasan.

4. Give laxatives a shot—but approach with caution.

If the above tips don’t make a difference, it might be time to head to the pharmacy, says Dr. Sreenivasan. There’s a time and a place for laxatives, you just want to be careful about what you use—especially if you want to avoid the runs. Many over-the-counter laxatives, including natural stimulants like senna and drugs like bisacodyl, are harsh on your colon—they can potentially irritate and inflame your bowels, causing them to cramp up and spew out whatever’s inside, says Dr. Ganjhu. (If you’ve taken these, you know they have the power to set off particularly intense diarrhea). It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor and get their two cents before experimenting with laxatives.

From there, Dr. Sreenivasan recommends using a gentler laxative, like polyethylene glycol (a.k.a. Miralax, my group chat’s namesake). This “adds extra water to the colon and gently stimulates the colon to contract and relax to move the stool,” he explains. Glycerin and magnesium citrate, both of which Dr. Ganjhu also recommends, similarly draw more water into the colon to soften things up.

If you can’t shake the constipation no matter what you try, a doctor might want to run some tests to see if you have a more serious health condition (such as hypothyroidism or pelvic floor dysfunction) that could be slowing down your gut. They might also suggest another intervention, like adding probiotics to your diet or prescription medications, to bring things back up to speed.

Whatever you do, don’t freak out and overdo it with supplements or laxatives—starting with lots of water and fiber-rich foods is your best bet, and taking it slow with OTC remedies is key if you want to avoid a hellish case of the runs. The constipation won’t last forever! (You might, however, get permanently trapped in a text thread dedicated to your bowel movements—and, sadly, there is no cure for that.)

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