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Constipation: Causes of occurrence & natural ways of treatment

by Maria Kirmanidou, Dietitian & Sport Nutritionist

21 Jun 2024 • 0 min read

Do you feel like you haven't been relieving yourself as much as you need to the toilet lately? Has this been the case since a long time ago? Don't stress, you are not alone in this. The functional symptom of constipation is quite common, affecting around 19% of the world's population. For this reason, we decided to talk in this article about the possible causes of constipation how we can get rid of it with, using natural ways. Let's take it from the beginning...

What is constipation?

If you are used to visiting the toilet every day and for one day you haven't gone at all or your bowel movements have just become a little less, then this symptom is probably transient and you will get back to your old habits soon.
However, constipation is a functional symptom, characterized by the occurrence and coexistence of 2 or more of the following features, which have been observed for at least 3 months and whose onset dates back to the last six months:

  • Incomplete defecation (feeling that I have not "emptied" completely at a frequency of 1 in 4 stools)
  • Difficulty in defecating, accompanied by abdominal pain.
  • Feeling of rectal obstruction
  • Reduced frequency of defecations per week (1-2 stools/week)

Who is most likely to experience constipation? What are the causes?

The majority of people who suffer from the unpleasant symptom of constipation are women. The highest incidence rates are seen during pregnancy and menopause due to hormonal changes, and it often coexists with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. In addition, the elderly is another age group that is affected, where bowel motility naturally decreases with age. Finally, the presence of neurological and psychological disorders such as depression as well as taking certain medications have also been associated with the coexistence of constipation.

Constipation & dietary treatment

The treatment of constipation requires modifying our eating habits, increasing our fluid intake and incorporating physical activity into our daily routine. A sedentary lifestyle is not conducive to bowel mobility, so incorporating movement in the form that pleases everyone is a necessary change to increase bowel mobility.
So what can we do nutritionally to effectively treat constipation? Are there any foods, suitable for constipation that can enhance our toilet attendance visits?


The golden rule of constipation is to increase your consumption of water and fluids in general. A very common "mistake" seen in people with constipation is that they do not consume sufficient amounts of water. SOS - especially during summer months, where water needs increase and not drinking enough can make constipation even worse. So boost your fluid intake with sugar-free tea and refreshing fruit and vegetable smoothies!

Increasing fibre consumption

Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that is poorly digested by the gastrointestinal system and provides many health benefits. One of its most important actions is that it reaches the large intestine almost "unaltered", providing "food" for our good bacteria, whose survival has a very important impact not only on gut health, but also on our overall health. It is up to us to provide them with the highest "food" quality we can, namely a variety of fibre, which we will find in:

  • Fruits. Choose colorful seasonal fruits as a snack and emphasize unpeeled fruits, citrus fruits, kiwis and sorbitol-rich fruits such as apple and plum, which provide a mild laxative effect.
  • Whole grain products such as whole grain bread and pasta, whole grain all-bran breakfast cereals and pseudo-grain products such as bulgur, buckwheat, quinoa.
  • Vegetables. Always accompany your lunch and dinner with a colorful seasonal salad.
  • Nuts and seeds. Emphasize flaxseeds and chia seeds, which contain remarkable amounts of soluble and insoluble fiber, which contribute to bowel motility by facilitating the passage of stool.
  • Legumes. Try them in variations such as pasta legumes or as a main ingredient in refreshing summer salads.
Extra tip: Eating breakfast seems to help the activation of gastrocolic reflex, so consider including a nutritious and tasty breakfast in your daily routine!

Combined with the inclusion of exercise, boosting hydration and gradually increasing fibre in our diet, there are certain supplements that can help relieve constipation and improve quality of life.

Psyllium supplementation. Psyllium is a blend of soluble and insoluble fiber, which can enhance the total daily increase in fiber, helping to provide faster and more effective relief. Start with 2-3 capsules per day for the first few weeks of use, and if you find that this amount is sufficient, maintain it. You can gradually increase the dosage until you find the dosage that works for you (up to 6 capsules a day).
Caution! We need adequate hydration for the fiber to work in our favor!

Probiotic Supplementation. We have previously mentioned probiotics, which are products with ready-made good bacteria that enhance the intestinal microflora, contributing to gut health. If you've never tried a probiotic supplement before, start with a small number of bacterial strains and then increase until you reach the dosage, that’s suitable for you. Remember that to find out if a probiotic supplement is effective you need to use it consistently for 8 weeks.

Extra tip: Make sure the probiotic supplement you choose contains Bifidobacteria strains, which has been associated with improved gastrointestinal motility.

Magnesium supplementation. Magnesium - and magnesium oxide in particular - is a well-known ingredient in products intended to relieve constipation because of its mild laxative action.

Aloe Vera supplementation. Aloe is a plant, rich in prebiotics, which has been associated with an increase in bifidobacteria inside the intestinal microflora. Although scientific data has not been confirmed, it is a potential temporary solution either in tablet or oral form, which may effectively help to treat constipation. However, long-term use of aloe, (>3 months) is not recommended.

In conclusion

Constipation is a very commonly reported symptom, especially among the female population. In order to effectively treat it, we should focus on a holistic approach, making sure that we include exercise in our daily routine, enhance hydration and improve our dietary habits. Holland & Barrett offers holistic solutions to relieve constipation through dietary supplements with natural ingredients, as well as fibre-rich foods.
And don't forget that gut health reflects the overall health of our body! So don't neglect its care!

Scientific References

ELIGAST, Hellenic Foundation of Gastroenterology and Nutrition

Dortaj, S. (2022). A Narrative Review on the Natural Remedies Used in the Prevention and Symptomatic Treatment of Constipation in the Middle East. Herbal Medicines Journal (Herb Med J), 7(4), 158-165.

Van Der Schoot, A., Drysdale, C., Whelan, K., & Dimidi, E. (2022). The effect of fiber supplementation on chronic constipation in adults: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 116(4), 953-969.

Włodarczyk, J., Waśniewska, A., Fichna, J., Dziki, A., Dziki, Ł., & Włodarczyk, M. (2021). Current overview on clinical management of chronic constipation. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 10(8), 1738.