If you’re feeling blocked up, don’t wait more than two or three days before dealing with it, says Dr Lisa Ganjhu, a gastroenterologist and clinical associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Centre. “Your body is going to tell you it’s uncomfortable, so pay attention to it,” she says.
And, good news: It can be pretty easy to get your bowels moving without any medication. “Natural laxatives are definitely gentler than some of the prescription laxatives, and even a little gentler than what you can get over the counter," she says. Bonus: You probably have some of them already hanging out in your fridge or pantry.
Here are seven natural laxatives that can get your bathroom habits moving again. Better yet, integrate them into your regular diet to keep things regular.
Just like staying hydrated is good for the rest of your body, it’s helpful for your digestive system, too. “Water basically lubricates everything and softens the stool,” says Dr. Ganjhu. “The whole point of the stool getting to the colon is for it to try to absorb all of the extra water [along the way] in order to solidify.”
The longer stool stays in the colon, though, the longer the water has to get sucked back out of it, eventually becoming rock hard. “Getting fluid back into your body helps to soften the stool and stimulates the colon to empty out,” she says.
Yogurt and other probiotics are generally good for your gut and digestion. “Whether you’ve got diarrhoea or you’re constipated, probiotics help your bowels because they reset your gut microbiome,” says Dr. Ganjhu. “We all have a billion bacteria in there, and if it’s not the right ones that are working well, that’s what can lead to indigestion, bloating, and changes in our bowels. Probiotics add more of the healthy bacteria to your gut and reconstitute your digestive track with that good bacteria.”
Look for Greek yogurt varieties that list "live and active cultures" on their label, she recommends.
Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and cabbage are the most dense in terms of fibre, which is what your system really needs in order to get moving. “That fibre stimulates the colon to contract — it gives it a sense of fullness, which it wants to push out,” says Dr. Ganjhu.
Considering the fact that most guys don’t get close to consuming the recommended 30 to 40 grams of fibre per day, upping your intake of leafy greens could be a quick way to jumpstart your digestive track. Plus, leafy greens are chock full of magnesium, which can help naturally soften stool, she says.
You probably know if you leave chia seeds in water, they turn into a kind of jelly. That’s what makes them so helpful as natural laxatives, says Dr. Ganjhu. “In your system, when the chia seeds combine with liquid, they expand, and that gel-like texture makes it easy for the stool to move through the bowels,” she explains.
And considering the fact that one ounce contains 10 grams of fibre, sprinkling some chia seeds into your meal is almost guaranteed to make you need to go.
One tablespoon of flaxseed contains almost 3 grams of fibre, according to the USDA, which is a lot for a tiny food that’s easy to hide in smoothies or salads. “All that extra fiber will stimulate the bowels,” says Dr. Ganjhu.
The seeds contain “mucilage,” a gummy compound that coats your digestive system to make bowel movements proceed more smoothly. Flaxseed is also high in magnesium, so that can help stimulate the urge to go, too, she says.
Like leafy greens, certain fruits are packed with fibre. Stock up on fresh fruits like berries, which “provide the fibre but won’t make you as gassy as leafy greens or apples and pears might,” says Dr. Ganjhu. Plus, the antioxidants in berries have anti-inflammatory properties that could soothe your GI system.
Dried fruits such as apricots, figs, and — shocker — prunes are a good option, too. “Dehydrated food have a combination of dense fiber and extra sugar, which can increase the bowel movements,” she says.
Consuming a bit of olive oil, mineral oil, flaxseed oil, or castor oil could lube up your bowels. “I prescribe a lot of olive oil or mineral oil,” says Dr. Ganjhu. “Just drink a tablespoon. It goes down your digestive track and softens the stool, making it a little more slippery or softer so it doesn’t hurt as much as if you’re trying to pass a hard stool.”
If the idea of knocking back a shot of olive oil makes you queasy, use the oil as a cooking agent or salad dressing. Just remember that this natural laxative option is anything but calorie-free. One tablespoon contains 120 calories.
This article originally appeared on Men's Health