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Whether it’s an occasional blockage or a chronic problem, straining to go number two is never any fun. Although constipation is really common—affecting four million people in the U.S., according to the experts at Johns Hopkins—it can still be embarrassing, which is why you might be reluctant to bring it up with your doctor or pharmacist. Yet ignoring constipation is also a mistake.
Constipation can be painful and uncomfortable, revealing itself through bloating, cramping, and the feeling that you need to poop—but when you try nothing comes out. Left untreated, it can lead to other problems like hemorrhoids, anal fissures, and sometimes even an intestinal blockage.
“Constipation happens when intestinal activity has slowed, which causes the stool to harden and makes it difficult to pass,” says Taz Bhatia, MD, an integrative health expert and founder of CentreSpring MD. “It can be caused by certain medicines, a lack of exercise, poor diet, absence of fiber, dehydration, and more.” Certain medical conditions, like hypothyroidism, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease can also make constipation more likely.
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For many people, simply eating more fiber-rich foods—like prunes, beans, and ample fruits and veggies—along with drinking more water is enough to get things going. But sometimes those tweaks just don’t cut it. “A balanced diet along with exercise is often helpful, but for patients with constipation that is affecting the quality of their life, drinking water or increasing fiber in their diet is not sufficient to control their symptoms,” says Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, a gastroenterologist at Illinois Gastroenterology Group. That’s where over-the-counter remedies for constipation come in.
Whether you’re having a rare slow-down or need regular help to stay, well, regular, one of these natural, stimulant-free products should do the trick.
Magnesium is a mineral that helps move fluid through the colon, which makes it easier to expel stool from your body. There are different types of magnesium, but Taz says that magnesium citrate is easily absorbed and has a stronger effect on the bowels than other forms, making it ideal for treating constipation. (Make sure you check out these other things that can happen if you’re not getting enough magnesium.)
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This product works similarly to magnesium citrate, as they’re both osmotic laxatives and draw water into the stool. (Here’s what GI docs do when they can’t poop.) This one comes in powder form—you mix it into a glass of water—and the active ingredient, polyethylene glycol, starts going to work. It’s a gentle option and generally considered safe enough to use on adults as well as kids (double check with your pediatrician).
Buy now: $17-18, amazon.com, walgreens.com
Beat nausea on-the-go:
Safe enough to take during pregnancy and after childbirth, this stool softener is stimulant-free. The active ingredient, docusate sodium, helps to bring more water into your intestines, and as a result, loosens your stool. Depending on the severity of your constipation, pop one to three of these pills, and chances are you’ll start to feel some relief before the end of the day. (Just make sure .)
Buy now: $14-24, amazon.com, walgreens.com
MORE: 6 Secrets Of People Who Poop Perfectly
Getting ample fiber is crucial for both treating and preventing constipation. (Here’s how you can sneak more into your diet.) This organic, vegan product has 9 grams of fiber per serving, plus 7 grams of protein, probiotics, and omega-3 fatty acids, all of which may promote gut health. Once a day, add a scoop to 12-ounces of water, and you’re good to go.
Buy now: $25, amazon.com
While it may be on the pricier side, this probiotic is loaded with gut-friendly bacteria (it contains bifidobacterium) that can help maintain a healthy digestive system. Try taking one pill daily for at least a month to get (and keep) things on track.
Buy now: $37-50, amazon.com, walgreens.com
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Another probiotic pick, this one contains 25 billion live cultures in each capsule and 10 different probiotic strains, so it should help you get your stomach sorted in no time. Bonus: It’s gluten- and dairy-free. (We bet you didn’t know that these foods contain probiotics.)
Buy now: $17, amazon.com