Constipation is a condition with symptoms that include infrequent bowel movements, hard feces, frequent straining to poop, and the sensation of incomplete emptying. It affects up to 20% of adults worldwide and can significantly affect quality of life (
Healthcare providers typically treat constipation with lifestyle modifications, laxatives, and medications.
They also use other treatments in certain cases, including biofeedback therapy, transanal irrigation (TAI) with a water enema, and surgery (
In addition to these treatments, some evidence suggests that certain supplements may help reduce constipation symptoms.
This article reviews 10 supplements that may help relieve constipation.
Magnesium plays a number of essential roles in the body, and using certain forms of this mineral may help those with constipation.
For example, research has shown that magnesium oxide, magnesium citrate, and magnesium sulfate all improve constipation symptoms.
One high quality, 28-day study including 34 women with mild to moderate constipation found that taking 1.5 grams of magnesium oxide per day significantly improved stool consistency, quality of life, and colonic transit time, compared with a placebo treatment (
Colonic transit time (CTT) refers to the time it takes digested food to travel through the colon. Scientists consider delayed CTT to be one of the main causes of constipation (
Keep in mind that magnesium sulfate can cause gastrointestinal side effects like bloating and diarrhea.
Additionally, healthcare providers do not recommend magnesium-containing supplements for people who have kidney disease. Plus, excessive magnesium intake may lead to dangerous complications (
Magnesium supplements may help reduce symptoms of constipation. However, using them can result in adverse side effects in some people. Consult your healthcare provider before using magnesium to treat constipation.
Some research suggests that an imbalance in gut bacteria may contribute to certain types of constipation, including irritable bowel syndrome with constipation (IBS-C) (
Taking probiotic supplements may help support a healthy gut bacteria balance. Therefore, it may help reduce constipation symptoms.
A 2014 review of 14 studies found that taking probiotic supplements decreased intestinal transit time, stool frequency, and stool consistency in adults with chronic constipation. It concluded that the probiotic strain Bifidobacterium lactis was the most effective (
Meanwhile, a 2017 review of 21 studies suggested that taking probiotic supplements that contained Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium species may increase stool frequency and reduce intestinal transit time in adults with constipation (
However, a 2019 review of 18 meta-analyses suggested that although results from research studies are encouraging, the existing studies on probiotics and constipation are of low quality.
The researchers noted the need for larger, high quality studies focusing on specific probiotic strains. They said these would help scientists fully understand the potential benefits of probiotic supplements for people with constipation (
Research suggests that some probiotic strains, including Bifidobacterium lactis, may help improve symptoms of constipation. However, scientists need to conduct additional high quality studies on this topic.
People often use fiber supplements to treat constipation.
Insoluble fiber supplements like wheat bran help stimulate the mucous membrane of the colon. In doing so, they help stool become softer and speed fecal transit time through the colon.
Gel-forming soluble fiber like psyllium has a high water-holding capacity and can help improve stool consistency (
However, it’s important to note that not all types of fiber are appropriate for constipation relief. In fact, some types of fiber can worsen constipation symptoms (
Psyllium is a popular type of soluble fiber. It’s the main ingredient in the fiber supplement Metamucil.
Many studies have shown psyllium helps improve constipation, noting that psyllium supplements increase the water content of stool and bowel movement frequency in adults with constipation (
Other fiber supplements, including inulin and glucomannan, may also help treat constipation.
A substantial body of research has found that fiber supplements can improve symptoms of constipation.
A 2020 review of meta-analyses found fiber supplements significantly increased stool frequency and consistency when compared with a placebo (
However, as mentioned above, some types of fiber may make constipation worse, so it’s important to consult your healthcare provider before taking fiber supplements to treat constipation.
Some fiber supplements, including psyllium, inulin, and glucomannan, may help improve constipation. However, some fiber can worsen constipation, so ask your healthcare provider to recommend a supplement type and dosage.
Carnitine is a nutrient that’s important for energy production. A deficiency in carnitine can harm cellular function and may result in gastrointestinal issues like constipation (
People with intellectual and motor disabilities are more likely to have a carnitine deficiency than the general population.
This is because people with certain disabilities are unable to feed themselves and depend on enteral feeding, which involves being fed through a feeding tube inserted into their digestive tract. In some cases, this food may be low in carnitine (
In addition, people with certain disabilities often take medications that increase carnitine excretion from the body (
Research has found that carnitine deficiency is linked to constipation in people with severe motor and intellectual disabilities. Studies show that taking carnitine supplements may help relieve constipation symptoms in these populations.
For example, a study that included 27 people with severe motor and intellectual disabilities found that carnitine levels were significantly lower in those who experienced constipation. The study found that low carnitine levels were significantly related to constipation severity (
The study also found that constipation severity decreased significantly after people received carnitine supplements of 4.5–22.5 mg per pound (10–50 mg per kg) of body weight per day (
A deficiency in carnitine is linked to constipation in those with severe intellectual and motor disabilities. Taking carnitine supplements may help relieve constipation and correct carnitine deficiency.
People use aloe vera as a natural remedy for many conditions, including constipation. Studies have shown it increases colon mucus excretion and has strong laxative qualities.
Studies show that taking aloe vera supplements may help treat constipation, particularly related to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
A 2018 review looked at 3 high quality studies that included 151 people with IBS, some of whom experienced constipation.
The review found that taking aloe vera extract tablets and aloe vera drinks significantly improved participants’ IBS symptoms compared with placebo treatments (
The review also noted that aloe vera was safe for the short-term treatment of IBS. The studies it included reported no adverse effects for up to 5 months. It did not study the effects of longer treatment periods.
However, there are some concerns over the long-term safety of aloe vera, as some research suggests that long-term use could lead to adverse health effects (
Consult your healthcare provider before adding aloe vera products to your diet and avoid using aloe vera for long periods (
Some studies suggest that aloe vera may help treat constipation. However, research is limited at this time, and the safety of taking aloe vera supplements over the long term is questionable.
Senna is an herbal laxative commonly used to relieve symptoms of constipation. Many laxative supplements contain it, including Ex-Lax and Senokot.
Senna contains compounds called sennosides, which promote intestinal transit and intestinal fluid accumulation, helping relieve constipation (
A recent high quality, 28-day study gave 1 gram of senna daily to people with constipation. The treatment significantly improved stool frequency and overall quality of life compared with a placebo treatment (
The study found that 69% of the people in the senna treatment group reported improvements, compared with 11.7% in the placebo group (
Although people generally consider senna to be safe, it can lead to adverse effects when used for long periods at dosages higher than those recommended by healthcare providers.
For example, senna may cause liver damage when used for longer than 3 months at high dosages (
Senna is a common ingredient in laxative products and may be an effective treatment for constipation. However, misusing senna can result in serious side effects, so be sure to talk with your healthcare provider before adding it to your routine.
Research suggests that the following products may also help relieve constipation.
- Sujiaonori. Sujiaonori is the Japanese name for fiber-rich, edible green river algae. Some research suggests that treatment with sujiaonori powder may help relieve symptoms of constipation and improve gastrointestinal function in some people (
- Lactitol. This laxative is made from the sugar lactose. It increases stool volume and intestinal motility. A review of 11 studies found that treatment with lactitol supplements helped improve constipation symptoms, and people tolerated it well (
- CCH1. This Chinese medicine formulation includes Panax ginseng, ginger, Chinese licorice, baizhu, Aconitum carmichaelii, and Rheum tanguticum. Studies suggest that CCH1 may be an effective treatment for constipation (
- MaZiRenWan (MZRW). MZRW is another Chinese medicine formulation comprising six herbs. Some high quality research has shown that MZRW improves symptoms in older adults with chronic constipation (
Although some of these treatments may be worthwhile to try if you’re looking for natural constipation remedies, it’s important to discuss any supplements with your healthcare provider before you add them to your regimen.
Certain supplements, especially herbal supplements, have the potential to react with common medications and can lead to adverse side effects if you use them incorrectly.
Sujiaonori, lactitol, CCH1, and MZRW are treatments that may help relieve symptoms of constipation. To ensure your safety, consult your healthcare provider before trying these and any other supplement for the treatment of constipation.
Constipation is a common condition that can significantly affect your quality of life. Fortunately, making some dietary modifications, including eating certain foods and taking certain medications and supplements, may help improve constipation symptoms.
The supplements above, which include magnesium, fiber, probiotics, and senna, are generally considered safe and may help improve symptoms of constipation in some people.
However, many supplements have the potential to interact with certain medications and may lead to adverse effects if you use them incorrectly.
Ask your healthcare provider for advice about supplements for constipation relief so you can choose the most effective product and avoid potential side effects.