Constipation is an extremely common health concern marked by any one of the following:

  • The inability to completely void the bowels
  • Dry, hard stools that may be painful to pass
  • Slow, sluggish movement of waste through the digestive tract
If you find yourself going 3 or more days between bowel movements, straining for 10 minutes when you do go or just feeling "unfinished" after you go, ask your doctor if one of these herbal remedies for constipation might be right for you:

Psyllium

Psyllium is an excellent source of dietary fiber, especially the kind doctors call insoluble fiber. In the digestive tract, psyllium absorbs water and swells to several times its original volume. This "bulks" your stools and makes it easier for the muscles of your colon to move waste along efficiently.

Glucomannan

Glucomannan acts as a source of soluble fiber. In the digestive tract, it also absorbs water and "swells". Ultimately, it forms a gel-like substance that works to keep bowel movements soft. This action makes stools larger but also more comfortable to pass.

Cascara

Cascara is an old Native American remedy that was once a common ingredient in over-the-counter laxatives. Today, it can be sold only as an herbal supplement but it is rich in a group of compounds known as cascarosides. These compounds stimulate the muscles of the colon and encourage elimination.

Aloe

Latex of aloe, which is made by air-drying aloe gel, is another herbal laxative that works by stimulating the bowels. Aloe latex is a rich source of a group of compounds known as anthraquionone glycosides. Like other stimulant laxatives (including cascara) it is only appropriate for short-term use.

Senna

Senna works to alleviate constipation in two ways. Like cascara and aloe, it has a stimulant effect on the colon but it also stimulates the colon to release water. This extra moisture softens and enlarges the stools, making them easier to pass.

Cautions & Warnings

It is extremely important to remember that herbal laxatives like aloe, cascara and senna may be "natural" but that does not make them safe or appropriate for everyone. Anyone using a stimulant laxative may experience cramping, unpredictable urgency and other side effects. Children, women who are pregnant or nursing, and people with bowel obstructions or certain bowel conditions should never use these products without medical supervision.

Even dietary fiber like psyllium and glucomanan present certain risks. For example, if these products are taken without water, they present a very risk of choking. In the digestive system, they act as crude sponges and if the water they absorb isn't replaced, hard, dry stools may result, compounding the initial problem.

This is by no means a complete look at herbal remedies for constipation so if you would like more information about managing your unique health concerns, consult a qualified medical professional.