Emphasize fiber. “You don’t see much constipation in countries with high-fiber diets,” observes Marion Nestle, Ph.D., chairperson of nutrition and food studies at New York University in New York City. “You see it in countries like the United States, where many people eat a low-fiber diet.”
To increase your fiber intake, Dr. Nestle recommends eating whole grains, beans, fruits, or vegetables at every meal and as snacks. Wheat bran, the leading constipation preventive, is an ingredient in dozens of breakfast cereals such as All-Bran and Bran Buds. Popcorn makes a satisfying high-fiber snack. Enjoy bean soups and bean burritos, or munch on low-fat tortilla chips with bean dip. Prunes, raisins, broccoli, carrots, figs, and dried apricots also contain generous amounts of fiber.
Banish the binders. Some foods are binding, meaning that they contribute to constipation, Dr. Simons says. Limiting your consumption of bananas, cheeses, white rice, applesauce, and foods made with white flour can help keep you regular.
Quaff coffee. Many people have noticed that coffee has a laxative effect on them. The caffeine in coffee helps relieve constipation by stimulating peristalsis. If you’re not a coffee drinker, tea, cocoa, and cola may also supply enough caffeine to get your bowels moving.
Cure constipation with C. “High doses of vitamin C cause loose stools,” Dr. Brauer says. “While that can be a problem for people who are prone to diarrhea, it can help those who are constipated.” He recommends taking 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C every 2 waking hours until you’re able to go to the bathroom.
Find relief in folic acid. One study found that women who experienced problems with constipation had low levels of the B vitamin folic acid in their blood. When the women began taking folic acid supplements, all of their symptoms subsided. Try taking up to 5,000 micrograms a day until the condition subsides, advises clinical nutritionist Shari Lieberman, Ph.D. But check with your doctor first, since dosages of folic acid over 1,000 micrograms should only be taken under medical supervision.
Receive a push from pantothenic acid. A few studies have suggested that taking supplements of the B vitamin pantothenic acid may help relieve constipation. Melvyn R. Werbach, M.D., assistant clinical professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Medicine, recommends getting 250 milligrams of pantothenic acid a day.
Support the digestive process. Naturopaths often prescribe supplemental stomach acid and digestive enzymes for older people with constipation. Dr. Pizzorno suggests trying one of the following: bromelain, an enzyme in pineapple (250 to 500 milligrams with meals); papain, an enzyme in papaya (500 to 1,000 milligrams with meals); or pancreatin, an enzyme secreted by the pancreas (two to four tablets of 4X potency or one to two tablets of 8X potency). Supplements of all three enzymes are available in most health food stores.
Iron out the problem. The mineral iron can contribute to constipation in some people. If you take a multivitamin/mineral supplement that contains iron, switch to one without it and see if that helps.