Constipation happens when your colon absorbs too much water from stool (waste), which makes it hard in consistency and difficult for the rectal muscles to push out of your body. Most cases are easily treated with diet changes and over-the-counter treatments like laxatives.
Other causes include certain medications, including blood pressure medications, iron supplements, and nausea drugs like ondansetron (Zofran) or promethazine (Phenergan). Treatment options also include dietary fiber and physical therapy, such as biofeedback.
Vitamins are essential to your health and may be helpful if you are constipated. Vitamins C, K and E may help get your bowels moving again. A diet rich in foods that contain these vitamins can also help ease constipation. You can find these vitamins in a variety of fruits, vegetables and other foods. You can also buy supplements that are high in these vitamins.
Multivitamins contain more than just vitamins, and they often contain minerals as well. Some of the mineral content in these supplements, such as iron and calcium, may cause constipation. This can occur if you are taking these multivitamins for an extended period of time.
Iron and calcium can both be difficult for your GI tract to absorb, which can lead to constipation. If you’re suffering from this side effect, try changing your supplement to a form that is easier on your GI system. This includes switching from calcium carbonate to a more easily absorbed form, such as calcium citrate.
Folic acid is another important nutrient that may cause constipation, especially if you have trouble digesting it. You can help prevent constipation from folic acid deficiency by eating a wide range of fruits, vegetables and other foods that are high in this nutrient. You can also take a folic acid supplement, though you should always talk to your doctor before you do this.
Carnitine is a vitamin that helps produce energy. A deficiency of this nutrient can harm cellular function, which can then lead to digestive issues like constipation. People who have intellectual and motor disabilities are more likely to have a carnitine deficiency, which can be treated with dietary changes or supplements (14) (13).
If you’re taking a multivitamin or other vitamins and minerals and are experiencing constipation, talk to your doctor. They can advise you on what type of supplements is best for your GI tract and your overall health. The best treatment for constipation is usually a combination of dietary changes and OTC laxatives. However, if the constipation is severe or persists for a long time, your doctor may need to prescribe a different type of medication.
Vitamins and minerals play a major role in oodles of body functions, including digestion. However, some vitamins and supplements can cause constipation, while others help promote a regular bowel routine.
While most people need iron to maintain proper blood circulation, some types of this mineral can actually contribute to constipation. This happens when the body absorbs too much of this mineral, which dries out stool and makes it hard to pass. To avoid this, choose a supplement or multivitamin that contains the mineral in the form of ferrous bisglycinate rather than the more common forms of iron such as sulfate and fumarate, which are more likely to cause digestive issues. For example, Care/of’s iron supplement and multivitamin contain the bioavailable, chelated form of iron called ferrous bisglycinate, which is less likely to cause gastrointestinal problems.
Another mineral that can contribute to constipation is calcium, which is required for bone health. Some people can get enough of this nutrient from food, but others may need to add calcium in the form of supplements. Unfortunately, calcium supplements are known to sometimes cause constipation, especially if a person takes too much of them over a long period of time. To prevent this, it’s important to spread out the time between doses and take these supplements with meals to improve absorption.
Other minerals that are often associated with constipation include magnesium, phosphate, and citrate. These supplements are in a class of laxatives that draw water into the intestines to trigger bowel movements. However, they should only be used short-term as taking too many of them can throw off the body’s natural chemistry and can even be dangerous.
Other mineral supplements that can help relieve constipation include a stool softener, which adds moisture to stools to make them softer and easier to pass. Stool hardeners can also be helpful if you’re having trouble passing a bowel movement because of inflammation or a tear (called a fissure) in your rectum or hemorrhoids. Mineral oil is another option that can be taken to act as a lubricant during bowel movements.
Whether your constipation is occasional or chronic, fiber helps in most cases. It boosts the healthy balance of bacteria in your digestive tract and stimulates gut motility, or muscle contractions that push food through the digestive process. If you’re not getting enough fiber in your diet, it may help to take a soluble or insoluble fiber supplement such as psyllium seed husk or bran, says Emma Slattery, clinical dietitian at Johns Hopkins Medicine. Add these products to a glass of water, and drink it one to three times daily.
It’s recommended to get 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day from whole foods such as beans, bran, barley, fruits and vegetables. A low-fiber diet is a leading cause of constipation, so increasing your fiber intake can ease the condition. However, if you increase your intake of fiber under the guidance of a doctor and it doesn’t improve your symptoms, it may indicate that there is another cause for your constipation.
If you’re trying to increase your fiber intake, do it slowly so that you don’t experience gastrointestinal distress such as bloating or gas. Replace refined grains with high-fiber foods such as oats, brown rice and whole wheat breads. Eat more vegetables and fruits such as berries, bananas and prunes. Eat more beans and legumes such as lentils and kidney and black beans. Try to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables and four to six servings of whole grains each day.
You can also take a soluble fiber supplement, such as pectin, which is a natural form of fiber. It’s been shown to increase the number of bowel movements per week in people with constipation. In fact, a study found that people taking the supplement spent less time on the toilet and had more regular stools than those who took a placebo. If you want to try pectin supplements, ask your doctor or a registered dietitian for recommendations about how much to take and safety concerns. The supplement may interfere with some medications and increase your risk of certain types of cancers.
While dietary supplements can help promote healthy bowel movements, it’s best to talk with your doctor or health care professional before adding any vitamins or supplements to your diet. In some cases, certain vitamins can cause constipation or make it worse, and there are many underlying causes of constipation that may be treated with a different supplement or lifestyle change.
If you’re dealing with constipation, your first step should be to increase your fiber intake through whole foods and fiber supplements. Add more fruits, vegetables and beans to your diet and drink plenty of water. Also, check how you sit on the toilet and try raising your feet, leaning back or squatting to see if that helps. You can also take a stool softener or laxative, but these are best used only with your doctor’s guidance because they can cause dependency and other side effects such as cramping or bloating.
Some vitamins can also relieve constipation by acting as natural stool softeners. For example, vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that works by pulling more fluid into the digestive tract to soften your stools. Milk of magnesium is another mineral supplement that acts as a laxative by drawing water into the intestines to soften your stools.
Other causes of constipation include not drinking enough water, a sedentary lifestyle and ignoring the urge to go. Not getting enough physical activity makes your muscles weaker and can slow bowel movements, and not listening to the signals that you need to go can train your colon to become less sensitive to those sensations over time. Certain medications can also contribute to constipation, including narcotics, antidepressants and some types of blood pressure medications.
Calcium can contribute to constipation in some people because it tends to draw water into the intestines and make your stool firmer, Dr. Jouhourian says. To prevent this, you should try to get your calcium through whole foods like dairy products and dark leafy vegetables rather than a pill. You should also be sure to drink enough water so that the calcium doesn’t pull too much liquid out of your body.