heartburn drugs, constipation

Americans love laxatives. Millions of people rely on such products to stay regular. But you can conquer constipation without depending on these medications.

Medications That Cause Constipation:

A surprising number of common medicines can cause constipation as a side effect. Opiates are notorious for this, of course, but people may not think about the antihistamine in their cold medicine or OTC sleep aid. Antidepressants, motion sickness medicines, blood pressure pills and even iron supplements may contribute to this problem. Check your medicine chest for possible culprits if you are frequently troubled with constipation.

Eat Leaves and Stems:

To get your colon to behave properly, you need to treat its denizens right. What should you feed your millions of microbes to keep them happy so that your digestive tract will function as it should? As much as possible, avoid processed foods. A menu with plenty of fiber-rich plant foods will be most helpful, including vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Don’t throw away the stems to those veggies. They are rich in fiber and can be delicious. Stems are great for growing a good gut garden. What about fiber supplements? When do they make sense?

Probiotics to Help You Conquer Constipation:

Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi can be helpful, perhaps in part because they are vegetables and rich in fiber. Sometimes supplements like magnesium will also be useful. Find out which is most appropriate for the problem at hand.

When to Check with Your Doctor:

Most of the time, constipation is a nuisance, but occasionally it is a red flag that something is very wrong. A sudden change in bowel habits should prompt a check-in. Likewise, if you have pale stool and dark urine, it’s time to schedule an appointment to evaluate your liver health. Floating stool is not usually a problem, but if you are feeling ill, floating poop could be a sign of pancreatic problems. Most of the time, constipation can be corrected by changing your diet, increasing your exercise and adjusting your medicines. If those measures don’t work, your health care provider will want to look for more sinister causes.

This Week’s Guest:

Robynne K. Chutkan, MD, is on faculty at Georgetown Hospital and is the founder of the Digestive Center for Wellness in Chevy Chase, Maryland. She did her medical training at Columbia University and is board certified in gastroenterology. She has written three books on digestive health: Gutbliss, The Microbiome Solution, and The Bloat Cure.

Her website is:  gutbliss.com

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

Buy the CD

Download the mp3

Air Date:March 24, 2018

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  1. Ellen
    New York City

    I would recommend that you see another gastroenterologist. About 5 years ago I suddenly developed horrible, ongoing diarrhea. Luckily I found a good GI doctor who ran all the appropriate tests and told me I had something called Collagenous Colitis, an autoimmune problem that falls into the category of Microscopic Colitis ailments. I needed to go on Entocort, a steroid specifically meant for this kind of problem–and it worked. I’ve had two more bouts since then, take the Entocort and am fine.

    I’m glad that (1) I found the right doctor, (2) there’s a medication for this, and I don’t have to take it continuously and (3) I only have intermittent bouts of this debilitating problem.

    Hope this helps.

  2. Luba
    Cleveland, OH

    When visiting friends in Ukraine some years ago, I became constipated. In some embarrassment, I asked my hostess for help. She cooked 3-4 beets, I ate them, and problem was solved. Since then I eat beets if constipated. Works well for me every time.

  3. D S

    I am a 76 yr.old male.I wanted to share what has been great for me, i have colon issues but for sluggish bowels or constipation I started a breakfast of small amt. Of corn flakes and 1/4 cup of Kellogg bran buds(new) milk,toast & green tea.great

  4. Sandy

    What do I think? About natural, normal B/M’s?
    Very few lucky people have them!
    From youngsters to elders…constipation and/or diarrhea is the new norm.
    I think whowever discovers an easy way to fix this problem….could make a million.
    As for me I have IBS. Both kinds! D and C…….And both are bad.
    The best I can do to manage whichever unblissful state I’m in, and nothing is 100%
    reliable all the time……is this.
    For diarrhea, keep drinking lots of water, I put lemon in mine.
    Add psyllium to one glassfull of water first thing on awakening. Drink a liquid containing electrolyte during the day.
    Let your bowel rest by drinking bone broth for each meal. Stick to the BRAT diet.
    Use Imodium D as a last result. It has some nasty side effects…but you have to leave the house sometimes, so…
    Educate yourself on which probiotic and prebiotic works best for you…and even that changes.
    Lastly, stock up on paper panties….slips are inevitable.
    For constipation…..same thing on water, psyllium, bone broth, but here is where it differs.
    Send for Peoples Pharmacy recipe for power pudding (Or Google it). Pour it into an ice cube tray,( i call them “poop pops”) Take1 or 2 in glass of warm water. These are safe to take however many you need. Easy to make and use.
    You can also add it to oatmeal.
    People’s pharmacy also has a recipe for power muffins ( I call them Muffins Ah Go)
    They are tasty when toasted….freeze well.
    So….there is my answer….all in my freezer….Always.
    Oh, and read up the dangers in Mira Lax before you go down that road…or send your kiddies started on something you will regret later.
    I know, it’s all so undignified and unfair….but it is what it is.
    Hope any of these helpers make your life a little easier, as they have mine.

    • Dan
      Denver, CO

      I’ve gone for decades, thinking that I had some serious IBS that I may have contracted in a foreign country. Then, after trying the low-carb diet, I found that I no longer had chronic acid indigestion.

      I began cutting out the excess sugar I was eating until, years later, I no longer have results above a 5 on the Bristol scale.

      My suggestion is to cut back on sugars and processed junk as much as possible and eat basic, real food.

      I still like to make cookies and have some occasional ice cream, but I no longer view it as “the new norm”.

  5. Marilyn
    Buffalo , NY

    Daily, I drink 1quart of water, a 14 oz. cup of black coffee, eat 2 oranges and 2 apples, all in the morning. You will never be constipated again!

  6. David
    Springfield, MO

    Having worked for decades in areas with hard water (Eastern NC and in Missouri), elemental calcium overload was a frequent cause of various GI symptoms – especially in people taking supplements and calcium-enriched(oxymoron?) foods/pills. Most cheap pill binders are about 50 mg of calcium carbonate per pill. Urban specialists from soft-water cities and most medical studies miss this problem.

  7. Rita

    I read P.P. faithfully – have for years – bought a shelf-full of your books and listen each Saturday at 6am. I’ve learned A LOT but I’ve still got one significant issue and so, on it goes, into another very tentative day. Maybe I’m overreacting, but it seems to me you put a lot of time & education in “constipation.” I would FAR RATHER BE CONSTIPATED than have chronic, intransigent, life-altering diarrhea; unfortunately, I have THAT! I drink Pepto and Imodium and Kaopectate daily and by the bottle; it’s on each grocery list. I’ve bought all the probiotics on the shelf, take loperamide and acidophilis pills daily; my diet is limited to about 4-6 foods; been to a gerontologist who sent me to a gastroenterologist – they offered nothing. SO….I have to work to supplement my S.S. income; SO….I deal with “you-know-what” every day and, so far, by the grace of God, I have not soiled my clothes or furniture YET. PLEASE HELP!! I’m one of millions and all we hear about is “constipation” when the REAL villain is daily, continuing bouts of diarrhea.

  8. Jack

    Timely article. I’m 2 weeks out of the hospital from knee replacement. The pain of the opioid-caused constipation was worse than the knee, and I refused to leave the hospital until I was helped to “gain control”. The protocol to prevent binding was not adequate at all (no fiber in the diet except sugary cereals), and I was caught off guard. I’ll bring lots of Magnesium and cooked collard stems for the next knee, I guess, and hope there’s pain meds other than opioids.

    • Ellen
      New York City

      I would recommend that you see another gastroenterologist. About 5 years ago I suddenly developed horrible, ongoing diarrhea. Luckily I found a good GI doctor who ran all the appropriate tests and told me I had something called Collagenous Colitis, an autoimmune problem that falls into the category of Microscopic Colitis ailments. I needed to go on Entocort, a steroid specifically meant for this kind of problem–and it worked. I’ve had two more bouts since then, take the Entocort and am fine.

      I’m glad that (1) I found the right doctor, (2) there’s a medication for this, and I don’t have to take it continuously and (3) I only have intermittent bouts of this debilitating problem.

  9. M

    This isn’t a very helpful or thorough article. No real suggestions are given to treat this issue in the article. Disappointing.

    • Terry Graedon

      The article is really just a hint of what is in the audio file. Why not listen?

  10. Cheryl
    New York City

    Excellent, cogent, invaluable presentation on Constipation by Dr. Chutkan!

  11. Pat

    Have suffered with chronic constipation and nausea for 20+ years. I do eat a diet high in fiber. Most laxatives do not help unless the dose is very high.. Zelnorm was my miracle drug until they took it off of the market. Have seen 2 gastroenterologists in the past 2 years and both rued the loss of Zelnorm. Currently have Linzess though I only take it every 3 or 4 days if my bowels have not been moving. I need a day when I know I will be near a bathroom. I am retired and would not have been able to use it when working. It does work most of the time but it can be an explosive multiple trip affair. Have had some luck with suppositories.

  12. Kenneth Hightower


  13. Susan

    On Broccoli Stems
    Too many grocery stores today sell “broccoli crowns”, for which they charge a premium price. They cut off the stems “because no one eats them”. It’s really about the money. The sellers of broccoli grate the stems to sell as “brocco-slaw”, also at a premium price. It’s a rip-off! The stems of broccoli are delicious and tender if peeled. The tough part comes off easily with a quick pull of a paring knife. Stemless broccoli is a rip-off in terms of taste, health and cost.

  14. VICKIE

    It wasn’t mentioned that vitamin C has a mild laxative effect. While I’m sure it’s not a good idea to take massive doses, I do take some extra C during the cold months when I tend to eat fewer fiber-containing fruits & vegetables, and when I also have less thirst. The C definitely helps keep things moving.

  15. Barbra

    I have been constipated my whole life. Have to take a laxative to keep from being that way, can’t stand to have to strain very hard. Have tried many diets for that but none help.

  16. Nik

    The key for me is kiwis…one or two, everyday, with the skin on. Eat them sliced up alone, in a salad, in yogurt, on ice cream, etc…so good and super heathy!

    “The kiwifruit skin is completely edible and makes this nutrient-dense fruit even more nutritious! A recent study shows that eating the skin triples the fiber intake compared to merely eating the flesh. And by not peeling the skin, you preserve much of the vitamin C content as well.” (Source: California Kiwifruit Commission)

  17. Mary Jane

    For a period of time, I would grind flax seeds to add to my breakfast cereal, and found that it increased bowel activity. Thus, it seems like a good way to address constipation.

  18. Jane

    Well, this article didn’t help much! LOL Same ole ‘eat veggies’ advice. How ‘bout 1 tbsp of Coconut Oil in your coffee/tea each morning? Try it.

  19. Larry Tegeler

    MY daughter, a nurse practitioner, had a coworker with serious constipation problems. She asked for some of my homemade multigrain-cinnamon-raisin-egg bread. Her co-worker had tried a number of medications with little success.

    Our daughter had had some of my bread previously and said it ought to come with a warning.

    I gave her half of a loaf for her co-worker to try. She almost immediately regained regularity.

    Let me know if you would like the recipe.

    This is something I eat daily to increase my fiber intake.

    • Joyce B.

      Would love the recipe for the multigrain cinnamon raisin egg bread.

  20. Genie
    Chapel Hill, NC

    After a fenestrated stent was put in my abdominal aorta, I became constipated for the first time and was given Colac stool softener. I hate meds, and after a while decided to eat three or four whole stalks of celery per day. Result? No constipation.

  21. Anne

    25,000 members on Facebook site PARENTS AGAINST MIRALAX should SIGNAL that the 2011 warning by the FDA for POSSIBLE NEUROPSYCHIATRIC EVENTS is indeed a problem. Thousands of children and elderly are prescribed Miralax OFF-LABEL daily. Our most vulnerable are suffering from a drug that is a NEUROTOXIN. Anyone who thinks over-the-counter medications approved by the FDA are safe might want to re-evaluate.

  22. Phyllis
    Lakeland, Florida

    I have always had a constipation problem since childhood. Now that I am in my 80s it has gotten horrible. Nothing, including laxatives, worked. But I accidentally completely solved the problem. I had some pecan halves leftover from a baking project. I decided to eat them as a snack a couple of days in a row. Voila! I found relief within 2 days. When I finished the nuts, concrete returned. Horrible. So I got more pecans, eat a handful each day, and my problem is solved. I tested it one more time with the same results. I discovered also that I need to skip a day every 4-5 days or I get the runs for a bit. I am sure this would not work for everyone but it is an easy try.

  23. AKB

    Eat 4 dried pitted prunes daily, and drink at least 32 oz water, and you will never have Constipation. And the dried prunes provide FAT FREE, CHOLESTEROL FREE, SODIUM FREE, GLUTEN FREE DRIED fruit along with POTASSIUM, 293 MG with 1/4th cup serving, which provides Dietary Fiber 3 g and Sugars 15 g.

    Learn to use natural products, and enjoy life more.

  24. Marlene
    North Carolina

    Before I had my kidney stone last August, I rarely had constipation. When I was suffering with the kidney stone, which were two visits to the emergency room, I was put on hydrocodone and oxycodone. No one warned me about the side effects of these drugs in regard to constipation. I never took more than I should for the pain but it took over a week for the stone to pass. I was aware I had not had a bowel movement and mentioned it but no medical staff seemed to take notice. 3 days after the beginning of this kidney stone pain, I went into Afib. Went back in the ER and had another episode while in hospital. Again no one took notice of no bowel movement or even asked.

    I finally got the attention of my urologist about the constipation. She prescribed some pills. They did nothing. I went back to old remedy of Magnesium Citrate. Because it had been a week, I assumed things got impacted, and it was more painful than I can even describe to you. Got back on track. There have a been a couple of times since then that I had to use the magnesium citrate, and I am constipated more often. Love vegetables and drink more water these days. Stay somewhat active. Not sure if this has happened to anyone else.

  25. Douglas E. C.

    I saw a program done in England showing how oatmeal feeds the good gut microbiome. The young man in the program ate oatmeal every day for six weeks, as a result, DNA testing showed his good gut microbiome were very happy. It appeared oatmeal is the perfect food source for your gut microbes. The article did not recommend probiotics or yogurt. Are you familiar with this study? I have attached a link to a similar story about the positive effects of eating oatmeal.
    Regards, Douglas

  26. Ro

    I eat about 3 times the recommended daily allowance of fruits and veggies. Usually have a BM 3-4 times a day. When I take so called “non constipating” iron supplements it drops down to 0 per day. So how many more veggies do I need to eat?

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