Opioid pain relievers work by attaching to opioid receptors in your brain and spine. What many people don’t realize is that the gastrointestinal tract, which regulates bowel movements, is also home to opioid receptors and naturally occurring opioids. When opioids from medication attach to the receptors in your gastrointestinal tract, they slow the digestion process which very often results in constipation.
There are many home remedies for constipation as it’s something that nearly everyone experiences at one time or another. Let’s look at some of the most popular home remedies for opioid induced constipation as well as a bit of background on each.
Simple Home Remedies for Opioid Induced Constipation
Before we dive into the details, it’s important to understand how constipation is defined. According to the American Gastroenterological Association, healthy people can have anywhere from three bowel movements per day to three per week, so the definition of constipation actually depends on personal factors.
Common symptoms of constipation include stomach pain, hard stool, difficult passing bowel movements and a feeling of incomplete evacuation. The good news is that there are plenty of strategies for dealing with these difficult symptoms.
Exercise – Have you ever eaten a large meal, and felt like you just had to take a walk afterward? That’s no accident. Exercise has a positive effect on digestion. It helps to speed up the time that it takes for food to move through the colon, and aerobic activity and increased heart rate help stimulate intestinal muscle contractions to move things along. Of course, it is beneficial to wait an hour if you are going to engage in serious exercise, but a regular 10-15 light walk following a meal can get your digestive system going!
Diet – Certain foods may increase the risk of constipation so it’s also important to know what not to eat. Processed foods, meat, cheese, fatty foods, and fried foods are more difficult to digest so managing your intake of these items may help to relieve your constipation. Speak with your doctor to develop a diet plan that suits your needs.
Fluids – Dehydration is one of the major causes of constipation so making sure you are drinking enough water is important for bowel health. It is especially important to stay hydrated while you exercise. There is a common belief that caffeinated beverages help relieve constipation, but caffeine actually causes dehydration so it will only add to the problem over time. Water and fruit juice often provide more sustainable results.
Portion Control – Large meals are more difficult to digest than small ones so portion control can help relieve constipation. This doesn’t necessarily mean eating less food overall, especially if you already have a healthy diet. Instead of eating three large meals, consider spreading the same intake over smaller meals throughout the day.
Fiber – The oldest trick in the book, and still one of the best. The Institute of Medicine recommends 38 grams of fiber per day for men under 50, and 30 grams for men over 50. For women, the recommendations are 25 grams for those under 50, and 21 grams for those over 50.1 Fiber can be found in whole grain, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and beans, so there’s plenty to choose from.
Relaxation – The mental aspect of constipation is added stress. Being irregular in bowel movements can be frustrating, especially when you’re feeling rushed. One simple trick is to have ample time (and privacy!) in the bathroom. The psychological relief of not having to rush may make it easier to get the job done.
For most people, addressing opioid induced constipation requires a variety of tactics rather than one solution. The home remedies above may help manage your constipation and provide an alternative to over the counter laxatives. Remember that if you plan to change your diet or exercise routine, it is always best to speak with your doctor before proceeding.