The definition of constipation is when you have less than 3 bowel movements per week. After speaking with dozens of vegans about this, I’ve found that most vegans are actually going more like 3 times per day! But that doesn’t apply to everyone.
Vegan constipation can happen due to inadequate intake of fiber or water, food intolerances or allergies, medication side effects, or other causes. Some of the best vegan constipation remedies are enemas, Japanese Sencha tea, and the use of a Squatty Potty.
Below, I’ll go deeper into the potential causes and cures for vegan constipation. I’ll also share my personal story of which diet adjustments most improved my stool consistency on a vegan diet.
A Vegan Diet and Constipation
The quick answer to the question, “Does a vegan diet cause constipation?” is not usually. Vegans generally experience less constipation than non-vegans, due to eating more fiber.
In many cases, vegans eat a full 50-100% more fiber than meat-eaters.
Plant-based foods like beans, veggies, and whole grains are packed with fiber. In contrast, meat doesn’t have any!
Research also shows that vegans have higher intestinal motility than non-vegans (source). And the faster you process food, the more quickly and easily it will leave the body, too.
In accordance with this, vegan bowel movements tend to be softer, heavier, and healthier. This is also explains why vegans usually poop more. (Yes, that’s a link to a whole blog post I wrote about this issue.)
In order to get those benefits, though, you need to eat enough fiber. So my number one tip for preventing and addressing constipation is naturally going to be more fiber!
Below, I’ll discuss several other possible causes of vegan constipation, too, including not drinking enough fluids! (source)
The first warning sign of incoming constipation is when you notice you’re having fewer bowel movements (BMs) overall.
Now, don’t panic—one or two skipped BMs are perfectly normal. But be aware of the more serious symptoms:
- Super hard stool
- The need to strain
- Pain involved with a bowel movement
- Inability to empty or finish your bowel movement
6 Causes of Vegan Constipation
Here are some of the top culprits behind vegan constipation:
- Not enough fiber — Are you focusing a lot on processed foods in your diet? Consider adding more whole foods, particularly beans and whole grains, and see if things soften up and get moving.
- Not Enough Water — The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends that men drink 3.7 liters a day, while women need at least 2.7 liters. It doesn’t just affect your gut. Your skin may get clearer, softer, and shinier, too!
- Food intolerance or allergens — These can be a little trickier. But with a food journal, you can track what you eat, see how your body responds, and hopefully notice any patterns that exist.
- Time — Some people get in a bind because they’re rushing themselves too much on the toilet. I know, I know, we’re all busy and it’s hard to carve out time for anything—even pooping. But, it is better for everyone that you do!
- Not enough activity – Even getting up and walking around the house can help get things moving. (It can help reduce gas, too!)
- Medication – Drugs can affect your gut in a number of ways—narcotics especially slow down your intestines.
And here’s a bonus possible reason, especially if your constipation has come on gradually: Aging. Constipation is something that can happen more as we age (source).
Here are some reasons why:
- Your body produces collagen that finds its way into the colon as you age.
- The body’s nervous system takes a hit with age. Reduced nerve communications affect the muscles of your colon.
- Endorphins bind to certain receptors over time, including in the intestines.
- Our sphincter muscles weaken with age.
- As we age, we have decreased elasticity in our necks, arms, face, and yes, our rectal wall, too.
Should You Take a Laxative?
Well, for one thing, there are different sorts of laxatives. Always know what you are taking if you go the over-the-counter pill route. Not everything is vegan, and some are just not healthy at all.
Even supplements that label themselves as “natural” need a closer look. Always know the active and inactive ingredients.
My advice? Avoid jumping straight to any laxative—even the natural ones.
I would first consult with a physician, especially if your constipation comes with severe bloating or pain. Doctors can help steer you clear of remedies that could make things worse.
3 Remedies for Quick Constipation Relief
Constipation is often best fought with diet changes like consuming more fiber and water—but if you want quick relief, there are also some pretty interesting constipation remedies to consider.
It brings me no pleasure to bring up enemas for constipation relief. But, the truth is, constipation can get worse. So the faster you find relief, the better.
Enemas offer the chance to clean out your bowels and soften your stool using completely safe ingredients and help you find comfort, faster.
Some things to know about enemas:
- Purchase a clean and sterilized enema bag and the tubing that goes with it.
- It takes about eight cups of a hot, safe liquid – distilled water, or saline solution, for example.
- Keep the temperature between 105°F and 110°F. Pour it into a sanitary container such as a jar or bowl.
- You’ll need to add a small amount of Castile soap, mineral oil, or iodized salt. Don’t add more than about eight tablespoons.
At-home enemas are generally safe—but if you feel sketchy about it, definitely consult with a medical professional!
2. Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)
Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM) has the sound of a potentially harmful chemical… but in reality, it’s just natural sulfur that even plants have.
Generally, it comes as a white powder that dissolves in water. If the taste is too gag-worthy, you can use fresh orange juice to dissolve it, instead. (The extra kick of vitamin C isn’t a bad thing.)
According to accounts I’ve read online, it may take a couple of hours (or up to a day) for everything to get moving.
3. Japanese Sencha Tea
I’m going to throw a natural remedy out there, too. Japanese Sencha tea—the real sort—seems to help a lot of people, with super-fast results. (source)
It is not the best-tasting tea, that is for sure… but it is safe, and if it works for you, it typically works really well—so I’ve heard.
7 More Tips to Fix Vegan Constipation
Here are some more vegan constipation remedies, some of which are slower-acting but get to the root of the issue.
- 1. Water, water, and more water — Drinking more fluids will help your intestines to work naturally. It might not be the fastest way towards relief, but it goes a long way if you stay hydrated.
- 2. Fiber — Fiber is like water, it may not work today, but in the coming days, you should feel a lot better. Good fiber is good for the soul (and bathroom trips).
- 3. Your position on the toilet — This goes a long way when you’re feeling stopped up. First, try to squat (think something like the Squatty Potty—see image below). If that’s uncomfortable, try rocking back and forth a bit to stimulate movement.
- 4. Food journal — Track what you eat, and see how it affects your bowel movements. I recommend the app Cronometer for this. You could just use a notepad or something like that, but Cronometer is free, and it shows you so much more about the nutrients you’re getting and what you’re missing. (It also helped me a ton with losing body-fat, as I explained here.)
- 5. Avoid straining —It doesn’t actually help, and it’s one of the leading causes of hemorrhoids.
- 6. Laughter —Think about it. When you belly laugh, it works all of those muscles that help massage your colon. Laughing helps relieve stress, too—which can help relieve constipation in turn.
- 7. Lubrication? — Sounds strange, but natural oils like olive oil or Vaseline (yes, Vaseline is vegan) applied to your anus can help you get through the hardest part.
Warning: Don’t Go Too Far the Other Way
I’ve found that I can manipulate my stool hardness quite a lot with diet. So naturally my main recommendation is to adjust your fiber consumption.
But everyone’s body is different. And you don’t want to overcorrect and end up with vegan diarrhea!
If you decide to add more fiber to your diet, start off gradually. Then increase it and find the best amount for you. Again, this is where a food journal can really help.
When I ate a high-carb low-fat (HCLF vegan) diet of mostly fruit, I pooped 4 times a day and had very soft stool. But when I ate a low-carb, grain-free vegan diet, I had harder and smaller poop, and it felt like I had to strain a bit to get it out.
Then I added some healthy oatmeal back into my breakfast, and it softened back up nicely.
I wish you the best in finding that perfect medium for yourself. If you’re struggling at any point, remember that your physician should be able to help you. A dietitian may be able to provide good, personalized advice, too.
Two More Recommendations for Your Vegan Journey
1. This is the best vegan multivitamin I’ve found in 13 years of being vegan. It has vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3—and nothing else. Translation: It only has the nutrients vegans are actually low in. Read my full review of Future Kind’s multivitamin here (with 10% discount).
2. This is the best vegan starter kit I know of. It’s a bundle of 9 beautiful e-books that help you transition to a healthy plant-based diet—the right way. The advice is spot-on, and it has print-outs and checklists that make it easy to implement. Read my full review of Nutriciously here.