We don’t usually want to talk about it, but bowel movements are a conversation we must have. If you don’t completely clear your bowels, you’re left feeling heavy and uncomfortable and often with no desire to eat. Incomplete bowel evacuation is a symptom of constipation, even if you go to the toilet every day.
Completely clearing your bowels calls for many of the same remedies as general constipation. They include staying hydrated, healthy stress management, improving digestive system tone, reducing inflammation and increasing physical activity.
If you want to clear your bowels every morning, simple lifestyle changes and some herbal teas may help. Let’s take a closer look at these solutions.
Stay hydrated for softer stools
Sometimes, an inability to completely clear your bowels may be caused by dehydration.
So many of us don’t drink enough water, and because we’re used to it, we don’t realise that we are dehydrated much of the time. If your bowel movements are dry, hard and difficult to pass – even to the point where you just give up – you may just be dehydrated!
When you drink two litres of water a day, it is far easier to completely clear your bowels than if you only drink 500mL a day. Increasing your water intake from two litres does not make much difference.
When we stay hydrated, our faeces hold onto some of their water content, as the large intestines do not draw all of it out.
This prevents having small, hard, dry stools that are more difficult to pass and do not trigger the defecation reflex as easily.
Your defecation reflex is activated when the volume of faeces is large enough to begin stretching the rectum. The softer stools we get from drinking enough water also require less forceful muscle contractions. Read:
- The best colon cleanse teas in Australia
- The Best Natural Appetite Suppressant Teas
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- Barley Grass Powder - Organic
How to stay hydrated with herbal teas?
You can even take a large flask of tea with you to work; just leave the tea to infuse for longer, so it is strong enough. If you only have a water bottle and don’t mind room temperature tea that’s been left to cool down, refreshing citrus teas such as Lemon Myrtle or Lemon Balm can replicate the lemon juice in water that many people drink throughout the day. Read:
- Why Lemon Balm Tea Is Growing in Popularity in Australia
- Can Lemon Balm Help with Anxiety?
- Lemon Myrtle: a gem native to Australia
- Aniseed Myrtle - Australia’s best natural digestive aid
It is important that you avoid an excessive caffeine intake because it can act as a diuretic and keep you dehydrated.
Caffeine is found in coffee, black tea (and to a lesser extent, green tea) and some soft drinks, which are high in sugar too.
Harder, drier stools from dehydration can make it more difficult to clear your bowels. If you don’t drink enough because you find plain water to be boring, herbal teas can brighten up your water intake and replace dehydrating caffeine.
Can stress affect your bowel movements?
Another reason why you may find it difficult to completely clear your bowels is stress. Different measures of stress, such as poor family relationships, wanting to avoid responsibilities and generally feeling irritable, are linked to double or even close to triple the risk of constipation. Read:
- Stress can Stop You from Pooping
- Relieve Bloating Caused by Constipation
- How does menopause affect you emotionally?
Your body must choose between digestive function and helping you escape from a stressor, which has negative consequences if you’re chronically stressed out.
Relieve stress constipation with calming herbal teas
One way to relieve stress is to use calming herbal teas such as chamomile, especially at night when your stress hormones are meant to be at their lowest. A study on people with generalised anxiety disorder found that taking chamomile extract for eight weeks significantly reduced their symptom severity. This was even comparable to some anti-anxiety drugs!
Stress turns up the “fight or flight” automatic processes of the body, which reduces activity for the “rest and digest” functions. As this side controls muscle contractions in the digestive system, relieving stress can help you clear your bowels more effectively.
Chamomile is also often used for digestive issues such as constipation, so it may be a great all-round remedy for you. As a laxative itself, massage with chamomile oil was shown to restart bowel function in women who recently had surgery. It took 11 hours instead of 18 for bowel sounds to come back, and they could eat two hours sooner.
Muscle contractions in the digestive system are impaired by stress, but Chamomile Tea acts as both an anti-anxiety herbal tea and a laxative.
Can digestive stimulant herbs regulate contractions?
Sometimes, the muscle contractions that help you completely clear your bowels are dysregulated, and are more like spasms than a healthy rhythm. They do not have the same strength as normal contractions because their rhythm does not allow for enough force. This is common in cases of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Herbs that calm muscle spasms may therefore be helpful. Common digestive herbal teas include:
Herbal remedies for digestion
Herbal remedies such as peppermint are accessible in herbal tea form, so they are accessible and cost-effective. Peppermint oil is one of the most researched natural treatments for IBS, significantly relieving all symptoms. One review found that its benefits became statistically stronger with higher-quality trials, and its effects could last for up to four weeks from the last dose.
Aniseed is another aromatic digestive herb that can relieve IBS symptoms such as an inability to clear your bowels.
One study showed that 75% of people no longer had any symptoms after four weeks of treatment! Aniseed soothes spasms in the digestive system, allowing for efficient muscle contractions that clear bowel movements more effectively.
Fennel, a closely related remedy to aniseed, is also anti-spasmodic. This has been combined with the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant turmeric for even better results.
Asafoetida, often known as Hing, is a popular addition to Indian cuisine to prevent gas. It can help you clear your bowels by providing anti-spasmodic effects and by strengthening muscle contractions.
Check out our article 'The 7 best teas for digestion in Australia' if you want to learn more about how to help our digestive systems run smoothly and efficiently.
When muscle spasms in the colon make it harder to clear your bowels, soothing herbal teas may help to regulate contractions. These include peppermint, aniseed and fennel.
Keeping inflammation down helps empty your bowels
Inflammation affects digestive health in many ways. Serotonin, a mood-lifting neurotransmitter, could be involved in this relationship between inflammation and difficulty in clearing your bowels.
Inflammation leads to the disruption of healthy muscle contractions in the colon, which may be why anti-inflammatory herbal remedies can help you clear your bowels.
In cases of inflammation, a substance known as kynurenine is produced at the expense of serotonin. Serotonin contributes to the control of digestive motility, meaning dysregulation may make it harder to completely clear your bowels.
Relieve constipation with anti-inflammatory remedies
Anti-inflammatory herbal teas, such as Turmeric, may help to relieve constipation and improve your overall health. When you keep inflammation down, serotonin production remains higher, allowing for the healthy regulation of muscle contractions.
Other benefits of controlling inflammation include a direct improvement of muscle contraction in the colon, thanks to better electrolyte balance (particularly sodium). The structural integrity of your large intestinal walls is protected too.
For example, when curcumin (the main active phytochemical in turmeric) was combined with fennel, the two significantly relieved IBS symptoms and improved quality of life over one month.
Curcumin has broad anti-inflammatory benefits, and may modulate immunity and relieve hypersensitivity, too. Organ hypersensitivity may be one underlying mechanism of IBS, where the nervous system overreacts.
Aloe Vera extracts or strong juice could be another effective anti-inflammatory. At higher doses, it can reduce IBS symptoms such as pain and bloating. This may include digestive issues such as poor bowel clearance.
Serotonin, a key mood-lifting neurotransmitter, may help you completely clear your bowels. Inflammation reduces its production, but remedies including turmeric could be of use.
Can lack of physical activity cause constipation?
Many of us work all day at office jobs, at a desk and in front of a computer with no real physical activity. In some cases, we don’t get any exercise at all during the day. How often do our days end with sitting some more – in front of the TV or another computer, watching Netflix? This could be another cause of functional constipation.
Lack of muscle stimulation from inactivity can slow down the bowels, but sometimes we just don’t have the energy to exercise.
When healthy volunteers were put on weeks of bed rest as part of space exploration research, 60% developed the symptom criteria for irritable bowel syndrome.
While none of them reported an inability to clear their bowels beforehand, this increased to 20-30% after a month. Overall stool frequency fell too.
It is thought that low physical activity slows transit time through the colon, as the movement of muscles around the digestive system provides stimulation. This was an extreme example of inactivity, but everyday exercise avoidance could affect you, too.
Stay energised with herbal teas
Many of us don’t exercise because we don’t have the energy. Fortunately, some herbal teas give us an energy boost, such as Ashwagandha tea.
Research on healthy people (no diagnosed conditions) found that Ashwagandha extract significantly improved speed, strength and oxygen capacity with exercise. Read:
Effects like these can leave us feeling more energised after a workout, and make everything feel more rewarding as we enjoy the results of our efforts. When we enjoy the rewards, we’re more motivated to continue.
Even in previously healthy people, a lack of physical activity makes it difficult to completely clear the bowels. However, energising tonic herbal teas such as Ashwagandha can fight fatigue and improve our workout results.
When to see a doctor?
Functional, structural or neurological problems can cause an inability to completely clear your bowels if home remedies and lifestyle changes aren’t working.
Certain issues that persist for years, or particularly traumatic experiences to the digestive system, can lead to the large intestine becoming too distended for muscle contractions to work effectively. Symptoms of these conditions may include:
- A constant inability to completely clear your bowels, unlike IBS which is more intermittent
- Mucus or blood in bowel movements
- Bloating, which may appear impossible to relieve
- Faecal impaction, where you cannot clear your bowels at all as the stool has become extremely hard and dense
- Abdominal pain, which can be intense
- Other neurological symptoms, including brain fog or a lack of coordination.
- Difficult menstruation
- A feeling that you never fully recovered from childbirth
If simple lifestyle changes aren’t working for you and you have been unable to clear your bowels for a long time, then further investigation is needed to rule out any digestive or neurological issues.
If you have trouble with completely clearing your bowels, it’s most likely that the solution to your issues is simple. Dehydration, stress, inflammation, lack of physical activity or perhaps the need for a little more stimulation can all contribute to the inability to clear your bowels. Therefore, it may help with your bowel movements if you
- stay hydrated
- manage stress through methods such as calming herbal teas
- keep inflammation down, such as by taking turmeric
- use energising herbal remedies to motivate your physical activity or stimulate digestion.