Most people deal with constipation at some point or another. And if you are a fan of natural remedies, perhaps you’ve heard that olive oil can help with constipation. You might be wondering, does it actually work?
Olive oil has been used for centuries for its stool softening and lubricating effect. However, most of the evidence for using olive oil to relieve constipation are antectodal.
In this article, we will dig into the research to see if it actually works. We will discuss why olive oil may relieve constipation, how to use olive oil for constipation, and what other benefits olive oil holds for gut health.
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What is Constipation?
The American Gastroenterology Association defines constipation as having fewer than three bowel movements per week, having stools that are hard to pass, and needing to strain on the toilet. Your stool might be hard and dry. And you might feel like you can’t get it all out.
In more severe cases of constipation, you might actually alternate loose stools with hard stools. This happens when you have hard poop that won’t come out and softer poop above it that liquefies and pushes its way past the obstruction. Doctors sometimes refer to this as “overflow diarrhea”.
Constipation can have various causes including gut health conditions such as IBS, pelvic floor dysfunction, dyssynergic defecation, and medication side effects. A diet low in fiber, inadequate fluid intake, and lack of physical activity can be contributing factors as well.
How Can Olive Oil Help with Constipation?
When looking for studies on the use of olive oil for constipation, I came across an article as old as 1893. That’s not a typo – eighteen-ninety-three. In this article, they discussed the history of olive oil for constipation which goes back to ancient times.
Also in this paper from 1893, they discuss how olive oil injections in particular can help with constipation – namely, by softening the stool and calming irritation.
So does the hype from 130 year ago live up to modern science? Well, maybe…
But the rather archaic methods have certainly evolved over the past 100+ years.
The method described in the 1893 paper involves several days of injecting up to half a liter of olive oil high up into the colon using a tube made of rubber, bone, or glass. It sounds similar to modern-day colonic irrigation (also not recommended, by the way).
But today, a much gentler approach is used when incorporating olive oil into a plan for constipation relief. Methods include taking olive oil by mouth, using it as an enema, or using olive oil for abdominal massage.
Is the Use of Olive Oil for Constipation Evidence-Based?
Although the practice of using olive oil for constipation has been around practically forever, there are not a lot of high-quality studies to prove it is effective.
There are a few small studies that give us some information. But the sample sizes in these studies are small. And they target very specific groups, which means the results might not apply to everyone.
However, just because it hasn’t been heavily studied, doesn’t mean it can’t work. It just means we are lacking data to definitively say one way or the other.
So then, we must weigh the risks versus the benefits to decide whether it is worth trying. While this article is a good start, it is always advised to discuss any bowel concerns with your doctor so you can make the best plan together.
How do people use olive oil to treat constipation? Read on to find out.
How to Relieve Constipation with Olive Oil
There is one study available that supports the use of olive oil taken by mouth to help alleviate symptoms of constipation. This study was done on patients with kidney failure, undergoing dialysis. In this study, taking olive oil was found to be as effective as mineral oil in treating constipation.
If you scan the internet for how much olive oil to take by mouth to get a laxative effect, you might come up with a range of answers. In the study above, the average effective dose was right around 1 teaspoon, taken on an empty stomach once a day.
The study authors do note that dialysis patients tend to have a decreased ability to absorb fats, which means more of the oil will reach the colon and potentially have a bigger laxative effect than in people who are not on dialysis.
So it is possible that for many people with constipation, a larger dose may be required to be effective.
Conclusion? It may be reasonable to start with 1 teaspoon of olive oil a day, taken on an empty stomach. If this is not an effective dose, increase by ½ – 1 teaspoon at a time, up to 3 teaspoons (or 1 tablespoon) per day. See below regarding the possible side effects of larger amounts of olive oil.
As an Enema
I was able to find one study on the use of olive oil enemas for constipation. This was a chart review of children with constipation or fecal impaction. Chart reviews are not the highest quality studies, but can still provide us with some evidence.
It should be noted that since this review was completed in children, the results might not be the same in adults.
In this study, olive oil enemas were found to be useful for treating fecal impaction. The success of olive oil enemas was increased when used in combination with glycerin enemas. This combination resolved fecal impaction in 84% of the children studied.
Olive oil enemas (alone or in combination with glycerin enemas) also appeared to be helpful for children who were not impacted but had chronic constipation.
The strength of the enemas used was 1-2 ml/kg olive oil. A similar strength was used for the glycerin enemas that were given a few hours following the olive oil enema.
There are risks associated with the use of enemas, including electrolyte imbalances, damage to the rectum or colon, perforation, and infection. So before buying an enema kit, speak with your doctor to determine if it is the right approach for you.
Olive Oil Massage
This method of using olive oil for constipation sounds much nicer than the previous, doesn’t it? I’d much prefer an abdominal massage than an enema. But does it work?
One small study found that abdominal massage with olive oil improved constipation in adults over the age of 60, living in a nursing home. In this study, abdominal massage with olive oil was compared to massage with water or a control group with no intervention.
There was a statistically significant improvement in constipation in both the olive oil group and the water group, but there was a greater effect in the olive oil group.
The constipation scores in the control group worsened. This might be an indicator that the improvements in the massage groups were not just by chance.
In the olive oil group, 20 mL (about 4 teaspoons) of extra virgin olive oil was massaged into the abdomen for 15 minutes every morning for 5 days.
Of note, this study used professional massage therapists, so it is unclear if the results can be reproduced with self-massage techniques. However, there have been other studies that suggest self-massage can be effective at relieving constipation.
You may be wondering; does it need to be olive oil?
There have been studies on the effects of abdominal massage using other oils that have produced similar results. These include sweet almond oil, lavender and ginger oil, and mineral oil.
It is likely that the oil simply enhances the massage.
Precautions When Using Olive Oil for Constipation
Olive oil, taken orally, is generally considered to be safe. And it should be just fine to use as a massage oil. However as mentioned above, there may be some risks associated with the use of olive oil enemas (or any enemas).
And even though the enema study was done on children, you should consult with a physician before trying it on a child. Or an adult, really…
Although it is generally considered safe to take olive oil by mouth, there are some potential side effects to be aware of.
Side Effects of Taking Olive Oil as a Laxative
Olive oil is a fat. A healthy fat, but a fat nonetheless.
Some people, especially those with gut conditions, may be sensitive to large amounts of fat in the diet. This could lead to cramping and diarrhea.
Now, if you’ve been constipated, this may be a welcomed side effect. But if start to experience diarrhea, it would be wise to lay off the oil.
Another possible side effect of using olive oil for constipation is weight gain. Like other fats, olive oil is high in calories. One tablespoon contains 120 calories. And though it’s not a huge number, an extra 120 calories a day can add up over time.
When to Seek Medical Advice
If your constipation is severe, home remedies like olive oil might not be enough to get you going again.
Plus, severe constipation may be a sign of a more dangerous underlying condition. So it is always a good idea to discuss it with your doctor. Especially if it feels like you are constipated more often than not, over-the-counter medications/fiber supplements do not work, or if you are using physical manuevers (using your fingers) to get the poop out.
The following are red-flag symptoms. If any of have constipation with any of the following, you should talk to your doctor as soon as possible:
- Losing weight without trying.
- Blood in your stool or toilet bowl (a little blood when you wipe can be normal).
- Unexplained anemia.
- A family history of inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis).
- Your symptoms start after the age of 50.
- Recurrent vomiting.
Other Benefits of Olive Oil for Gut Health
You may already be aware that extra virgin olive oil is a healthy fat. As a monounsaturated fat, is often praised for its heart health properties. But did you know, there is more than healthy fats at play here?
Olive oil is high in polyphenols, which may protect us against a variety of health conditions including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Polyphenols also help nourish our healthy gut microbes. And in return, our microbes transform those polyphenols into beneficial compounds for our bodies. Studies are constantly coming out indicating that a healthy gut microbiome is a key player in health and longevity.
So, as far as gut health is concerned, olive oil might not just help you go. It might help you build a healthy gut microbiome that can help keep your gut – and everything else, healthy.
But you don’t need to take shots of olive oil to help the microbiome. Using olive oil in cooking and as part of sauces or dressings can do the job. Especially if you pair the olive oil with other plant-based foods that your microbes love.
To learn more about the impact on plants on the microbiome, check out The Importance of Food Diversity in Gut Health.
In conclusion, olive oil, which is known for its rich history and myriad health benefits, has emerged as a potential remedy for constipation.
While ancient practices involved rather extreme methods, modern approaches have evolved to incorporate olive oil in a gentler manner. Taken orally, olive oil may provide lubricating and stool softening properties to keep things moving, comfortably.
Although historical anecdotes support its effectiveness, the overall body of research remains limited, prompting a careful consideration of risks versus benefits.
For those exploring olive oil as a natural solution, starting with a teaspoon on an empty stomach may be a reasonable approach. However, it is important to monitor for potential side effects, especially for individuals sensitive to high-fat diets.
Consulting with a healthcare professional is advised, particularly if considering enemas or if constipation persists or is accompanied by red-flag symptoms.
Beyond its potential in relieving constipation, olive oil’s contributions to gut health are noteworthy. High in polyphenols, it not only aids digestion but also nurtures a healthy gut microbiome. This is increasingly recognized as vital for overall well-being.
For more on natural remedies for constipation, check out Apple Juice and Constipation.
Remember: this post is for informational purposes only and may not be the best fit for you and your personal situation. It shall not be construed as medical advice. The information and education provided here is not intended or implied to supplement or replace professional medical treatment, advice, and/or diagnosis. Always check with your own physician or medical professional before trying or implementing any information read here.