Although medically it is considered “normal” to have a bowel movement every 3 days, it is healthy to have at least one daily. Think about it. You would not want to put chewed up food that has been sitting out on a 98 degree sidewalk for 3 days in your body. It would be rotten and toxic. Same rules apply to your body (though your immune system and healthy gut bacteria buy you a bit more time). The time the food goes in your mouth until the time it goes out the other end (called the “transit time”) should be 12-30 hours. This gives your body time to remove the nutrients, but gets the food residue out before it gets toxic. To see what your transit time is, eat a can or ear of corn and see how long it takes for the yellow outer part of the corn kernels (not digestible) to come out the other end.
General Diet Advice
Eat veggies and whole grains
If you are eating too little fiber, eat more veggies and whole grains. A bowl of whole grain cereal in the morning like Raisin Bran (8 gms fiber), or if the problem is severe, All Bran (19.5 gm fiber) or Grape Nuts (11 gms fiber) are excellent starts. When choosing a high-fiber cereal, make sure it is one you enjoy. There’s no point in buying cereal that’s full of fiber if you aren’t going to eat it. Make sure your cereal has over 5 gms of fiber per serving and is not loaded with sugar. (See CNN link reference below.)
Unless you want to try pushing out hard little rocks, you want to stay well hydrated. Sodas and sugar will make the problem worse. Tea works and has a mild laxative effect to boot (drink real brewed tea — not the sugar loaded soda pop they call tea often sold in bottles). How much water is enough? Don’t count glasses of water, which would be an annoying way to spend the rest of your life. Instead, keep a glass of water on hand and check in with your mouth and lips every so often. If they are dry, you’re dehydrated and it's time to drink.
For symptomatic relief, there are several natural laxatives that are healthy:
The mineral magnesium draws water into your bowel, helping to loosen the stool. You can take up to 800 mg a day for a few days here and there, but used long term at this high dose it can make your bowel dependent on it. You can take 200-400 mg every day (this simply replaces what food processing takes out of the food) and your whole body will feel better.
In doses over 500 mg, vitamin C can have a laxative effect. If taking over 2,000 mg a day, use a powdered and buffered vitamin C.
A cousin to Pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), Pantethine 500 mg 1-3x day directly stimulates bowel function. Pantethine (but not pantothenic acid) will also lower elevated cholesterols. If your cholesterol is up and you’re constipated though, you deserve a trial of natural thyroid hormone as well.
Other Therapies & Advice
Check for spastic colon
This usually reflects a bowel infection (usually yeast but sometimes bacterial) that some doctors don’t recognize. When you treat the infection, the spastic colon/Irritable Bowel Syndrome often goes away. See Irritable Bowel Syndrome and also the Candida sections for more info.
Check for low thyroid
Check for low thyroid — even if your tests are normal. If you have fatigue, weight gain and or cold intolerance with your constipation, you deserve a trial of natural thyroid hormone (Armour Thyroid by prescription). See Hypothyroidism for more info.
Chronic laxative use
Using laxatives too frequently can result in constipation. Reduce use.
Check for food allergies
An excellent treatment for determining and eliminating allergies is an acupressure (no needles needed) technique called NAET. Also, see how to do a "Multiple Food Elimination Diet" to test for them — most blood tests are horribly unreliable. (See reference links below.)