Have you heard of using olive oil for constipation? You might wonder if it is worth taking it for your IBS.
This article will look at whether olive oil can help with constipation, how it works and its possible side effects.
We will also discuss alternative oils and methods to help manage constipation.
Table of Contents
What is constipation?
Constipation is a common IBS symptom which can be very uncomfortable to live with.
Constipation is when you (1, 2):
- Have fewer than three bowel movements per week
- Have stools that are hard and dry
- Are straining or painful to pass stools
- Feeling that not all your stools have been passed
It is normal to have short bouts of constipation from time to time. However, chronic constipation can be more serious when it lasts for more than 3 months (3).
What causes constipation?
There are many possible causes of constipation and these causes can be different for everyone.
Some of the causes include (4):
- Not drinking enough fluids
- Lack of fibre in the diet
- Being inactive
- Ignoring the urge to poop
- Changing your daily routine
- Side effect of certain medications
- Stress, anxiety or depression
Note this is not an exhaustive list.
It is recommended that you work with a Registered Dietitian or a doctor to find out the cause and address it appropriately.
Can olive oil be used for constipation?
Olive oil’s mild laxative effects can be a safe way to help relieve constipation. In a study, constipated haemodialysis patients received 4ml (1 teaspoon) of olive oil or mineral oil daily. After 4 weeks, olive oil was as effective as mineral oil (a commonly used stool softener) at softening stools and relieving constipation (5).
Another study found that people with more than 3 bowel movements per week had higher intakes of olive oil (6).
It has been suggested that olive oil can act as a softener by combining with sweet almond oil to help stools pass more effectively (7). However, we are unsure if olive oil can benefit people with IBS as there is no research on this.
What dose of olive oil is needed for constipation?
As olive oil is not a medication, there is no standardised recommended dose for constipation.
Although olive oil has no FODMAPs, Monash recommends you to stick within 18g (1 tablespoon) per serve due to its high fat content (8).
How does olive oil help constipation?
The fats in the olive oil can act as a lubricant on the bowels allowing stools to pass smoothly in the gut (9). It also helps the stool to retain more water, making it softer to pass (10).
Olive oil may also stimulate bile release into our small bowel. Bile helps to break down dietary fat so it can be absorbed (11). Most of the bile is recycled in our liver, and about 5% continues onto the large bowel (12).
Certain bile acids can act as a natural laxative by helping our gut contract and increase water secretion (13). Therefore, olive oil theoretically may help with constipation, but more research is needed.
Is olive oil safe to use?
Olive oil is safe unless you have an olive allergy which is very rare. Symptoms may include wheezing, headaches, excessive coughing and swelling of the nasal cavity (14).
You may experience diarrhea if you have large amounts of olive oil, e.g. more than a few tablespoons at once (15, 16).
One study found that olive oil can lower blood sugar levels (17). You should talk to your doctor before using olive oil for constipation if you have pre-diabetes or diabetes.
Although olive oil is deemed as healthy due to the heart healthy fats it contains, you should be aware that olive oil contains 120 calories and 14g of fat per tablespoon and excess calories which can lead to weight gain (18).
If your overall diet is high in fat, it can also trigger IBS symptoms (19). It is recommended to work with a Registered Dietitian to ensure that your diet is healthy and well-balanced.
Can other oils be used for constipation instead of olive oil?
You may be wondering if only olive oil can be used for constipation. Here are some other oils that can be used:
- Castor oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Mineral oil
Castor oil has been used as a stimulant laxative for thousands of years to help with constipation (20).
One study found that castor oil helped improve constipation and reduced straining in the elderly suffering from chronic constipation (21).
Ricinoleic acid is the primary fatty acid found in castor oil. It binds to the receptors on the cells in your gut which stimulates the muscles to contract and push out stools (22).
A typical dose can be around 15 – 60mL (about 3 – 12 teaspoons) to treat constipation in adults (23). However, you should always read the preparation label to ensure you are taking the proper dose.
Due to its distinctive taste, castor oil is commonly added to:
- Fruit juice
- Soft drink
It can take between 6 to 12 hours before castor oil causes a bowel movement (24).
Mineral oil is a lubricant laxative which works similarly to olive oil (25).
A typical dose of mineral oil can be around 15 – 45 mL (about 3 – 7 teaspoons) and it takes approximately 6 – 8 hours to work (26). Always check the product instructions about dosages and how to take them.
Mineral oil can interfere with the absorption of nutrients and fat-soluble vitamins (vitamin A, D, E and K), so it should not be taken with meals (27).
It can also impact your body on absorbing certain medications, so it is recommended to avoid taking medications for at least 2 hours after ingesting mineral oil (28).
Please consult your doctor before taking mineral oil.
Flaxseed oil (known as flax oil or linseed oil) can effectively treat constipation. It can help soften the stool similarly to olive oil (29).
In one study, haemodialysis patients were given 4ml of flaxseed oil. It increased their frequency of bowel movements and stool consistency. It was found to be as effective as olive oil and mineral oil (30). However, there are no studies on flaxseed oil and IBS so we are unable to understand if it helps with IBS specifically.
Remember that laxatives can improve symptoms in the short term, but people should use them only when necessary. Please speak to your doctor before taking any of these alternative oils.
Abdominal massage with olive oil to relieve constipation
Another way to use olive oil is to massage it on your abdomen, which can help with constipation.
In a study, elderly participants were abdominally massaged with extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) or water for 15 minutes for five days. They found that EVOO significantly reduced the symptoms of constipation in comparison to those massaged with water (31).
You can try this at home by applying olive oil to your abdomen and gently massaging it into your skin in small circular motions.
How to manage constipation
Simple lifestyle changes can also help to manage symptoms of constipation. This can include (32, 33):
- Drinking more water
- Eating more fibre
- Certain probiotics
- Medications such as Metamucil and magnesium (Please consult your doctor before taking any medications)
Here is our guide on how to manage your constipation.
If these methods do not provide enough symptom relief, talk to your doctor to rule out other causes and help find a solution tailored to you.
Olive oil’s mild laxative properties can be used to treat constipation. Although, for IBS specifically, there is no research on this.
It is recommended to stick within the 18mL (1 tablespoon) per serve. Side effects like diarrhea are rare unless large amounts of olive oil is taken.
Alternatively, there are other oils and methods to manage constipation. However, you should speak to your doctor if constipation persists.
Written by Leeona Lam MSc, ANutr and reviewed by Serena Bansal Registered Dietitian BSc Hons
Serena is a UK HCPC Registered Dietitian with a keen interest in IBS and gut health. Serena graduated from Coventry University in 2021 with an upper second class in Dietetics and Human Nutrition.
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