Can Olive Oil Really Help When You're Feeling Constipated?
Long (as in centuries) before olive oil became a tried-and-true pantry staple, it was used for a variety of other needs. It can be used topically on the skin as a cleanser, cuticle oil, and scalp oil to name a few applications. Because it's full of antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and fat-absorbing vitamins like A, D, E, and K, olive oil locks in moisture and can help hydrate and plump the skin.
The benefits go beyond the culinary and beauty world, though, and extend into health: This popular monounsaturated fatty oil has been shown to support longevity, plus lower the risk of heart disease, cholesterol, and obesity. One benefit you may be less familiar with, though: olive oil to help alleviate constipation. Now, before you write it off, let me explain how it works.
Can olive oil help relieve constipation?
When considering what might immediately improve constipation, olive oil is likely not your laxative of choice. In fact, other oils (i.e., castor oil or flaxseed oil) have better data supporting their ability to improve symptoms of constipation. However, olive oil does have mild laxative effects—enough to be beneficial for someone struggling to pass hard stools.
One study found that patients undergoing dialysis were able to alleviate constipation by consuming olive oil daily. Another study suggests that when paired with almond oil, olive oil can be used as a softening agent to help stool pass more effectively. Additionally, in kids with severe, chronic constipation, olive oil enemas may be useful.
How to use olive oil for constipation.
I recommend buying extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) if possible because it's minimally processed, cold-pressed, and unrefined—meaning you're getting the purest oil without any added chemicals. It also tends to have more antioxidants than the more processed varieties, so while you're consuming it, you will reap the anti-inflammatory and free-radical-fighting benefits.
Because olive oil is not an over-the-counter medication like some other laxatives, there is no standard dosage to keep in mind when using it for constipation. I recommend starting with the general serving size, which is 1 tablespoon per day. You can drink it on its own or incorporate it into your smoothies, coffee, or salad dressings.
If you use olive oil in your salad dressing and again to roast your veggies later, it's possible that you might exceed just 1 tablespoon, and that's OK. Just try not to eat an excessive amount in one day as it could potentially cause diarrhea or stomach upset (it does help you poop, after all!).
Is it safe for everyone?
Eating a moderate amount of olive oil is generally considered safe for anyone (unless you have an allergy to olives or olive oil, which is extremely rare). Just be careful not to overcorrect your constipation by eating too much olive oil, as it might result in diarrhea. And since studies have shown that olive oil may lower blood sugar levels, be sure to talk to your doctor if you're diabetic or have insulin resistance to make sure you're staying within a healthy range.
What causes constipation in the first place?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, constipation is defined as an inability to pass three stools in one week, and when they do pass, the stools are hard, uncomfortable, and painful. There are several reasons for chronic constipation, including dehydration, an imbalance in the gut microbiome, food sensitivities or allergies, certain medications, a lack of fiber in the diet, traveling, and ignoring the urge to poop, to name a few.
What causes another person's constipation may be different from what's causing yours, which is why it's important to work closely with a doctor or gastroenterologist to understand the root of the problem and how to address it appropriately.
Other things that may help relieve constipation.
If olive oil is already a part of your daily diet, and it doesn't seem to be enhancing your digestion, here are a few other tried-and-true methods that may help:
- Drink more water: Dehydration can lead to constipation.
- Eat plenty of fiber: Fiber is a potent prebiotic, so aim to eat plenty of leafy greens, colorful vegetables, and whole grains, as well as flaxseeds, chia seeds, brewer's yeast, and psyllium husk. If fiber isn't part of your regular diet, start slowly, as the introduction of gut-healthy microbes can sometimes upset the stomach. (Here: 15 foods that will help you poop and 25 fiber-rich foods to add to your diet.)
- Consume more probiotics: Eating probiotic-rich foods or taking a daily probiotic supplement can help support a healthy and balanced gut microbiome.
- Move your body: Not getting enough physical activity is one cause of constipation. Exercising daily will get your GI system and bowels moving.
- Belly massage: Press your hands into your belly, starting from the small intestine moving up your abdomen, then down your abdomen following the large intestine in a circular motion. This osteopathic manipulative technique is amazing and will get your bowels moving: Read a more detailed step-by-step guide here.
- OTC options: There are also some over-the-counter (OTC) laxatives or supplements, like magnesium citrate, that may help with digestion, but talk to your doctor to find out if they're right for you.
If none of these methods are working, talk to your doctor to rule out other causes of chronic constipation and find a solution that works for you. And in the meantime, adding olive oil to your diet might just help!
Dr. Bindiya Gandhi is an American Board Family Medicine–certified physician who studied family medicine at Georgia Regents University/Medical College of Georgia. She completed her undergraduate training at the University of Georgia with a bachelor's of science in biology and psychology in 2004 and her doctor of medicine at American University of Antigua College of Medicine in 2010. She completed an integrative medicine fellowship at the University of Arizona with Dr. Andrew Weil. She is also currently working on her functional medicine training with the Institute of Functional Medicine. Her interests include integrative, holistic, and functional medicine; women's health; preventive medicine; international medicine; and health care reform. She's also a certified yoga instructor and Reiki master. She enjoys writing and educating everyone on important health matters.