Ah, travel—a passport to having transformative experiences, meeting amazing new people, and spending an inordinate amount of time on the toilet. If you get constipated when you travel, you’re not alone: It’s a common side effect of changing time zones, air travel, and eating new food. Never fear: There are a few foods and supplements that some of the country’s best functional doctors rely on to stay regular, no matter where in the world they are. Their top pick, hands down? Magnesium. The calming supplement is cited again and again as a carry-on must-have, and for good reason—it can aid in relieving travel stress and help with bathroom visits. Here’s more about the miracle of magnesium, and the doctors’ other go-to remedies.
When I travel, I always bring along some magnesium glycinate and NAC (N-acetyl cysteine). Both of these supplements can help get things moving. When I used to struggle more with constipation (before I realized a gluten-free diet and a Squatty Potty were the cure for my constipation), I would also pack Nature’s Plus Gold Liquid or Green Vibrance to help me stay regular. I also focus on staying hydrated and keeping my morning routine calm and consistent, even when on the road. Not a food, but perhaps the biggest help for my travel regularity has been the travel Squatty Potty. I don’t leave home without it.
The best remedies for constipation are: magnesium citrate (I like the powder so that I can adjust the amount I take). This can be titrated up until it’s effective. Drink a lot of water with it since it pulls water into the gut to do its job. The next best remedy is MCT oil; it boosts brain function while assisting with constipation. With both of these, if you take too much, it can cause diarrhea. Aloe is also a nice additive for constipation.
—Wendie Trubow, M.D.
The best remedy goes to magnesium! Aim for magnesium citrate, as it has better bioavailability (especially compared to oxide), is rapidly absorbed, and is a great option for helping loosen stools. Other things to consider are making sure you’re exercising and drinking at least half your body weight in ounces of water, as both help keep regular bowel movements. Nutritionally, make sure you get enough fiber, especially high in foods like pears, strawberries, avocado, ground flaxseed, ground chia seeds, artichoke, Brussels sprouts, and beans. If constipation continues, especially post-vacation, I’d recommend speaking to a knowledgeable practitioner to see what else may be awry.
—Serena Goldstein, N.D.
I never travel without magnesium. Magnesium is my favorite remedy for constipation. It’s involved in over 550 different enzymatic reactions in the body and is a great laxative. I recommend that people start with one capsule per night and increase every three nights by one capsule until they get soft stools one or two times per day.
Bring (organic) prunes.
My favorite food to travel with to prevent constipation is prunes. They travel easily and are very high in fiber. Fiber is the undigested component of food that stays in your intestine, adding bulk to your stools and making them easier to pass. Many people need only three to four prunes to have regular bowel movements. I also make sure to drink enough water throughout the day to help the fiber work. And I always make sure to choose organic prunes!
Eat a ton of fiber.
Fiber is magic for constipation. It helps to remove toxins, facilitates intestinal movement, and protects your digestive tract from inflammation, injury, and disease. Most American women consume only about 14 grams of my recommended 35 to 50 grams of fiber per day. Fiber also aids in weight loss and maintenance because it can curb your appetite by helping you feel full, and it helps dispose of estrogen to keep you in the fat-burning zone. Not bad, right? Fiber-rich foods include quinoa, legumes, berries, and green leafy vegetables. Keep in mind that it can be challenging to eat your daily fiber minimum, so you might need to supplement with an excellent fiber blend. Whether you use food or supplements to get your fiber, I recommend increasing fiber intake by a maximum of 5 grams per day, starting at 20 grams on Day 1. If you get gassy, scale back and increase more slowly.
One of the best remedies for constipation is fiber, and during the summer, smoothies are an easy and refreshing way to make sure you get adequate levels of fiber in your diet.
Ideally, you want to aim for at least 40 grams of fiber a day. Adding 2 tablespoons of fiber into your smoothies such as chia seeds, psyllium husk, acacia fiber, or ground flaxseed is a quick and easy way to boost dietary fiber intake. Berries are also rich in fiber and provide anti-inflammatory compounds that help boost immune function.
If one of my patients at my functional medicine center has been traveling and their digestion is sluggish and a little (or a lot) off, one of my favorite natural medicines to try is triphala. Literally translating as “three fruits,” triphala is a traditional ayurvedic herbal formula blend of three fruits native to India. Triphala is a gentle bowel tonic supporting healthy bowel movements. It’s also a powerful antioxidant. Win-win!
Have some caffeine.
I also love using a small amount of caffeine such as a morning cup of coffee or espresso for resetting the gut system when traveling. Time it in the morning in the new place you are traveling to so that it does not interfere with melatonin production. Of course travel is constipating—I tell people that no matter what, they may have a day or two that they don’t feel “right” in their gut. That’s OK. No need to fret. A combination of sitting, dehydration, change in meals/sleep can really be a doozy for the gut. Give it 48 hours to recover.
Drink some water and get moving.
Three of the biggest culprits in travel-related constipation troubles are dehydration, changes in your eating habits (eating more indulgent foods and less fiber), and more time sitting (either on the plane or in a car to get there, and depending on what you’re doing at your destination). People don’t realize this, but your activity level has a significant impact on how your bowels work—it’s one of the reasons why when patients are bedridden, they can have problems with constipation, and if a patient wants to get their “bowels moving” again, we advise them to walk!
So, if you find that you’re a little stopped up, I advise gulping a good 16 ounces of water to hydrate, going out for a sightseeing walk, and giving yourself a veggie boost in terms of a big salad, veggie-and-fruit-only smoothie, or veggie soup. Keep doing those three things during your trip, and you’ll find things moving again in no time!