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Does hot water and lemon help constipation?

Constipation is a common gastrointestinal issue that affects people of all ages. It is characterized by infrequent, difficult, or incomplete bowel movements. Some common symptoms of constipation include straining during bowel movements, lumpy or hard stools, sensation of incomplete evacuation, bloating, and abdominal discomfort. Constipation can negatively impact quality of life and lead to complications if severe. Therefore, finding effective and safe home remedies for constipation relief is important. One popular natural remedy is drinking hot water with lemon juice. But does this simple drink actually help treat constipation? Let’s take a closer look.

What causes constipation?

Constipation can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Inadequate fiber intake
  • Dehydration
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Medications like opioids
  • Diseases affecting the colon
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Changes in routine or travel
  • Ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement
  • Stress and anxiety

The most common causes are not getting enough fiber and fluids in the diet. Fiber adds bulk to stools and helps them move through the colon more easily. Water keeps stools soft and prevents dehydration, which can lead to constipation.

How does hot water and lemon juice help with constipation?

There are a few ways that hot water and lemon may help relieve constipation:

Increases fluid intake

Dehydration is a common cause of constipation. Drinking hot water and lemon can help increase fluid intake and prevent the stools from becoming too hard and dry. The lemon adds some flavor, which may encourage people to drink more. Consuming adequate fluids softens the stool and allows it to move through the colon more easily.

Contains vitamin C

Lemons are a good source of vitamin C. One lemon provides about 31 mg of vitamin C. Some research shows that vitamin C supplements may have a mild laxative effect and help relieve constipation. Vitamin C is thought to increase fluid secretion in the colon and also act as an osmotic agent to draw more water into the intestines.

Stimulates muscle contractions

The hot temperature of the water may help stimulate contractions in the colon. The heat can trigger peristaltic waves in the intestines, which move stool through the digestive tract. This helps propel the stool and eliminate waste from the body more quickly.

Acts as a warm liquid stimulant

Drinking any warm liquid can help stimulate bowel movements. The act of drinking a hot beverage itself helps increase movement through the intestines. Hot liquids are thought to trigger contractions in the colon and may also loosen up any stool that has become impacted in the rectum.

What’s the evidence?

There is limited scientific research specifically on hot water and lemon for constipation relief. However, some studies have looked at the effects of hot fluids, lemon components, and vitamin C on constipation:

  • A 2008 study found that drinking warm water significantly increased bowel movements compared to room temperature water in patients with chronic constipation.
  • An animal study showed that limonene, a compound found in lemon peel, increased motility in the colon.
  • A 2006 review concluded that vitamin C has a mild laxative effect and may help relieve constipation.

So while there’s some evidence that the individual components may help, more research is still needed on hot water and lemon juice specifically.

Is it safe?

For most people, drinking hot water with lemon juice is safe and without side effects. However, there are a few precautions to keep in mind:

  • Avoid drinking extremely hot water as it could burn the throat.
  • Drinking large amounts of lemon juice may erode tooth enamel over time. Always dilute lemon juice in water.
  • Lemons may interact with certain medications that are broken down by the liver.
  • Lemons are high in citric acid and could cause gastrointestinal issues in some people.

People with health conditions like GERD or ulcers may want to avoid concentrated lemon juice. Introduce diluted lemon water slowly to make sure it is tolerated.

How to use it effectively

Here are some tips to get the most benefit from hot water and lemon for constipation:

  • Always use fresh lemons rather than bottled juice for the most vitamin C.
  • Drink it first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.
  • Add the juice from half a lemon to an 8 ounce cup of hot (not boiling) water.
  • Can flavor with a teaspoon of raw honey if desired.
  • Drink 1-2 cups daily, ideally at least 30 minutes before meals.
  • Combine with lifestyle changes like more fiber, exercise, and fluids.

It may take several days of consistent use to see results. Be patient and allow some time for the body to respond.

Other home remedies for constipation

While hot water and lemon juice may help, there are other natural laxatives to try as well:

  • Prune juice – contains natural laxative compounds
  • Chia seeds and flaxseeds – swell in the gut to add bulk
  • Exercise and movement – gets the bowels moving
  • Probiotic foods like yogurt – support gut health
  • Magnesium supplements – draws water into the colon
  • Olive oil – lubricates the intestines

Combining remedies can provide more relief. For example, exercising regularly while drinking prune juice. It’s best to try gentle natural options before resorting to laxatives or enemas.

When to see a doctor

Occasional constipation can often be managed at home with simple remedies. However, consult a doctor if you experience:

  • No bowel movements for 3 or more days
  • Hard, dry stools
  • Bleeding from straining
  • Constant need to strain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Persistent abdominal pain

These may indicate an underlying health condition causing the constipation. Prompt medical treatment is needed for severe or chronic constipation.

The bottom line

Here is a quick summary of the key points:

  • Hot water helps stimulate contractions and motility in the colon.
  • Lemon can provide fluid along with some vitamin C and beneficial plant compounds.
  • Evidence for the benefits is limited but promising based on individual ingredients.
  • Best to drink first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.
  • Safe for most people when consumed in moderation.
  • May be more effective when combined with lifestyle changes.
  • See a doctor for severe, chronic, or painful constipation.

While not a cure-all, hot water and lemon juice is an easy, safe home remedy that may help stimulate bowel movements and relieve mild constipation. When combined with diet, exercise, and lifestyle adjustments, it can be part of an overall constipation relief plan. However, severe or persistent cases still require medical diagnosis and treatment.