In this article, we examine the virtues of olive oil for constipation.
Olive oil is safer in the long run and more nutritive than mineral oil. It provides multiple benefits to the overall digestive apparatus. It also encourages the gallbladder to stimulate more bile, our natural laxative.
So let’s jump right in. We’ll first spend some time on the benefits of olive oil for the gastrointestinal tract. We will then discuss how to incorporate it into our daily routine for constipation prevention.
Constipation can be a complex, multi-faceted problem to solve. It is not just the colon that is involved. The overall gastrointestinal tract may be performing in a sub-optimal manner.
We already covered in a separate article the fact that a malfunctioning gallbladder could, for instance, participate in constipation by not producing enough bile.
A deficient stomach, not secreting enough hydrochloric acid, will start off the whole digestion cascade in a less-than-ideal way.
A backed-up, congested liver - stressed out by food excesses, medication or chemical pollutants - will not be able to secrete enough bile to detoxify your whole system.
The bottom line is this: if you have a tendency toward constipation, you need to worry about the health of your overall gastrointestinal tract. Don’t take things piecemeal and just focus on colonic transit. Ensure they whole digestion process is running fine.
Olive oil for constipation will provide multiple benefits to most, if not all organs involved in digestion.
Olive oil may help protect against stomach ulcer and stomach cancer(1).
Researchers have shown that phenolic compounds of olive oil can stay stable for several hours in the very acidic environment of the stomach. In vitro, those compounds have shown an ability to combat Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria that can cause stomach ulcers and cancer.
According to an epidemiology study regarding H. pylori in the US(2), H. pylori infection was present in 52% of the participants. Its presence is often symptomatic and can wreak havoc in the stomach. Olive oil may play a role in keeping H. pylori at bay.
Olive oil stimulates the gallbladder to release more bile. Bile helps us to digest fats. That is why olive oil, particularly when taken alone (say by the teaspoonful), can provide such a gallbladder stimulation when it enters the duodenum.
A side benefit is that bile, as a liquid, keeps your stools moister. It is also slightly irritating to the gut mucosa, providing a stimulus for stools movement.
The bile is stored and dehydrated in the gallbladder to make it more potent. But the liver is responsible for making it. If the liver is malfunctioning, overloaded, or subject to oxidative stress, it will not perform properly and may not make enough bile.
A long list of studies demonstrated that olive oil protects the liver against oxidative stress (reference (3) is one example). All of those studies were performed on rats, but the results are so consistent that the following can be safely stated:
Olive oil protects your liver against oxidative stress.
We know the critical role of the colon in the genesis of constipation. But we also know that inversely, constipation can be harsh to the colon and create multiple issues (fissures, hemorrhoids, etc). In other words, constipation is a significant stress to the colon.
Olive oil has a protective effect on the mucosa of the colon. Some studies(4) have shown that olive oil may help in the fight against colorectal cancer, the phenols of olive oil inhibiting several stages in colon carcinogenesis in vitro.
Olive oil for constipation is nutritive and brings multiple benefits to your whole gastrointestinal apparatus. Welcome it into your constipation remedies toolkit.
Past generations have used olive oil for constipation prevention. Our elders were very practical. When one thing didn't work they moved on to something else, they had no time to waste. From that perspective, olive oil for constipation is a tried and true remedy.
But let's look at research data for a moment, just to cement our convictions.
A Spanish study published in 2006(5) looked at the rate of constipation in a particular province of Spain. The study looked at a sample of 414 people over 50 years of age.
In that study group, 4.4% of the population had bowel habits consistent with constipation. "97.7% of participants with more than three defecations a week had a high intake of virgin olive oil”. “Only 2.7% of participants took laxatives regularly”. That is very low compared to rates we are seeing in the US.
Another study published in 2007(6) looked at the benefits of olive oil in patients with chronic kidney disease. Even though constipation was not the point of the study, the researchers noted that constipation significantly diminished in the group taking extra virgin olive oil. That’s what I would call a welcome side effect.
If you want to try olive oil for constipation, always buy a good quality “extra virgin”, organic, cold and mechanically pressed olive oil. Those will contain the most vitamins and antioxidants. Read the labels. Ask the vendors. Natural food stores will be able to inform you better than supermarkets.
Why organic? Most toxins are liposoluble. This means that they love to dissolve in fats. A non-organic olive oil will have a particular ability to store all the chemicals sprayed on the fruit during cultivation.
Olive oil is made up of monounsaturated fats, which are pretty stable when heated. You can therefore use it for sautéing, browning, stir-frying, etc.
As a side note, very few oils remain stable when heated. Olive oil is one, peanut oil is another. The rest of the gang (sunflower seeds, flax seeds, walnut, rapeseed, etc) will turn rancid (toxic) when heated.
Most vitamins are destroyed by heat. Olive oil is rich in the whole range of vitamins (A through E and K) so use olive oil in unheated form whenever you can:
In other words, your first strategy is to let food be your medicine and use olive oil for constipation lavishly within your daily meal routine.
If you want to use olive oil for constipation, here is what I recommend.
If you currently have a mild to moderate case of constipation, you should try the following protocol. Take one tablespoon of olive oil first thing in the morning. This will make your gallbladder release a good amount of bile. If the taste makes you nauseated, add a squirt of lemon juice. Then proceed with your breakfast.
Most of the sources out there also mention one tablespoon in the evening before going to bed. I don’t like that approach. A good portion of the individuals I work with in my naturopathic clinic have digestive upsets in addition to constipation. Taking something fat and caloric when the body’s metabolism is supposed to shut down for the night can sometimes create gastrointestinal issues (reflux included).
If this one tablespoon dose does not provide results within a few hours, take another tablespoon before the next meal, say half an hour before lunch. Or if you are at the office, take this second dose half an hour before dinner, when you get home.
When you are back to normal, continue to take one tablespoon every morning for the next week. After that, as a maintenance routine, it is best to incorporate plenty of olive oil in your daily meals as mentioned in the previous section rather than going for the single dose.
I particularly like to start lunch and dinner with a mix of greens, accompanied with a good vinaigrette made up of olive oil, vinegar and a bit of Dijon mustard. And as you can guess, I am not stingy on the vinaigrette, to ensure my gallbladder gets a good signal when I start off the meal.
Mineral oil is often mentioned as a very popular and helpful lubricant and stools emollient. As we have discussed in the mineral oil article, there are more natural, more nutritive alternatives that do not exhibit any risk of long term use.
Olive oil for constipation is one of the best alternatives. Olive oil for constipation can be helpful on its own for occasional cases of mild to moderate constipation. Although if constipation has become a way of life for you, it should be used as part of a more complete constipation protocol. This website is here to help you build such a protocol.
When you are back to normal, olive oil should be copiously added to your daily meals for its protective and soothing effects on your overall gastrointestinal tract.
And yes, I have not mentioned the multiple other benefits of olive oil, for cardiovascular health for example, as it is a bit “out of topic”.
But you get the picture: stock up on a good organic olive oil, and drizzle away!
(1) Romero C, Medina E, Vargas J, Brenes M, De Castro A. "In vitro activity of olive oil polyphenols against Helicobacter pylori". J Agric Food Chem. 2007 Feb 7;55(3):680-6.
(2) Graham DY, Malaty HM, Evans DG, Evans DJ Jr, Klein PD, Adam E. "Epidemiology of Helicobacter pylori in an asymptomatic population in the United States. Effect of age, race, and socioeconomic status". Gastroenterology. 1991 Jun;100(6):1495-501.
(3) Kasdallah-Grissa A, Nakbi A, Koubaa N, El-Fazaâ S, Gharbi N, Kamoun A, Hammami M. "Dietary virgin olive oil protects against lipid peroxidation and improves antioxidant status in the liver of rats chronically exposed to ethanol". Nutr Res. 2008 Jul;28(7):472-9.
(4) Gill CI, Boyd A, McDermott E, McCann M, Servili M, Selvaggini R, Taticchi A, Esposto S, Montedoro G, McGlynn H, Rowland I. "Potential anti-cancer effects of virgin olive oil phenols on colorectal carcinogenesis models in vitro". Int J Cancer. 2005 Oct 20;117(1):1-7.
(5) López Cara MA, Tárraga López PJ, Cerdán Oliver M, Ocaña López JM, Celada Rodríguez A, Solera Albero J, Palomino Medina MA. "Constipation in the population over 50 years of age in Albacete province". Rev Esp Enferm Dig. 2006 Jun;98(6):449-59. English, Spanish.
(6) Pérez Bañasco V, Gil-Cunquero JM, Borrego FJ, Grassó M, Segura P, Warletta F, Lozano JL, Costa LA, Torres J, Gaforio JJ, Villarrubia VG. "Preliminary study on efficacy and tolerance of a "coupage" of olive oil in patients with chronic kidney disease. Nutritonal evaluation". Nefrologia. 2007;27(4):472-81. Spanish.