Constipation is when you have bowel movements (stools) that are hard to pass or happen less often than what is usual for you. You may feel like you need to have a bowel movement but are not able to. It is a very common problem. It usually isn’t a cause for concern. Healthy eating and exercise habits can help prevent constipation.
The severity of constipation varies from person to person. Many people only experience constipation for a short time. However for others, it can be a long-term condition. It can cause pain, bloating and discomfort. It also affects quality of life and make you feel unwell.
What causes constipation really varies from person to person. But knowing why you can’t empty your bowels may help you find a constipation treatment that works.
What Causes Constipation?
Constipation occurs when too much water is absorbed by the colon. It can also occur when your colon’s muscle contractions are slow. This causes the stool to move slowly. As a result, stools can become hard and dry.
Here are several factors that might be contributing to your constipation, according to research published by the American College of Gastroenterology:
- Poor diet: Diets high in processed foods, sugar, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, can make it harder to produce normal bowel movements.
- Stress: High amounts of stress alters hormone production, which has a direct influence on muscle tension, inflammation and overall digestive functioning.
- Inactivity: Exercise helps to increase blood flow, strengthens muscles within the digestive tract and helps control stress.
- Certain medications: Some medications can cause frequent constipation such as antidepressants, antacids, calcium or iron supplements.
- Imbalance in intestinal flora: Healthy bacteria living in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, called probiotics, help to regulate bowel function.
- Thyroid or hormonal problems: Menopause, eating disorders, diabetes and thyroid disorders like hypothyroidism can all cause signs of constipation. Any other diseases that affects the nerves in the GI can also cause constipation.
- Magnesium deficiency: Magnesium is an electrolyte that helps with normal muscle functioning. Too little magnesium in your diet can contribute to muscle tension and also emotional stress.
- Bad bathroom habits: For some, rushing the time they spend in the bathroom and sitting in an uncomfortable position on the toilet can contribute to bowel movements that don’t feel complete.
- Poor sleep, jet lag and traveling: These factors can throw off your digestive regularity and lead to constipation symptoms.
- Older age: Sometimes older adults lose interest in food. This can be because of things like food tasting differently or trouble chewing. This reduces fiber and calories intake and therefore digestion slows down.
When Should I See a Health Care Provider?
See your health care provider if you have:
- sudden change in your bowel movements without a change in your daily routine
- constipation for several days and diet changes have not helped
- intense pain in your belly or rectum (bum)
- blood in your stool
- unexplained weight loss
- constipation that alternates with diarrhea
Natural Remedies to Prevent Constipation
What you eat and how you live can make all the difference in terms of constipation. There are things you can do to prevent constipation. This includes:
1. Schedule Your Toilet Time
If you’re constantly feeling tense and rushed every time you head to the toilet, your journey to letting nature take its course won’t be easy either. Schedule time in your poop journal to get it done. Whatever you do, don’t hold in your poop. Seriously, it’s bad for you.
You can schedule a time in the morning to go in peace. Also, eating in the morning is like a wake-up call for your colon. Usually, the bowel is ready to expel its contents about half an hour after the first meal. Besides public wash rooms are not usually conducive to the quiet time you need to empty the bowel. So do it at home before you leave.
2. Eat Fruits and Vegetables to Prevent Constipation
Fruits are highly recommended to help prevent constipation. Because, fruits contain dietary fiber. There are many varieties of fruits and that can be consumed on a daily basis to avoid constipation. Some of the best fruits include; prunes, kiwifruit, apples, papayas, dates, oranges, guavas, raisins and pears.
Intake of vegetables rich in fiber also helps in preventing constipation. The best vegetables rich in good fiber may help clean out bowels. These includes; cabbages, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower and spinach. The best way to consume them is by consuming them half-cooked or raw.
3. Add More Fiber to Your Diet
One of the most important thing to prevent constipation completely is the intake of fiber rich diets. Fiber is a part of plant material that helps to treat constipation. This is because, it add bulk to the stool and also softens it as well. This makes it to come out easily.
So start taking the fiber rich foods and slowly increase the amount of taking dietary fiber in diet. Aim for 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day to prevent and relieve constipation. Fill up on dried beans, prunes, figs, pears and oatmeal. These foods are all high in fibre. Otherwise, too much fiber taken at once might cause symptoms such as gas, watery stools or upset stomach.
You can also try taking fiber supplements to get the required amount of fiber for daily requirements. Most of these fiber supplements come in the form of powder which you can mix with water and drink it. These supplements are generally made from plants and animals. They help effectively to work on proper digestion and regular bowel movement.
4. Regular Physical Exercise
Ah, good old exercise is there anything it can’t do? While I wait for that answer, here’s the reason. Regular exercise does not only reduce the amount of time it takes for stool to pass through the large intestine, it also acts as a stress reliever. Remember, emotional stress is one major cause of constipation. Regular exercise helps your digestive system stay active and healthy.
You don’t need to become a great athlete. A variety of exercises can help, but simple things can help prevent constipation. Go for a run, take a long walk or try taking a few yoga twists at home. It’s just about anything that asks your body to be more mobile than normal. This, coupled with enough water, will get things going in no time.
5. Drink Enough Fluids to Prevent Constipation
Drinking less water is one of the main reasons for constipation. So, water is considered as the best and most important remedy to prevent constipation. This helps to moisten the intestines and feces which makes bowel movement easy.
Furthermore, intake of more water will also helps to break the fiber food. Therefore, failure to drink enough water coupled with the fiber you’re taking will lead to constipation. Drink about 8 to 10 glasses of water daily. You can drink either warm or cold water to prevent constipation but the intake of warm water will help to soften the stool faster than cool or normal water.
6. A Hot Cup of Coffee.
For about a quarter of the population, coffee triggers a laxative effect in the body. This could help to prevent constipation. Though research is unclear as to why this happens, for some of us that morning cup sends us directly to the restroom. Because coffee stimulates the distal colon. Although coffee has been long thought to be a diuretic, research has shown that consumption of coffee or caffeine over a period of time decreases the body’s reaction to its diuretic properties. While scientists are uncertain as to what triggers the laxative response, you could be one of the lucky—or unlucky—ones who get relief from the brew.
7. A Low-FODMAP Diet
The acronym FODMAP, short for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, refers to sugars in your diet that can provoke gut symptoms in some people.
Going on a low-FODMAP diet means eliminating and then slowly reintroducing potentially troublesome foods, like beans, milk, and certain fruits. This is to figure out which ones are causing your GI distress. You can do the diet at home, but it’s usually supervised by a doctor or registered dietitian. Studies suggest it can be useful in treating irritable bowel syndrome. It’s not easy to follow though but the diet is incredibly helpful in many cases.
8. Reduce Stress to Prevent Constipation
Did you ever think that there could be a hormonal component to your constipation? Reducing stress levels will lower your body’s cortisol levels and release its clench on your digestive system. When stress levels are high, our body perceives danger is near. This sends us into a fight-or-flight response. It also shuts down your systems, such as digestive and reproductive systems, and redirects our blood flow to our extremities so that we can fight off danger or run away.
When you have a chronic stress, your digestive system gets put on the back burner in favor of survival. Incorporating self-care routines into your day can help you to remain calm. Simple deep breathing exercises can lower cortisol levels and also keep your body functioning at optimum levels.
9. Take Probiotics
A healthy gut depends on a balance of intestinal flora, or bacteria, and so do healthy bowel movements. Probiotic supplements and foods like yogurt, kefir and kimchi contain good-for-your-gut bacteria that may help prevent constipation. Eating “live” foods like these can encourage the diversity and richness of our intestinal flora. Studies have shown that probiotics can help soften stools and increase the number of bowel movements. Try taking a daily probiotic supplement. Additionally, the intestinal flora in our gut feed on prebiotics found in fiber. Therefore, a diet full of a variety of raw fruits and steamed vegetables will help keep your gut happy.
Healthy fats also play an important role in gut health, so make sure you are getting enough. A cold-pressed coconut and olive oils and fatty acids such as omega-3s in your diet is good. Keep in mind that any time you are taking antibiotics, you are killing both good and bad bacteria in your system. So be sure to replenish your gut by simultaneously taking probiotics. Your body will thank you!
10. Magnesium Citrate Supplement to Prevent Constipation
Many people with constipation have a deficiency in magnesium. Magnesium is a natural laxative and relaxes the smooth muscle of bowel. Supplementation with magnesium citrate can act as a natural and gentle laxative. As with any dietary supplement, I recommend you “start low and go slow” by taking a small amount and gradually increasing the amount.
Take 500 to 1000 mg of magnesium citrate daily or until you’re having normal, soft bowel movements. If you want to stay regular and your current situation could use a boost but isn’t a total drought, try taking a lower dose of magnesium citrate tablets as a dietary supplement. If this is not enough, also supplementing with vitamin C can be helpful.
11. Avoid Taking Laxatives.
Taking laxatives on your own for a period of time will get your digestive system used to them. This will lead to you not being able to have bowel movements naturally, when you stop taking the pills. So whenever you have a significant or prolonged change in bowel habits, check with your doctor.
Try the remedies mentioned above to prevent constipation. If you have any concerns, write to us in the comments section. And please share your experience so that other readers can benefit from it.