What is constipation?
Constipation is the inability or extreme difficulty to have a bowel movement. It occurs when a digested matter is not properly moved along through the digestive tract towards the path of elimination and may occur as a blockage along the path.
For most people, constipation is defined as less than 3 bowel movements per week, but the definition can be different for everyone, depending on what their usual bowel movements consist of. For example, if an individual is used to having two bowel movements daily, and they decrease to one every other day, this may be defined as constipation for him/her. For another individual, however, a bowel movement every other day may be normal. While there are some differences, there are lots of things to know about constipation
Why do I have constipation and should I be concerned?
As detailed below, there are several possible causes of constipation, and for most people, it is no reason to be concerned. If however, you have acute onset constipation – severe constipation that comes on suddenly – or you have chronic constipation, that has inhibited you from having a bowel movement in several days, it may be necessary to seek medical attention. If you are just trying to address your occasional constipation though, it may be most important to find the underlying cause and take measures to prevent further problems
What is the underlying cause?
Understandably, when we are experiencing constipation, the first thing we want to do is get relief. But if you are experiencing constipation regularly, it may be more important to find out the underlying cause so you can prevent it in the future.
Most commonly caused by diet and lifestyle influences other conflicting disorders such as Crohn’s, IBS, celiac disease or allergies can also cause constipation. Furthermore, several medications can have constipation as a side effect. For many people, constipation occurs as a result of stress and anxiety, and may occur in association with drastic lifestyle changes, such as moving, or relationship changes, or may be affiliated with being outside their home in unfamiliar environments, or public places, requiring the use of public toilets.
How can I help get rid of constipation?
Eat fiber – Fiber is found in several foods and plays a big role in good digestive health and healthy bowel movements. You can think of fiber like a broom, whereby it goes along and helps sweep food and digestive matter along the digestive tract and send it along to be eliminated. In addition, fiber adds bulk to stool, making it easier to push it along the digestive tract.
It is important to consume fiber from a variety of sources, as it occurs in two types, and different foods have different amounts of each. The first type, soluble fiber is found in legumes, fruits, and vegetables and it helps to soften feces. The second type, insoluble fiber contributes to the bulk of your stool and is found in things such as whole grains, bread, and cereals.
Eating a whole foods diet with a variety of foods will ensure you have the adequate intake of both types of fiber.
What can I use to treat constipation?
Exercise – Movement of the body stimulates the movement of the digestive tract and helps engage bodily systems. When we are sedentary, our body systems, including our digestive system, kidney, and liver – all of which play a role in helping eliminate waste – are also sedentary, slow down and are not actively working. The outcome is slow digestion and the build-up of fecal matter, contributing to constipation.
By exercising, you encourage movement and activation of all systems and help propel food along the digestive tract to be broken down and sent through for elimination. Aim to exercise daily, and move regularly if you are prone to constipation, and if you are currently experiencing constipation, you may find that going for a brisk walk or run will help move things along!
Drink water – Not only is water necessary as a lubricant to help move the digested matter along the digestive tract, but the fecal matter requires adequate water to help make it soft. When there is not enough water to be added into the feces, they dry out and go hard and are unable to be pushed along the digestive tract. Furthermore, the longer feces sit in the large intestine waiting to be released, the more water that is drawn out of them, making them that much harder to eliminate. This often results in strained bowel movement, whereby feces do not flow easily, and instead, bowel movements are forced.
Monitor your foods/triggers – It is not uncommon to experience constipation every once in a while. As mentioned above, it is impacted by sleep, stress, exercise, diet and recreational activities, and most people will have occasional bouts of constipation throughout their life. This infrequent experience, although uncomfortable is nothing to be concerned about.
But if you find that you experience constipation on a regular basis, it may be worth it to start to monitor your daily food, diet and lifestyle habits to find potential triggers. While diet or lack of water are two of the most common causes, it can also be caused by big life changes, like moving, traveling or relationship changes, stress, or regular use of drugs and alcohol.
Consider whether you have made any big changes in your life in the last few weeks that could be contributing to your issues. If you are looking for dietary triggers, pay attention to how much fiber you are consuming and ensure you drink plenty of water. High dairy and meat consumption are also common causes, and some people are simply unable to easily digest certain foods such as refined carbohydrates or fatty foods. Keep a food journal of everything you eat and see if you can find a common culprit for each occurrence of constipation.
Use natural methods of relief – Using things such as Metamucil or adhering to regular laxative use is not a good method to help eliminate constipation. When you use these things too often, your body slowly becomes reliant on them and you will eventually be unable to have natural bowel movements. The intestines and digestive system have very strategic methods for removing waste and moving it along the intestine to be eliminated.
But when these systems are constantly overridden by unnatural methods, the bowels eventually become less active, and assume they don’t really have to work that hard. Over the long term, this equates to you needing Metamucil or laxatives to go to the bathroom. Not only is this unhealthy, but typically, your body will become tolerant to these as well, requiring stronger and stronger methods to help you have a bowel movement. Instead of getting yourself tangled up in this, the best thing to do is to avoid these methods altogether and opt for natural methods instead.
The first natural method you can try is psyllium husk dissolved in water. Psyllium husk is a fiber, which forms a gelatinous texture in water and when consumed, can help sweep things along through the digestive tract. Likewise, adding 1-2 tsp of coconut oil to some tea can be a great way to help with constipation, as the oil helps lubricate the digestive tract, making it an easier path for the digested matter to travel.
Other natural methods include superfoods that are designed to help cleanse the digestive tract, such as activated charcoal, or dichotomous earth. Through their natural methods of detoxification, they can pull toxins and undigested food matter along, helping ease the burden on the digestive tract and allowing stool to more easily pass through.
Train your body – One of the best things you can do to avoid constipation is to get into a regular pooping schedule! Train your body to go to the bathroom at the same time every day, and over time, you will find that this is when you will feel the need to have a bowel movement. If you aren’t currently on a regular schedule, simply begin the training by sitting on the toilet at the same time every day, if possible, the time that it is most likely for you to have a bowel movement currently.
As you do this more often, your body will become adjusted to this schedule and you should begin to have regular bowel movements at the same time every day. Most importantly perhaps, is to listen to your body and its signals of a need for a bowel movement. Putting off going to the toilet, or not listening to the cues your body is giving you can make your body less sensitive to these cues, and furthermore, will cause more water to be extracted from the stool, thereby making it harder to pass.
And finally, what about coffee? Many people rely on their morning brew to help them go to the toilet. Coffee is a natural laxative and for many people, is the main method behind their regularity. While it is not as bad a method as other options, being reliant on any product to help you have a bowel movement is ill-advised. Work on eliminating this reliance by slowly cutting back on your coffee intake, and even when you are not having coffee, go to the bathroom at the same time you would if you had drunk the coffee. Slowly start to train your body to go to the bathroom at the time with or without the coffee and eventually, you can drink your coffee, and have your toilet time without needing one for the other!
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