What is Constipation?
Our human body’s digestive system is extraordinarily efficient. Within a few hours, this system extracts nutrients from the foods we drink and eat. Apart from processing these nutrients into the bloodstream, it also prepares the leftover material for disposal. This waste passes through approximately 20 feet of the intestine before the body stores it temporarily in the colon. Here, all amounts of water get removed, and the residue excretes through the bowels within a day or two.
Regularity refers to at least three bowel movements a day to three every week. This depends on your age, diet, daily activity, and daily activity. When fecal material resides in the colon, it becomes difficult for the fecal material to pass if the stool becomes too hard. Typically, a normal stool should not be either too soft or too hard, and you don’t have to strain unreasonably.
How does Our Body Process and Remove Food
The removal of solid waste from the human body is a journey that takes nearly 20 feet. This journey begins with the food we eat and takes a few hours. When the body extracts liquids and nutrients from the food we consume, part of it also goes into the storage cells for bodily maintenance.
All excess liquid goes into the bladder for disposal. Essentially, the moist waste is lubricated, so it takes little effort for the waste evacuation. If for any reason, the waste dries out too much, evacuation becomes stressful.
Here are the main symptoms of constipation:
- straining when passing stool
- passing less stool
- hard, dry, or lumpy stool
Other uncomfortable symptoms include:
- cramping and pain in the abdomen
- bloating and abdominal discomfort
- loss of appetite
Constipation is not life-threatening but can lead to several uncomfortable complications. Some of these include:
- anal fissure
- rectal bleeding
- hemorrhoids (piles)
- fecal impaction
- Depression and reduced quality of life are other common complications.
One of the biggest causes of constipation or irregularity is a sedentary/modern lifestyle. Other common causes include not drinking enough water or consuming enough fiber. Lack of exercise and not responding to the urge to go to the bathroom can also lead to chronic constipation. In some cases, this condition is a symptom of other problems such as diabetes, bowel disease, colorectal cancer, depression, and Parkinson’s disease.
Traveling for a job or vacation can be an exciting adventure, but not for your body. Many individuals who have a regular bathroom routine experience change when they are traveling. When you are not using your bathroom or if you are undergoing jet lag, constipation can bother you for some time. Stay away from trying out different types of foods if you don’t know about the ingredients or the recipe. Bacterial infection can damage the digestive tract and lead to other side effects such as constipation.
Many bowel disorders can have some symptoms or effects, including bloating, nausea, abdominal pain, and constipation. If you don’t treat these disorders on time, there can be many complications that can arise over time. If you fail to keep your bowel movements consistent, get in touch with a professional Gastroenterologist. A qualified doctor will conduct a medical exam and recommend the necessary tests for diagnosing the reason behind your chronic constipation.
Maintaining a journal of bowel movements can also come in handy for detecting triggers. Keep track of what you eat every day. This information will also help your Gastroenterologist recommend the best course of treatment.
Constipation in Children
Our bowel habits vary with circumstances and age. For instance, bottle-bed babies have firmer stools, but breast-fed babies may exhibit bouts of constipation. Some children experience constipation when they start school or take up sports because they shy away from asking for a bathroom break. In the case of toddlers, constipation can arise during toilet training because they may be unwilling to use the toilet. Since children are sensitive to pain, they avoid the toilet when they have minor tears in the anus from straining. Certain foods, such as dairy products, can also lead to this condition.
Constipation in Adults
Adults who lead a less active or sedentary lifestyle are prone to developing constipation. Medications that cause irregularity or constipation include iron supplements and diuretics. Other types of medication include medicines for treating seizures, blood pressure, and depression. Most of us take our bodies for granted. When things aren’t going right, and we don’t feel regular bowel movements, the most popular method of treatment is to turn to over-the-counter drugs.
Here are some common causes of constipation in adults.
- Eating less fiber
- Drinking an inadequate amount of water
- Lack of Exercise
- Changes in the regular routine
- Trying out different cuisines
- Eating large amounts of cheese or milk
What is Normal and What’s Constipation?
Typically, we view constipation as the inability to pass fecal waste or stool from our bodies. As a result, the body undergoes strain that varies for every person. However, most of us consider constipation as incomplete emptying of the bowels or irregular discharge of the stool. Fundamentally, these are different types of constipation, which have various causes.
People confuse irregularity with constipation because they don’t know how to determine normal bowel movements. Since a regular or daily bowel movement depends on your food and lifestyle, a regular bowel movement can be different for everyone. Other factors, such as your age, medications, and underlying medical conditions, may define ‘your’ regular bowel movements.
However, regular bowel movements every evening and every morning indicate good health. Some individuals experience two to three bowel movements. Others may have two to three bowel movements in a week.
Constipation occurs when the fecal material that sits in the colon dries out and hardens. In other words, fewer than three bowel movements in a week is constipation, and less than one in a week is severe constipation.
How to Avoid Constipation
Lack of exercise, fiber, and a sedentary lifestyle are the major causes of constipation. Side effects and certain conditions make it difficult for the body to get rid of waste materials. That’s when constipation and its effects lead to other complications.
Lifestyle changes can make a major difference in reducing your chances of relieving constipation. Your diet should have adequate fiber, and you must drink plenty of water.
How to Relieve Constipation
Here are some other ways to maintain more regularity.
- Add high-fiber foods to your diet gradually. Some of the foods you should take for improving digestion include fruits, raw vegetables, whole-grain bread, bran cereals, etc.
- Consume eight to ten glasses of water. Remember to stick to decaffeinated beverages. Caffeine intake may contribute to dehydration and worsen constipation.
- Add prunes, apricots, dates, and raisins to your diet.
- Walk or jog every day. Ask your doctor or gym trainer for an exercise program that offers the most benefits to improve your health.
- Never avoid the urge to use the bathroom. Pay attention to the signals of your body and use the bathroom whenever you feel the urge.
- Ask your doctor about using a high-fiber supplement to guarantee regularity.
- Try out a natural colon cleanse to get you relief faster.
Since lifestyle modifications are the best way to guarantee healthy bowel movements, here are some valuable tips you can follow for relieving constipation. The consistency, frequency, and control over bowel movements are different for every person. Before you make any changes to your lifestyle, notice if you have any other complications such as pain. If you experience any type of pain or observe changes in your regular bowel movements, make an appointment with your gastroenterologist. Let’s delve into the changes you can make to avoid constipation and irregularity.
Nothing improves constipation than adequate water intake. Drink at least eight glasses of water every day to keep the stool soft. Staying hydrated does not mean that you begin consuming coffee, beverages, and sugar drinks.
Fluids that do a great job at keeping you hydrated include tea, water, and some fruits. For example, melon and grapes are water-dense fruits, which ensure good hydration. Alcohol consumption leads to dehydration and makes changes to regular bowel movements. Reduce your alcohol intake and add more glasses of water to your routine if you do not have frequent bowel movements.
Stick to a Healthy Diet
Our diet plays a crucial role in the type of bowel movements we experience. The more fiber you consume, the easier it will be for the body to get rid of waste material. Add more fiber to your diet by adding whole-grain cereal, bran, fresh fruits, and vegetables.
Sometimes, you notice a change in the bowel movement, such as diarrhea, after eating a new type of food. A food sensitivity or food allergy could be the reason behind it. Since food allergies can affect the health of the digestive tract, it is important to get a food allergy test. While food allergies are easy to diagnose, food sensitivities are difficult to determine. Some common types of food sensitivities include gluten, eggs, dairy, soy, and con. Individuals with Celiac disease should avoid any type of food containing gluten.
Any amount of stress you experience throughout the day can have a direct impact on your bowel movements. Although avoiding stress in your daily life may not be impossible, mindfulness and yoga can help. Excess stress can lead to diarrhea or constipation, depending on the type of foods you are consuming. Getting enough sleep and sticking to a nutritious diet can also beat stress and depression.
Our intestines are home to several types of bacteria. Not only are they crucial for maintaining the health of the digestive tract, but they also play a crucial part in the immune system. The “good” bacteria can take care of the “bad” bacteria. As a result, the intestines work properly. Too much use of antibiotics can cause diarrhea, followed by periods of constipation. Get in touch with your doctor, who can run the necessary tests to determine if you have IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
No physical activity or exercise can be the biggest culprit behind constipation. Take up some form of aerobic exercise such as swimming or jogging. Such exercise help maintain the regular function of the intestines. Additionally, exercise regulates breathing and heart rates and causes natural movement of the intestines. Yoga, walking and running keep the digestive tract healthy and happy.
Probiotic Supplements and Probiotic Foods
Probiotics prevent chronic constipation because they are beneficial and live bacteria present in the gut. They include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria.
Most people who suffer from chronic constipation can improve their condition by consuming probiotics. That way, we can regulate the imbalance of bacteria in the gut. According to a 2019 review, consuming probiotics for two weeks can increase stool consistency and stool frequency. Since probiotics produce short-chain fatty acids, they can successfully treat constipation and improve gut movements.
Use a good-quality probiotic supplement from a credible brand. In many cases, people start getting positive results as soon as four weeks of use. If you are buying a supplement online, don’t forget to check out its reviews.
Another way to add more probiotics to your diet is to add probiotic-rich foods to your diet. Here are the most common dietary sources of probiotics.
Prescription and Over-the-counter Laxatives
People suffering from constipation can choose a suitable laxative for relieving constipation. However, different types result in varying results. Here are some common types of laxatives that a doctor recommends for relieving constipation.
- Stool Softeners: Contain oils for softening stool and easing removal through the gut
- Bulking agents: Fiber-based laxatives for increasing the water content of stool.
- Stimulant laxatives: Stimulate the gut nerves for increasing bowel movements
- Osmotic laxatives: Pull the water from the surrounding tissues to soften the stool
While laxatives are a great way to tackle constipation at home, make sure you consult a pharmacist or a doctor before using them for relieving your condition.
Stick to a FODMAP Diet
If constipation is a symptom of IBS, try out the FODMAP diet. This diet is popular for treating constipation that arises due to IBS. FODMAP refers to fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. This diet restricts high FODMAP foods before reintroducing them for determining which ones the body can tolerate.
Change the Way you Live
If we take a look at our routine life, it appears to follow a similar pattern. We wake up, get ready and drive or commute to work. Sit at the desk for 8-9 hours, check emails, and delegate tasks. The day ends as we sit again in our car or subway and head back home.
If you get stuck in the traffic during your long drive, there is an additional 30-45 minute sitting time. You get home and have little energy left to do anything else. You crash to bed after binging on fast food or watching re-runs on TV.
Does that sound like the best way to live your life? Most people in the U.S. yawn their way through meetings, conferences, or the entire workday since they feel tired, without doing any physical activity. But that’s usually where the problem lies.
If you are guilty of eating at your desk or ordering lunch from your computer, you may be worsening your constipation problem. Use your lunch hour for exercising and relieving constipation the natural way.
Saying goodbye to a sedentary lifestyle and adopting a healthy lifestyle is difficult but not impossible. Once you start reaping the many benefits of living a physically active life, including regular bowel movements, you can live a healthy life.
Follow our guide if you are having trouble with constipation and its uncomfortable side effects. Avoid using processed foods and add as many natural dietary options to your diet as possible.