What is constipation?
Constipation describes a lack of regular bowel movements and problems with stool evacuation. It is associated with a range of symptoms, including hard stools, bloating, abdominal discomfort, and bloating. Constipation is more common in older adults and women due to hormonal changes that can affect bowel motility – the time our body needs to digest food and excrete waste products or feces. This strong hormonal link also means that pregnant women are often more prone to constipation.
As you read this, you may be wondering what is and what is not ‘normal’ and how regular it is. Well, ‘normal’ can range from three times a day to three times a week. There are so many factors that affect the frequency of bowel movements, so if you fall within these guidelines and pass stools quite easily, everything may be fine. What is not normal is regular pain or difficulty passing stool.
Constipation Management Tips
There are three key factors that have been found to help manage constipation;
Fiber: Dietary fiber is essential for good gut health and prevention of digestive problems. The recommended dietary fiber intake for most Australians is about 25-30 g per day. Insoluble fiber (found in whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables) can be especially helpful in treating constipation, as it increases the amount of stool and helps us maintain regularity. Some of the easiest ways to increase your insoluble fiber intake include; choose whole grain products instead of white refined grains (replacing white rice with brown, choosing grainy brown bread and whole grain pasta), adding a can of legumes when preparing dinner, and keeping the skin on fruits and vegetables – so discard the vegetable peeler! If you are not currently consuming enough fiber, try to gradually increase your intake over a few days, this will help prevent the feeling of bloating that may be associated with a rapid increase in fiber consumption.
liquid: Insufficient water intake is one of the most common causes of constipation. When dehydrated, there is less water in your colon that could be absorbed by fiber, resulting in much firmer and harder bowel movements. Our feces are largely made up of water, about 75%. To help create a soft, pleasant stool, aim for at least two liters of fluid a day. This includes drinking water as well as other liquids such as tea, coffee, juice and carbonated water.
exercise: Regular exercise can help increase movement along our digestive tract and help move the contents of the gut forward (and then out!). You don’t have to engage in excessively strenuous exercise, instead strive for regular exercise throughout the day and avoid too long periods of sitting, known as sitting time.
3 Foods to help with constipation
- Kiwi absorbs about three times its weight in water, which means it makes the stool softer and increases the volume
by increasing the water content in our sludge. Kiwi contains a lot of complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber and
vitamin C. Eating two kiwi fruits a day can have a very positive effect on gut health.
- Psyllium Lusk during digestion it forms a soft gel, which results in softer stools. Psyllium is the main ingredient in the popular supplement Metamucil. You can also buy it in the health food department at grocery stores and
then add to breakfast cereals, yogurt and oatmeal.
- Dry plum are prunes and are often called a ‘natural laxative!’ Prunes contain a large amount of sorbitol, a
complex carbohydrates that can trigger and increase bowel movements after digestion. For fiber intake, consider adding 2-3 to breakfast. If you are not a fan of prunes, sorbitol can also be found in many artificially sweetened products, such as chewing gum and lollipops “without sugar”.
Other factors that contribute to digestive problems
There are many other factors that can contribute to constipation, including hormonal changes, stress, poor posture on the toilet, and side effects of certain medications. In some cases, constipation can be a symptom of a major health problem, so if you don’t notice much relief from our suggestions above, talk to your doctor or trusted doctor to explore some other options.