Most people suffer from constipation at some time in their lives. For most it is a discomfort that’s best not discussed as it is in most cases temporary and for most people it’s an awkward subject. If the problem is severe or frequent and causes you a great deal of discomfort however it is important that you discuss it with your health care provider. In most cases dietary and lifestyle modifications alone suffice and there is no real need for medical treatment.
Constipation refers to the condition where bowel movements are irregular and the process of passing stools can be painful. Our perceptions of constipation can also vary as this depends on what one views as regular bowel movements. While some individuals need to pass a stool at least twice or thrice a day, for some others regular bowel movements may simply include passing a stool once in two or three days. In most cases however an individual is said to suffer from constipation if there is straining to pass stools most of the time, if stools are hard most of the time, if the bowels are not completely evacuated a lot of the time and if bowel movements occur just once or twice a week.
The main causes of constipation include:
- A low-fibre diet
- Inadequate or poor intake of fluids
- Lack of regular exercise and a sedentary lifestyle
- Changes to lifestyle and daily routine, including meal timings or the timings for your bowel movements
- Delaying having a bowel movement even after the urge occurs
- Discomfort such as inadequate privacy whilst using the toilet
- Obesity or overweight
- Metabolic disorders
- Medications such as certain anticonvulsants, antacids, antidepressants and antihistamines
- Travel and changes of schedule
- Hormonal imbalance
- Medical conditions such as cystic fibrosis or hyperthyroidism
- Diseases of the bowel such as IBS
- Abnormalities of the pelvic floor
- Colon cancer (though this is rare)
- Psychological problems such as trauma or shock resulting from violence, sexual abuse or personal loss
Constipation can also be caused by overuse of over-the-counter laxatives. A laxative is medication that loosens stool and increases bowel movements. Although people may feel relief when they use laxatives, they usually must increase the dose over time because the body grows reliant on laxatives to have a bowel movement. Overuse of laxatives can decrease the colon’s natural ability to contract and make constipation worse. Continued overuse of laxatives can damage nerves, muscles, and tissues in the large intestine.
The best way to treat constipation is to try and prevent it. To avoid constipation you must:
- Include lots of fibre into your diet (vegetables and fruit)
- Drink plenty of water daily but avoid too much caffeine and alcohol
- Start a regular exercise routine
- Do not delay a bowel movements if the urge occurs
- Chew food slowly and well when eating
- Do not eat on the go or at irregular times
- Avoid foods that are high in fats and refined sugar
- Avoid over processed and junk food
- Opt for natural remedies and dietary changes to prevent constipation.
- Yoga can help regularize bowel movements. Certain yoga poses and asanas stimulate the digestive tract and encourage bowel movements. Deep breathing exercises and meditation also help relieve stress and anxiety that may be causing the constipation.
For milder cases of constipation bulk forming laxatives that contain fibre can be used. These soften the stool and make it easier to pass. Fibre supplements such as Metamucil can help, but make sure you drink enough water when taking such supplements or it could worsen the situation. The other types of laxatives are stimulant laxatives. These cause the muscles of the intestine to contract and encourage a bowel movement. However, these types of laxatives are not suitable for long-term use and can result in an electrolyte imbalance in the body and dehydration. Saline or mineral oil enemas are more aggressive cures for constipation and should not be used on a regular basis.
You can provide constipation relief with a number of simple natural cures or home remedies. Popular constipation remedies for adults include TLC-4-Colon (use as suitable for the particular Phase of your TLC-Program):
- Herbs such as flaxseed, fenugreek or barley work as bulk forming laxatives and are excellent chronic constipation cures. They contain soluble fibre that helps soften stools and reduces discomfort during bowel movements. Studies have supported some of these claims and defatted flaxseed meal was found to help in the treatment of constipation.
- Senna is another herb that functions as a natural stimulant laxative. It causes the walls of the intestines to contract and encourages a bowel movement. Senna should not be used for long periods of time and as with any herbal treatment should be taken under the supervision of a trained specialist.
- Aloe Vera juice is a popular home treatment for constipation. Dilute Aloe Vera juice in water and drink first thing in the morning and last thing at night for regular bowel movements. Some people may experience cramping or diarrhoea with Aloe Vera juice so proceed with caution.
- Oranges stimulate the bowels and encourage regular bowel movements. Oranges also help prevent the accumulation of waste matter in the colon and reduces the chances of constipation.
- Raw spinach helps cleanse the digestive tract and cures constipation. Drink raw spinach juice mixed with water twice a day for the most effective treatment.
- You could also drink a glass of hot water with half a teaspoon of salt and the juice of half a lime added to it. Do this as soon as you wake up before consuming any other food or beverages. This is believed to help regularize bowel movements.
- Pears and pear juice if consumed at breakfast and dinner time can help relieve constipation symptoms. If the constipation is severe, a fruit only diet for a few days will go a long ways towards clearing up the condition.
- Guava eaten raw with the seeds provides enough roughage to relieve constipation and soften stools naturally. For the best results eat one or two whole guavas every day.
- Grapes contain organic acid and cellulose that makes them a natural laxative. Grape juice can help tone the internal muscles of the stomach and prevent chronic constipation. If fresh grapes are unavailable, raisins soaked overnight in water are the next best alternative.
- Dried or fresh figs, prunes and prune juice and fresh papaya are other fruits that are used to treat constipation.
For the best results, you must increase your intake of water as well. Keep hydrated at all times to prevent the hardening of stools and encourage regularity. For some people, suddenly adding high amounts of fibre into their diet may cause gas and bloating. If this is the case, try introducing small amounts of fibre at a time until the digestive system gets used to it.