Constipation is something that most people suffer from time to time, or for the unlucky, everyday. It’s also something that most people don’t like to talk about, even to their doctor. It can make you feel horrible, lethargic and bloated.
Not everyone has a bowel movement daily, but you may have constipation if you pass fewer than three stools a week, if you pass hard stools, strain more than usual or if you feel that you haven’t completely emptied your bowel. Get a check-up from your doctor just to make sure a medical condition isn’t causing the problem, especially if you’ve never been constipated before now, you have stomach pain, you’ve noticed blood in your stools or you’re losing weight without trying.
Here are the most common causes of constipation:
- Diet: not enough fruit/veg/wholegrain food, (common with people adopting a high protein diet for weight loss/muscle gain) or eating too many refined foods e.g. white bread, pastries, pasta, biscuits, cake etc.
- pregnancy hormones slow the contractions of the bowel, possibly to allow for more nutrient absorption from food.
- iron supplements
- IBS – an imbalance of gut bacteria results in an over production of methane gas when fermentable carbohydrate foods are eaten. Methane is thought to reduce bowel muscle contraction.
- hypothyroidism – a common condition when the thyroid gland in the brain doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone. This causes the body’s systems to slow down, including the digestion
- diabetes – uncontrolled diabetes with high blood sugar levels can cause damage to the nerve endings in the bowel
- possible intolerance to some foods e.g. dairy or nuts
- medical conditions e.g. where the bowel has an extra loop, or the nerve endings in the rectum become desensitised
So what can you do to get things moving? If you don’t want to resort to medication/laxatives, here are 8 cures for constipation:
- fluid – having enough fluid in your bowel helps a lot! It doesn’t matter what you drink (contrary to popular belief coffee and tea aren’t dehydrating). Aim for about 2 litres of fluid a day. Water, warm water with lemon, peppermint tea etc.
- fruit – particularly kiwis, apples, pears, rhubarb, prunes, figs. Fruit is very effective as it acts as a natural laxative, acting as a softener by drawing water in to the bowel. The gentle fibre encourages the bowel muscles to contract, helping to move things along. If you are prone to bloating and wind, kiwis are the best (try two a day)
- glass of fruit juice – fruit juice has an ‘osmotic effect’ meaning that it’s sugar draws water in to the bowel, which is a great thing for people with constipation. This is why for some people prone to IBS with diarrhoea, they are advised to avoid fruit juice as it can make things even worse
- coffee – caffeine has a stimulatory effect on the bowel, meaning that it causes the gut muscles to contract. Many people find that a strong cup of coffee has them heading for the toilet within minutes!
- flaxseed – rich in insoluble fibre, ground flaxseed absorbs water adding bulk to help move things through the digestive tract quickly. Sprinkle a teaspoon in to porridge, a bowl of soup, or try making this easy Bread
- yogurt – if your gut bacteria are out of balance, this can affect how your bowel functions. Yogurts contains good bacteria and when eaten daily can encourage gut microbiome. How to choose a healthy yogurt
- exercise – there’s an established relationship between our activity level and our bowel habits and in cases of vigorous exercise (e.g., running) there is evidence of a significant increase in activity helping with constipation.
- magnesium supplement – worth trying, some people find relief within days by taking about 300mg magnesium citrate per day (this is perfectly safe). Magnesium is important for muscle contraction, and draws water into the bowel. If you have kidney or severe heart problems ask your doctor first.