Most people experience constipation from time to time, but usually lifestyle changes and better eating habits help relieve the symptoms and prevent recurrences. In most cases, constipation arises from insufficient amounts of fiber and fluids in the diet. Fiber is found in plant foods, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Fiber that is soluble in water takes on a soft texture and helps soften the stools. Insoluble fiber passes through the intestine largely unchanged and adds bulk to stools, which in turn helps to stimulate bowel contractions.
Other factors that can cause constipation include inadequate exercise, advanced age, muscle disorders, structural abnormalities, bowel diseases, neurogenic disorders, and a poor diet, especially heavy consumption of junk food.
Constipation may be a side effect of iron supplements and some drugs, such as painkillers and antidepressants. It is also common during pregnancy. High levels of calcium and low levels of thyroid hormone are two metabolic disturbances that can lead to constipation.
People with kidney failure or diabetes also tend to have problems with constipation. In older individuals, constipation is often caused by dehydration; in people of any age, depression can be a factor. Some medications can cause constipation, including cough syrups, pain medications that contain codeine, some antidepressants, iron supplements, blood pressure and heart medicines, calcium supplements, and some antihistamines.
Constipation can give rise to many different ailments, including appendicitis, bad breath, body odor, coated tongue, depression, diverticulitis, fatigue, gas, headaches, hemorrhoids, hernia, indigestion, insomnia, malabsorption syndrome, obesity, and varicose veins.
People can have bowel movements as infrequently as three times a week and still not be constipated, although there are some health practitioners who maintain that it is important to have bowel movement every day.
- Eat high-fiber foods such as fresh fruits, raw green leafy vegetables, whole grain oatmeal, and brown rice daily. Also eat asparagus, beans, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, garlic, kale, okra, peas, sweet potatoes, and whole grains.
Foods that contain high levels of soluble fiber are adzuki beans, barley, dried beans, oats, and some fruits, especially apples, apricots, bananas, blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, figs, grapes, peaches, and prunes.
Foods high in insoluble fiber are cereals, seeds, wheat bran, whole grains, and the skins of many fruits and vegetables. Eating in this way is a good idea for adults and children.
- Drink more water. This is important when adding fiber to the diet. Drink at least ten 8-ounce glasses of water every day, whether you are thirsty or not. As you age, you become less able to detect true thirst.
- Consume plenty of foods that are high in pectin, such as apples, carrots, beets, bananas, cabbage, citrus fruits, dried peas, and okra. Pectin is also available in supplement form.
- Follow a low-fat diet. Eat no fried foods.
- Avoid foods that stimulate secretions by the mucous membranes, such as dairy products, fats, and spicy foods.
- Do not consume dairy products, soft drinks, meat, white flour, highly processed foods, salt, coffee, alcohol, or sugar. These foods are difficult to digest and have little or no fiber. For children, try a milk substitute such as soy milk.
- For quick relief of constipation, drink a large glass of quality water every ten minutes for half and hour. This can work wonders to flush out toxins and relieve constipation.
- Eat prunes or figs. These are the best natural laxatives.
- Eat smaller portions - no large, heavy meals or high- fat foods.
- Get some exercise. Physical activity speeds the movement of waste through the intestines. A twenty-minute walk can often relieve constipation. Regular exercise is also important for preventing constipation in the first place.
- Go to the toilet at the same time each day, even if the urge does not exist, and relax. Stress tightens the muscles and can cause constipation. Many people find reading helpful as a way to relax. Never repress the urge to defecate.
- Psyllium seed is helpful for constipation. If you take psyllium seed, make sure to take it with a full glass of water.
- Some yogurts contain active cultures that help with constipation. Activia has bifidobacteria and fiber (fructo-oligosaccharide).
- Flaxseed oil or freshly ground flaxseed help to soften stools. Freshly ground flaxseeds have a pleasant, nutty taste and can be sprinkled over cereals, salads, and other foods.
- Laxatives can be used occasionally to relieve constipation, but if used regularly they can cause serious problems, including diarrhea, abdominal cramping, bloating, dehydration, and, ultimately, damage to the colon. Using laxatives too often also promotes dependence. Lifestyle changes, including getting regular exercise and eating a high - fiber diet, are better ways to avoid constipation.