Everything You Need to Know About How to Relieve Constipation
If you can’t remember the last time you had a bowel movement, you probably need constipation relief. Giving you a bloated, painful feeling in your gut, the symptoms of constipation are often easy to recognize. But what can you do to ease your suffering?
First, don't worry, constipation is very common within the American population. Although occasional constipation is very common, it can be easily prevented and is highly treatable once you know how to help constipation. Roughly 16% of Americans suffer from constipation and 33% of adults 60 and up experience constipation. Constipation occurs more often in women than in men.
So, what can be done to provide constipation relief? Read on to discover how to relieve constipation using a few of our favorite tips and tricks.
What is constipation? What are the symptoms?
Constipation is a gastrointestinal (GI) condition with an array of symptoms. These symptoms include:
- Fewer than three bowel movements a week (or less than normal)
- Hard stool that is difficult or painful to pass
- Stomach pain
- Gas and bloating
These symptoms occur when your large intestine absorbs too much water from your food, resulting in a dry and hard stool that will be difficult to pass.
What causes constipation?
Constipation can occur for a variety of reasons and can be either chronic or occasional. The most common causes of constipation are:
1. Poor diet
While a diet rich in fiber can make bowel movements easier to pass, not enough can lead to a backup of your system. Foods that are known to cause constipation include foods with gluten, red meats, processed grains, dairy products, and fried foods. While the health benefits of drinking enough water are well known, not drinking enough water is one of the leading causes of constipation.
2. Lack of exercise
Remaining sedentary is not only bad for your waistline, but it can also be what’s causing your constipation. More blood circulates through your bowels when you exercise, helping to ease the passage of stool. Unfortunately, inactivity does the opposite, causing reduced blood flow, slowing the movement of food in the digestive tract, and increasing the likelihood of constipation.
Medications might be used to treat a variety of conditions, but they can cause side effects in some, including constipation. There are a variety of medication types that cause constipation, including:
- Iron supplements
One of the most unwelcome symptoms of pregnancy is, unfortunately, constipation. This is caused by an assortment of reasons, such as a less active lifestyle, modifications to diet, the addition of vitamins, and changes in hormones.
5. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
For those with IBS, simply going to the bathroom can be a challenge. While doctors aren’t sure of the exact underlying cause, some of the contributing factors are thought to include:
- Decreased mobility
- Drinking alcohol
6. Various diseases
Along with IBS, there are many diseases that are known to cause constipation. Some of the most common are:
- Various types of cancers
According to gastroenterologist Dr. Duke Nguyen, MD, “There's a lot of studies to show that there is a big connection to the brain and our gut. When we're stressed, the stress level for the brain will send signals to the GI tract leading to spasm, leading to change in our habit [of producing a bowel movement].”
Dr. Nguyen also mentions a change in diet and routine can be a cause. “Sometimes, a change of your routine, or lifestyle can lead to constipation. That change of lifestyle and routine may lead to a change of your eating habit. Whereas you may have been eating adequate fiber before, you may be eating less now, which can lead to constipation.”
How can I get constipation relief?
The efficacy of constipation treatments (as with symptoms) can vary from person to person. Below are some of the most common ways to relieve constipation:
1. Change what you drink
- More Water: Increasing water intake can help the consistency of your stool and make it easier to pass.
- Less Alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol can cause dehydration and exacerbate constipation symptoms.
- Coffee: Find a balance. Consuming coffee can stimulate digestion, but overconsumption can dehydrate you, making constipation relief more difficult. If you are going to drink coffee to assist with your constipation, follow it up with an equal serving of water.
2. Change your intake
- Legumes: Adding legumes to your diet is a great method of constipation relief. Popular forms include beans, lentils, and peas.
- Vegetables: There are many vegetables that are packed with fiber, including carrots, broccoli, collard greens, and eggplants.
- Fruits: Many delicious fruits are also high in fiber. These include berries, bananas, avocados, apples, oranges, and so many more.
High-fiber foods help by adding bulk to your stool as well as increasing water absorption during digestion.
In our busy lives increasing your fiber intake may be challenging but fiber powders can also help. Fiber powders come in a variety of flavors, not just the ubiquitous orange flavor you commonly see on grocery store shelves. Take care to choose a fiber powder that doesn’t contain artificial additives like dyes and artificial flavorings that you may not want to consume.
Did you know? The American Heart Association recommends that you to eat around 27 grams of fiber per day.
3. Try supplements
Unfortunately, for some, getting fiber through natural sources may not be enough to give you the constipation relief you need. There are a variety of methods you can use to supplement the fiber in your diet and help relieve the symptoms of constipation. Here are a few of the most common options for giving you the boost you need.
- Psyllium fiber: Considered a soluble prebiotic fiber, psyllium fiber comes from the husk of ispaghula seeds. This type of fiber (also known as soluble fiber) creates a gel to slow down digestion allowing your stool to absorb more water. It is available in commercial powders, as well as pills.
- Probiotics: These healthy bacteria boost your immune system by fighting off harmful gut bacteria and can help ease constipation symptoms. Probiotics are available in pill form, but can also be found in foods like yogurt, kimchi, and kombucha.
- Magnesium citrate: Often sold in liquid form, Citrate of Magnesia is a supplement that increases the flow of water in the intestines. This helps soften stool and makes it easier to pass. Magnesium citrate is not recommended for use with certain medications, so please consult with your doctor before using it.
4. Exercise & lifestyle change
An easy constipation cure for many is simply getting up and being active. Being sedentary is one of the common causes of constipation. Increasing exercise helps food move through your digestive system at a faster pace helping to treat constipation. Faster digestion results in less water being absorbed and softer stool.
Constipation can be a tiresome and painful condition. Hopefully, our tips on how to relieve constipation have been helpful. However, the best treatment is always prevention. Stay hydrated, exercise, and eat well to stop constipation before it starts.