Around 16 out of 100 American adults suffer from constipation. (NIH NIDDK, 2018)
Constipation is a condition that:
- Causes difficulty emptying the bowels
- Results in fewer than three bowel movements per week
Stools are often hard and can be painful to pass.
Chronic constipation occurs when this condition lasts for several weeks at a time. When constipation is prolonged, it can result in other problems such as tearing of the lining of the rectum.
If you suffer from chronic constipation, you should seek medical advice.
There are a variety of treatment options for you, which we outline below — including specific probiotics you can use if you and your healthcare provider agree supplements are a good choice for you.
- Fewer than three bowel movements in one week
- Having to strain to pass a stool
- Feeling that a bowel movement is not complete
- A sensation that the rectum is blocked
- Passing hard, lumpy stools
- Abdominal pain in some cases
This can happen if the intestinal muscles contract too slowly. This causes the fecal matter to pass through slowly, losing more water than usual.
There are several possible causes of constipation.
You may have constipation if you do not have enough fiber in your diet, particularly if your diet is also high in fats.
Many seniors are prone to constipation because they eat a low-fiber diet.
This is one of the most common causes of constipation. If you do not have enough fluid in your body, as your food passes from your stomach to the large intestine, the intestine will absorb water from the food waste, making your stools hard and compact.
Certain foods can cause constipation. These include unripe bananas, fried or fast food, meat, milk and dairy foods, processed grains, and foods which contain gluten. Alcohol can also cause constipation.
Constipation can occur during pregnancy because certain hormones and the pressure of the expanding uterus cause the intestinal muscles to relax.
This makes food waste pass more slowly through the intestines.
Sometimes, pregnant women who are anemic are prescribed iron tablets. These tablets can also cause constipation — depending on the formulation.
Dysbiosis of the gut microbiome can be a significant contributor to constipation. A high level of methane-producing archaea, such as Methanobrevibacter smithii, can slow down gut transit time, causing constipation.
Research also suggests that low levels of Bacteroides, Lactobacillus, and Bifidobacterium species are associated with constipation. (Choi et al., 2015)
Lack of Exercise
If you are physically inactive, or have been bedridden for an extended period, this can cause constipation.
Exercise increases the metabolism, making bodily processes — such as the movement of food waste through the intestines — happen quicker.
Because seniors tend to have a more sedentary lifestyle than younger people, they are more prone to constipation.
Constipation is a common side effect of several medications. These include:
- Antidepressants, such as imipramine and amitriptyline.
- Anticonvulsants, such as carbamazepine and phenytoin.
- Pain medications, such as oxycodone, codeine, and hydromorphone.
- Calcium channel blockers, such as nifedipine and diltiazem.
- Diuretics, such as chlorothiazide.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affects the large intestine. It causes many symptoms, including stomach pain, gas, and bloating.
One of the most common subtypes of IBS is constipation-predominant IBS or IBS-C.
Overuse of Laxatives
Some people who have constipation try to resolve it by using laxatives. Although minimal use of laxatives can alleviate the symptoms of constipation, if you use them regularly, your body will soon become used to their action.
This means you will have to increase the dosage to get the same results. When your body becomes dependent on laxatives, there is a significant risk of constipation.
Avoiding Going to the Toilet
You should never ignore the urge to go to the toilet for a bowel movement.
If you do, the urge will gradually disperse, and you will feel as though you no longer need to go. The problem is that the longer you delay passing a stool, the harder and drier it will become, resulting in constipation.
In some cases, a tumor in the colon can compress the intestine and restrict the passage of stools, resulting in constipation.
Other colorectal problems that can cause constipation include abnormal narrowing of the colon or rectum, diverticulosis, or scar tissue.
Some conditions or diseases can cause constipation. These include:
- Endocrine disorders — Diabetes, hypothyroidism, uremia, and hypercalcemia.
- Neurological disorders — Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, stroke, and intestinal obstruction.
- Systemic diseases — Scleroderma, lupus, and amyloidosis.
How to Treat Constipation
It’s important to have healthy, daily bowel movements. Getting rid of your body’s waste is crucial and helps reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, such as colon cancer.
Here are some natural solutions for getting rid of constipation.
Eat More Fiber
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Each is equally important for the treatment of constipation.
Soluble fiber mixes evenly with water to form a soft gel that bulks up your stools. Sources of soluble fiber include oatmeal, lentils, barley, whole grain bread, cereals, psyllium, and apples.
Insoluble fiber forms an uneven mix with water, forming a soft pulp that bulks up your stool and eases its transition. Sources of insoluble fiber include wheat bran, fruit, vegetables, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds.
If you feel you don't get enough fiber from your diet alone, you could use a fiber supplement such as psyllium.
Psyllium comes from the seed husks of Plantago ovata. It is rich in dietary fiber and is the main ingredient in several over-the-counter laxatives. As well as help to prevent constipation, it also lowers cholesterol levels. The suggested adult dosage is 20 to 35 grams per day. Plain psyllium is preferable to products that combine it with artificial sweeteners.
Get More Exercise
Exercise helps with constipation by boosting the metabolism and increasing the speed at which food waste passes through the intestines.
Furthermore, aerobic exercise increases the heart rate, which helps to stimulate the natural contraction of the intestinal muscles.
Improving constipation can be as simple as just getting up and moving around.
However, if you want to prevent constipation from recurring, the best thing to do is get regular exercise. A regular walking routine of around 15 to 20 minutes each day is sufficient if you can’t manage more. If you are already in good shape, then cardiovascular exercise such as running, swimming, dancing, or cycling are all helpful.
Drink More Fluids
Your body is made up of around 80 percent water. Water is vital for many chemical reactions throughout your body, including the transportation of oxygen, nutrients, and hormones throughout the bloodstream.
Fluids bulk up the stool and make it easier to pass through the intestines.
You should drink at least eight 8oz glasses of water per day, but where that water comes from is equally important for your health. The easiest way to ensure you are drinking water that is free from toxins or pollutants is to drink filtered tap water that uses some form of filtration system, such as reverse osmosis, ion exchange, or activated carbon.
Add Probiotics to Your Diet
Probiotics are live beneficial microorganisms that naturally inhabit the gastrointestinal tract. They can be found in some foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and miso.
They can also be taken as an oral probiotic supplement. Probiotics can help improve constipation by improving gut motility, stool transit time, as well as the consistency and frequency of stools. (Choi et al, 2015)
Increase Your Magnesium Intake
Many people who suffer from constipation are deficient in magnesium. Taking a magnesium citrate supplement can fix this problem. It will also act as a gentle laxative and help relieve constipation and subsequent symptoms.
Start with a low dose initially, and gradually increase the dose until you find it easy to pass stools.