Constipation: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention Tips
A few years back, a Bollywood film brought people’s most common digestive problem out in the open. That leaves us with a question: do you have the problem ‘Piku’s Dad had? In India, one in seven people silently suffers from constipation. Yet, constipation is not discussed openly as a drawing-room topic and is taboo for many. Why? Most of us can’t talk about it due to the stigma associated with poop and bowel movements.
But let’s talk about it. Defecation is a natural process, and it must be frequent. If you’re spending hours in the toilet without passing stools, then it is an indicator of constipation. However, not all constipation is the same. Some people may experience it due to a lack of fibre or fluid in their diet. For others, constipation could also be a sign of underlying problems such as coeliac disease or bowel cancer.
Different fibre-rich foods help keep the constipation problem in check. For example, incorporating bowel-friendly foods into the diet helps by adding bulk to the stools, making them soft. In addition, they also decrease their transit time from the gut, improving the frequency of bowel movements. So, drink plenty of fluids and stay physically active to prevent constipation to a maximum extent. You should never forget that constipation is just biology and not mix it with sociology.
What is Constipation?
Constipation refers to painful or difficult excretion accompanied by small, dry, and hard stools. You’re likely to be constipated if the bowel movements occur less than three times a week. However, missing one bowel movement a day does not mean you’re constipated.
Due to our lifestyle and irregular eating habits, constipation is not uncommon. It is a medical condition that differs from person to person. Constipation is often considered a symptom of underlying anorectal disorders.
Symptoms of Constipation
Every individual has different bowel movements, and thus the symptom and severity vary from individual to individual. Constipation symptoms can be a chronic condition for some, while others rarely experience it. Nevertheless, you might be constipated if you’re experiencing the following symptoms:
- Passing stools less than thrice a week
- Stools are dry, hard or lumpy
- Experiencing pain or strain during excretion
- Experiencing a feeling of fullness, even post passing stools
It is essential to seek medical advice if the following symptoms continue and you experience the following:
- Constant abdominal pain
- Changes in bowel movements
- Bleeding from the rectum
- Lower back pain
- Inexplicable weight loss
Causes of Constipation Lack of Fibre and Fluids in the Diet
A diet that is too low in fluids and fibre contributes to constipation. Dietary fibre is essential to absorb water and make the stools softer and easier to pass. There are two types of fibre; soluble and insoluble. You need insoluble fibre to add bulk into the stools and draw enough water to them. Furthermore, they act as natural laxatives. If your diet is poor in fibre, it significantly brings down the lubrication necessary for the stools to pass quickly, leading to constipation.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS causes abdominal discomfort accompanied by strained and sluggish bowel movements. It is followed by bloating, gas, abdominal cramps, and constipation. Having hard stools is a predominant sign of IBS. Constipation caused by irritable bowel syndrome is related to undesirable changes in gut bacteria and intestinal functions.
Misuse of Laxatives
Laxatives cause constipation. Sounds surprising, right? Well, it’s true. Most of us know laxatives as the saviour that relieves constipation. However, like any medication, abuse of laxatives may damage your colon nerve cells. In addition, it would prevent the intestine from contracting, leading to painful constipation. So, use the laxatives for a short period and sparingly. You may even suffer from laxative dependency, tempting you to go for larger doses.
Lack of Exercise
People who don’t exercise regularly or lead a sedentary lifestyle are at risk for constipation. So how is exercise related to constipation? First, let us break down the cycle; exercise strengthens and tones the muscles. The toned muscles in the abdominal wall and diaphragm aid in easy excretion. However, a lack of exercise makes these muscles weak and causes constipation.
Underlying Medical Conditions
Constipation is a common symptom of a majority of diseases. Systemic conditions often disrupt the digestive process and lead to constipation. Some of the medical conditions that tend to bring on constipation are:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Spinal cord injury
- Chronic kidney disease
- Intestinal obstructions
Foods That Cause Constipation Milk
Milk and its products cause constipation in some people. However, experiencing constipation due to milk consumption doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re lactose intolerant. A lactose person is more likely to experience diarrhoea and not constipation. As it turns out, processed milk contains high fat and less fibre, which may make you feel constipated. Furthermore, constipation also occurs if your body shows poor tolerance or poor digestion of milk proteins.
Red meat contains very little fibre and is naturally high in fat. This nutrient combination causes constipation. In addition, the fats in red meat take longer to digest, thereby increasing the chances of constipation. Plus, the satiating effect of red meat creates a feeling of fullness and prevents you from eating other fibre-rich foods.
Due to its dehydrating nature, alcohol makes the stools compact and hard, making them difficult to pass. That leads to a constipated feeling. Moreover, alcohol slows down digestion and irritates bowel movements. It eventually makes the constipation symptoms worse. Therefore, you should avoid having alcohol or having it occasionally. If you’re incredibly prone to constipation, avoid alcohol altogether.
Most grains like white rice lose their fibre content during the refining process. Since the fibre gets stripped away, refined grains are not ideal for a constipation diet. They alter bowel movements and stimulate bloating. On the other hand, you can eat whole grains instead of refined ones to keep constipation in check.
Interestingly, bananas are on the list of foods that cause constipation based on their ripeness. That is because unripe, green bananas are constipating and make the stools hard to pass. However, ripe bananas are high in fibre and ease constipation. Hence, it is essential to pick ripe bananas to avoid constipation.
Spicy, fried, and greasy fast foods like French fries, burgers, onion rings and doughnuts take time to digest. Fast food binds you up by slowing down the normal gastrointestinal movement. It, in turn, can be a cause of constipation. Most fast foods are low in fibre, low in fluid, and high in fat. Also, the high sodium content in them makes you feel dehydrated. All these reasons are related to constipation.
Tips to Prevent Constipation
Simple changes to your lifestyle may act as a preventive shield against constipation. However, to reap benefits in the long run, you shouldn’t incorporate these preventative tips all at once.
Go for a Fibre-Rich Diet
You don’t have to worry about constipation if your diet includes sufficient fibre. Be patient and add fibres to the diet for a week or so. Too much fibre at once can lead to bloating and gas.
- Make dietary changes slowly by adding cooked beans to soups and salads.
- Choose brown rice, whole-grain bread, multi-grain cereals, and whole wheat pasta instead of white rice, white bread, and regular pasta.
Eating right is the first step to preventing constipation. A study has shown that people who ate a fibre-rich diet had increased stool passage. After all, difficulty in passing stools is the most critical factor of constipation.
Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. Your digestive system actively cleanses when you’re hydrated. It, in turn, makes your bowels happy and lowers the chances of constipation. Furthermore, in most cases, a dehydrated colon triggers constipation. Be sure to drink more fluids if you’re adding extra fibre to the diet. The stools become soft and easy to pass when the body is adequately hydrated. However, do not go for alcohol, coffee, tea, and sugary drinks as they tend to be counterproductive. Instead, drink at least 3 litres of water daily.
Lack of exercise is a leading causative factor of constipation. You can start by slowly adding certain physical activities to your day as a preventive measure. Do light exercise such as walking after heavy meals. It would support the digestion process. Doing asanas and stretches early morning aids in easy bowel movement. Yoga increases the blood flow towards the intestines, stimulating its contraction. Yes, this would support normal excretion and reduce the risk of constipation. Exercise regularly at least five times a week for an hour.
Add Omega3 Oils to Your Diet
Omega-3 oils or fish oils act as natural lubricants for easy stool passage. This lubrication prevents painful excretions, which is one of the common symptoms of constipation. People with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are more vulnerable to constipation. Adding fish oil or Omega-3 to the diet may work as a remedy to prevent such constipation. You may try eating tuna, sardines, or mackerel thrice a week for better results.
Stress plays a significant role in constipation. Your intestinal functions tend to slow down, and inflammation occurs in response to stress. It, in turn, triggers constipation. When you’re under chronic stress, the intestinal permeability increases and allows the entry of inflammatory compounds into the intestine. It would make you feel stuffy and strained during excretion. Avoiding stressful life events may help prevent constipation and encourage regular bowel movements. Relax and stop stressing out. It’s beneficial for your bowel movement and your mental health.
Treatment for Constipation Laxatives
Different types of over-the-counter laxatives are available. You can choose one based on how they work and how constipated you are. However, you should keep in mind to take only the prescribed dose of laxatives.
- Osmotic laxatives: They draw water from the digestive tissues and soften the stools. It makes excretion easier and painless.
- Stimulant laxatives treat constipation by stimulating the nerves present in the gut or intestine. It would increase the bowel movement frequency.
- Stool softeners: With a mode of action similar to osmotic laxatives, stool softeners are oils that promote the easy passage of stool through the intestine by making them softer.
- Bulking agents: They’re a type of fibre-based laxative that relieves constipation by adding water content to the hardened stools.
Castor oil is a commonly used natural remedy for relieving constipation, and it works quickly. The ricinoleic acid, a type of fatty acid in castor oil, stimulates the muscular contraction of intestinal walls. It helps to push out the stools. You may add castor oil to water or fruit juices to subside its intense flavour and odour. It may take only 2-3 hours to see desired results. However, we do not recommend castor oil to pregnant women and children younger than 6.
Believe it or not, you can treat constipation successfully with easy lifestyle changes. If dehydration is the culprit behind your constipation, then drink plenty of water. Limit the consumption of dehydrating agents like coffee and alcohol. Also, make sure that your daily fibre intake through diet falls between 20 to 35 grams. Furthermore, the first-line treatment is to follow a well-balanced diet rich in fibre. Finally, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every day. With these simple steps, one can see notable differences in bowel movements.
If you continue having constipation, your doctor might prescribe certain drugs or medications to help you. The doctor might even recommend stopping any medications that might be causing constipation.
- Lubiprostone is a drug that increases fluid levels in the intestine.
- Plecanatide or linaclotide might help make bowel movements frequent for individuals with IBS or long-term constipation.
- Prucalopride aids the colon in moving the stool along.
Foods to Eat When You Are Constipated Prunes
Prunes are nothing but dried plums and work well as a remedy for constipation. These nutritious foods contain an exceptional amount of fibre that helps add bulk to the stools. For example, 100 grams of prunes contain about 7 g of fibre, which is nearly 12% of your daily recommended value. In addition, a study shows that people with chronic constipation experienced increased stool consistency and frequency after eating at least 100 grams of prunes daily. It is due to the laxative effects and high fibre content of prunes. Besides, they’re also rich in phenolic compounds that restore beneficial gut microbes.
This red fruit is an excellent source of fibre and various other nutrients. A medium-sized apple contains 4.8 grams of fibre, 19% of the RDI recommendation. Apples are also rich in pectin. The gut bacteria quickly ferments this pectin and forms fatty acids that help pull water into the colon. It softens the stools. A randomised study shows that pectin increased beneficial microbes in the gut, which led to increased stool movement.
One kiwi contains nearly 2.3 gm of fibre, or 9% of the RDI recommendation. In addition, it also has actinidin, an enzyme responsible for bowel regularity and gut motility. You can consume them raw or in smoothies and salads to boost fibre. Eating at least two kiwis per day helps bring the bowel movements on track.
Figs are great for boosting fibre intake and promoting healthy bowel movements. One medium-sized raw fig contains 1.5 gm of fibre. Moreover, they have ficin, an enzyme that helps improve bowel function. A study shows that consuming 300 grams of fig paste daily for 16 weeks may improve stool consistency, reduce stomach discomfort and increase the speed of colonic transit time. Figs are a healthy yet tasty snack. You can eat them dried, cooked or raw. You can also pair figs well with meats, cheese and baked goods.
Chia seeds are incredibly fibre-dense foods with 34 grams of fibre per 100 grams. These seeds contain 15% soluble fibre and 85% of insoluble fibre. When chia seeds come in contact with water, they form a gel. It helps soften stools, making them easier to pass. You can sprinkle them over oats, cereals and even yoghurt. Or you can blend them into vegetable juice, smoothies and dips.
Green vegetables like spinach, broccoli, and brussels sprouts are fibre rich and have reasonable amounts of vitamin C, vitamin K, and folate. These vegetables make your stools bulky and add weight to them, making them pass easily. You can simply add them into a pie, soup or quiche. Tender greens and baby spinach are also great additions to salads or sandwiches.
Brussels sprouts are also fibre rich greens. For example, five sprouts contain 14% of your daily fibre requirements with only 41 calories. You can steam, roast, grill or even boil them and eat cold or hot. Moreover, broccoli is another vegetable containing 2.7 grams of fibre per 100 g. Cook them and put them into stews and salads or consume raw as a snack or in salads.
Flax seeds have been used as a traditional cure for constipation for hundreds of years now. It is because they have a neutral laxative effect. Besides providing numerous health benefits, they are also an excellent source of both soluble and insoluble fibre that help support digestive health. For example, 100 grams of whole flax seeds contain 27 grams of fibre. You can consume flax seeds sprinkled on cereals or yoghurt. Be innovative and add them to cakes, muffins or bread recipes. However, pregnant and lactating mothers should exercise caution while using flaxseeds.
Constipation means that a person does not have regular bowel movements or experiences difficulty passing stool. It is one of the most common digestive problems out there. There is a potential link between fibre consumption and constipation. Intake of too little fibre and fluids often triggers constipation and its associated symptoms. Including certain foods such as apples, prunes, kiwis, figs, and chia seeds in your diet might help prevent and treat constipation problems. These foods help by adding bulk to your stool and making them soft enough for easier passage.
Use laxatives carefully. Your doctor might suggest laxatives to help soften the stools. But never use laxatives for more than two weeks without consulting your doctor. Your body might become dependent on them. Most constipation cases are mild, and you can treat them easily with lifestyle changes. However, it is essential to seek professional advice if you’re experiencing chronic constipation and persistent strain during bowel movements.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Q. How do you stop constipation quickly?
A. There are some age-old home remedies to get immediate relief from constipation. You can try castor oil as it works as a natural laxative and leads to smoothly passing the stool. Flavoured castor oil is usually taken by mouth or added to fruit juices. Other options would be to take laxative stimulants and fibre supplements that work within a short time frame.
Q. What should I eat to avoid constipation?
A. You should start adding fibre rich foods into your diet. Some options are apples, kiwi, figs, spinach, and Brussels sprouts. You can also eat chia seeds and flax seeds to avoid constipation. In addition to a fibre-rich diet, one should also drink plenty of fluids.
Q. Is milk good for constipation?
A. No, milk is not suitable for constipation and may even worsen it. Consuming too much dairy and its products increases the risk of constipation among infants, toddlers, and children. It is because of the poor digestive tolerance towards the protein present in milk. Instead of milk, try yoghurt with probiotics.
Q. What foods make constipation worse?
A. Foods that are low in fibre but high in fat tend to make constipation worse. It is because high-fat foods take longer to digest and slow down the digestion process. As a result, they aggravate its symptoms by causing bowel irritation. You should also avoid red meat, dairy products, unripe bananas, alcohol, and refined grains.
Q. What foods should you eat for constipation?
A. The best foods to eat during constipation are those rich in fibre. Consuming high fibre foods will make the passage of stool easier and regulate your bowel movement. For constipation, the best foods are apples, prunes, kiwi, greens, flax seeds, chia seeds, and figs.
Q. Are eggs constipating?
A. Eggs may not be a significant factor behind constipation. They have less fibre content, but you don’t have to remove eggs from the diet altogether. To balance it out, try adding other fibre-rich foods along with eggs. However, suppose you’re worried about constipation due to irritable bowel syndrome. In that case, it is a good idea not to eat eggs until the condition improves.
Q. What are the top 10 foods that cause constipation?
A. Red meat, milk, unripe bananas, fast foods, and refined grains lead to constipation. In addition, white bread, fried foods, alcohol, gluten-containing products, and eggs are the foods that tend to cause it. The severity depends on the amount of consumption.
Q. Do bananas harden your stool?
A. Bananas can either cause constipation or relieve it. Ripe bananas contain relatively high fibre that helps bowel regularity. On the other hand, unripened or green bananas harden the stool and lead to constipation. Thus, bananas can either harden or soften the stools based on their ripeness.
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