Feeling constipated? You’re not alone. Constipation can be an infuriating and uncomfortable condition, especially when it becomes chronic. It’s essential to address constipation promptly because proper elimination is a crucial health measure. When this process becomes impaired, it can set off a chain reaction affecting your overall well-being. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into everything you need to know about constipation and explore effective ways to manage and prevent it.
What Is Constipation?
Constipation is a common digestive issue characterized by infrequent bowel movements or difficulty passing stool. Typically, if you have fewer than three bowel movements per week and experience straining, hard stools, or a sense of incomplete evacuation, you may be constipated. This condition can be acute or chronic, and its impact on your daily life can range from mild discomfort to severe distress.
Chronic constipation can be broadly divided into 3 classes based upon the underlying physiologic cause:
- Normal-transit constipation is when a person feels constipated, but the consistency of their stools is normal, and the stools move through the digestive tract at a regular pace. But they are also experiencing symptoms such as abdominal bloating and pain.
- Slow-transit constipation is when one doesn’t experience constriction and relaxation of the muscles of the intestine after eating. Therefore, food moves through the digestive tract more slowly than usual, and stools take longer to pass through the colon. Therefore, a person may have less frequent bowel movements.
- Dyssynergic defecation (pelvic floor dysfunction) is when the pelvic floor lacks coordination between the muscles and nerves that support bowel movement. It’s a common problem that affects almost 25% of people with chronic constipation. One may experience an incomplete bowel.
Causes of Constipation
Understanding what causes constipation is the first step in effectively managing it. Several factors can contribute to this condition:
Dietary Choices: Your diet plays a significant role in bowel regularity. A lack of fiber and inadequate water intake can slow down the transit of stool through your digestive system. Same as consuming too much coffee, tea, food that is too spicy, or food intolerance can create an imbalance of water in the colon, leading to constipation.
Lifestyle Factors: Sedentary lifestyles can lead to sluggish bowel movements. Regular physical activity promotes healthy digestion by stimulating the muscles of your intestines. And one should always respond to the urge to have a bowel movement, rather than hold it back. The longer you hold, the dryer the stools become and the harder for you to pass.
Medications: Certain medications, such as pain relievers, antidepressants, and some iron supplements, can cause constipation as a side effect (dry solid stool). Make sure you improve your water intake when you are taking these medications.
Nervous System Connection – Gut-Brain Axis: The intricate connection between your brain and gut, known as the gut-brain axis, influences digestive function. Stress, anxiety, and emotional imbalances can disrupt this connection and contribute to constipation.
What to Do When Constipated
When constipated, it’s crucial to take action to alleviate discomfort and promote regular bowel movements:
Increase Fiber Intake: Incorporate more fiber-rich foods into your diet, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Fiber adds bulk to your stool, making it easier to pass. A balanced diet, and adequate fiber 20 – 30 g per day. Having 1 or 2 teaspoons of psyllium husk in a big glass of water provides 5 – 10 g of the fiber you need a day.
Stay Hydrated: Adequate hydration softens stool and facilitates its movement through the intestines. Aim to drink plenty of water throughout the day. Sipping water is a more effective way to improve your hydration instead of drinking in large quantities and don’t forget to add a pinch of kosher salt or electrolytes enhancing the quality of the fluid.
Regular Exercise: Engage in regular physical activity to stimulate intestinal muscles. Even a brisk walk can help promote bowel regularity. Or practice small movement of contract and release exercises of lower belly and pelvic floor, to improve coordination of your pelvic muscles. Some Yoga poses are known to relieve constipation and alleviate gas, such as Half spinal twist, Supine spinal twist, Crescent lunge twist, Wind-relieving pose, or Bow pose.
Mindfulness and Stress Management: Practicing mindfulness techniques like meditation and deep breathing can help reduce stress and improve the gut-brain connection, potentially alleviating constipation caused by emotional factors. Try deep breathing into the pelvic floor and bring awareness to the movement of your colon. Imagine bringing your breath down to your tailbone while it relieves and relaxes the whole pelvic muscle and anus.
Supplement and Herbals: It is always handy to have an alternative option when needed. Magnesium citrate is the most natural and safe alternative to choose, it is water soluble and better absorbed. It is an osmotic laxative, which means it works by drawing water into the intestine to soften stool and make it easier to pass. Rhubarb root, you can use dry root grinding into powder or buy extract/ tincture. Not only does it have efficient laxative effects by promoting intestinal contraction and movement, but it also protects the intestinal mucosal barrier and anti-inflammation. Castor oil, a tablespoon of castor oil can act as a stimulant to trigger contractions in the bowels. However, keep in mind that if you take stimulant laxatives too often, you could become dependent on them to have a bowel movement at all.
Maintaining a Good Bowel Movement
Maintaining a healthy bowel movement pattern is essential for overall well-being. Here are some tips to ensure regularity:
Establish a Routine: The body has internal mechanisms that naturally stimulate the bowel after waking and after meals. You can take advantage of this by attempting bowel movements, this training involves sitting on the toilet for 15 to 20 minutes at the same time each day. Consistency can help train your digestive system.
Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to your body’s signals. You can practice how to be more aware of the sensation of rectal fullness. And when you feel the urge to have a bowel movement, don’t delay.
Don’t Strain: Avoid straining during bowel movements (too long, shouldn’t be longer than 5 minutes), as it can cause hemorrhoids or worsen constipation. If you’re having trouble, take your time and breathe into the stomach & diaphragm. This improves push effort. Sit up straight, having a footstool to raise your feet up so that your hips are flexed less than 90 degrees, means your knees are higher than your hips. Alternatively, you can try squatting.
Limit Processed Foods: Processed and high-sugar foods can disrupt digestive health. Your body will not be able to break down synthetic ingredients that are included in processed food, which means it stays in your digestive tract longer than it should. Opt for a balanced diet with whole, natural foods.
Constipation is a common ailment that can significantly affect your quality of life. Understanding its causes and implementing proactive strategies to manage and prevent it is essential for maintaining a healthy digestive system. By making dietary adjustments, staying active, and practicing mindfulness, you can take control of your bowel movements and enjoy better overall health and well-being. Remember, if chronic constipation persists after a new medication, severe stomach pain, bloody stools, or painful bowel, consult a healthcare professional for a thorough evaluation.