Most people at some point in their lives have experienced constipation, an embarrassing and uncomfortable problem which refers to an inability to empty the bowels regularly and fully. For many people, constipation is an ongoing problem, which affects them on a daily basis. Most people are surprised to learn that the bowels should be emptied between one and three times daily, anything less than this is classed as constipation.
Constipation is rare in many developing countries and yet relatively common in the Western world. It is estimated that about 10% of the population in Western communities suffer from this problem. Health experts agree that this may be in part because of the low fibre content of Western diets compared to dietary habits in less developed countries.
Take action now to reduce the risk of more serious health problems
Whilst constipation is an uncomfortable and embarrassing problem in its own right, if left unchecked, it can lead to more serious health problems such as haemorrhoids, diverticular disease, toxic overload, appendicitis and even colon cancer. It is important not to leave this problem unchecked but instead make the necessary dietary and lifestyle changes to improve the body’s elimination processes.
So what causes constipation?
Food passes through the intestines and finally reaches the colon; the colon absorbs water from food while it forms waste products, or stool.
Constipation happens when the colon absorbs too much water from the stool or if the colon’s muscle contractions are slow or sluggish, causing the stool to move through the colon too slowly. As a result, stools can become hard and dry and difficult to eliminate.
Common causes of constipation:
• Are you drinking enough water?
• Are you eating a diet rich in fibre, colourful fruits, salads and vegetables, poultry, fish, beans, pulses and lentils?
• Are you stressed out?
• Are you suffering from a magnesium deficiency?
• Are you leading a sedentary life without much daily physical activity or exercise?
• Is your intestinal flora well balanced?
Dietary changes to support bowel regularity
• Increase intake of fresh, filtered water
• Increase intake of fibre (soluble/insoluble), particularly wholegrains, oats, plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, linseeds and beans, pulses and lentils
• Increase intake of simple, wholesome, non-processed foods and drinks and reduce intake of refined, processed alternatives
• Increase intake of magnesium-rich foods such as wholegrains, nuts and beans and consider taking extra magnesium in supplement form
• Increase intake of essential fats through nuts, seeds, olive oil, flaxseed oil & oily fish
Nutritional supplements you might want to consider:
High strength magnesium
Magnesium has an important role to play in muscle function, particularly contraction and relaxation. Since the digestive tract is essentially one long muscle, magnesium has a vitally important role to play in helping food pass along the tract and finally be eliminated as waste. It can be difficult to increase your intake of magnesium through food alone, so it may be useful to supplement high strength magnesium for a short period of time to help replenish your body’s levels of this important mineral.
Pureed papaya extract
Papaya extract contains a unique enzyme called papain, which helps to stimulate digestion and bowel movements. Pureed papaya extract is commonly recommended in the treatment of IBS type symptoms such as constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, cramps, wind and indigestion.
Psyllium, apple pectin & charcoal
Naturally high in fibre, psyllium has been found to be an effective natural laxative. Psyllium helps to increase the bulk of the stool, which helps the bowel to eliminate it more easily. Try psyllium in supplement form with added apple pectin (excellent source of fibre) and charcoal (for cleansing & toxin absorption) for additional benefits.
High strength probiotic supplementation
There are two main types of bacteria found in the colon – Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium. Optimal colon health relies on maintaining healthy levels of both of these beneficial bacteria. Increasing fibre in the diet is a good start, as fibre helps to feed these beneficial organisms. If you are suffering from constipation it may be useful to supplement with a high strength probiotic formula to ensure that your levels of beneficial bacteria are optimally healthy. Look for a supplement which contains the NCFM® strain of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bl-07 culture of Bifidobacterium lactis, the most extensively tested and effective species available. Inexpensive, low quality probiotic supplements and ‘probiotic yoghurt drinks’ are likely to be ineffective.
Lifestyle factors that may be involved in constipation:
Exercise has been shown to stimulate healthy bowel function. Incorporating some exercise into your daily routine, such as a gentle walk, yoga classes or swimming, is an essential part of any treatment strategy to improve bowel function.
Stress is at the root cause of so many different health problems, and can even be linked to constipation. Both physical and emotional stresses can have a negative effect on bowel function, as the body’s digestive functions can slow down during times of stress. Taking steps to reduce stresses in your life, making sure that you make time for meals, rather than eating on the run and incorporating some deep relaxation into your weekly routine, for example through yoga and meditation, may be a really beneficial way to support improved bowel function.