No matter how much we try to avoid discussing it, defecation is a part of our routine. Everybody knows how frustrating it can get when you are not able to do it: a condition commonly referred to as constipation.
Constipation is a lot more common phenomenon than you think. According to the estimates, one out of every five people is said to suffer from chronic constipation. Almost 40 million people in the U.S. are a victim of this gut-wrenching problem. Constipation is something that easily creeps up on you, especially if you are not paying much attention. However, with the right and timely interventions, it is entirely possible to treat constipation for good.
If you are one of the unfortunates dealing with this problem and wondering how to get rid of it, this article will answer all your queries.
What is Constipation?
Constipation refers to a common digestive problem characterized by infrequent bowel moments making it difficult to pass stool. The “normal” bowel habits tend to differ from person to person. While some individuals pass stool thrice daily, others may have it only three times a week.
In general, you are said to be constipated if you have less than three bowel movements per week. At this point, you may notice your stool becoming dry and unusually hard, making it painful to pass.
Why is it Bad for the Body?
Constipation is likely to create a havoc inside your body, possibly stemming of any of the following three issues:
In a constipated person, the colon becomes overactive leading to a higher rate of reabsorption from the fecal material passing through it. This may lead to the reabsorption of certain harmful substances including hormones that would normally be excreted with stool.
Disturbance of Intestinal Flora
Chronic constipation may also induce changes in the healthy bacteria residing inside your colon, sometimes causing overgrowth of the unwanted pathogens.
What Causes Constipation?
Constipation normally occurs when the digested food remains in your colon for longer than usual. Your colon tends to absorb too much water, making the fecal matter dry and hard. It becomes difficult for your rectal muscles to push such feces out of the body, eventually causing constipation.
Some of the factors responsible for constipation include:
- Lack of dietary fiber
- Minimal physical activity
- Certain medicines like painkillers, iron supplements, and anticonvulsants
- Excessive use of enemas or laxatives
- Poor bowel habits
- Any changes in daily routine, for example, traveling
- Digestive problems such as celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or colon polyps
- Diseases like hypothyroidism, stroke, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, etc.
Other Physical Side Effects of Constipation
Constipation is often accompanied by the following physical side effects:
It is a condition characterized by inflamed veins around the anus or the rectum leading to rectal bleeding and pain.
Anal fissures are small tears in the skin surrounding the anus. It is often accompanied by symptoms such as itchiness and bleeding.
Fecal impaction refers to the inability to excrete stool out of the body because it has dried and hardened inside the colon and rectum.
Rectal prolapse is a problem in which a part of your rectum comes out of the anus. It happens as you apply force in order to expel the hard feces out of the body.
Goals of Healthy Bowel Movements
A healthy bowel movement must fulfill the following criteria:
- A medium to light brown color
- Soft and smooth, in the form of one long shape
- Approximately 1-2 inches in diameter with a length of up to 18 inches
- A gentle and quiet dive into the water without making any loud splash
- A natural smell
- An ability to sink slowly
- Uniform texture
- Identical to type 4 on a Bristol scale i.e. “like a sausage or a snake, smooth and soft“
Remedies and Prevention
There are numerous ways to relieve constipation using ingredients that can easily be found in your kitchen. You can follow these remedies at the comfort of your home and most importantly, all of them are backed by science.
Specific foods that are best for constipation
Fruits: Most of the fruits are rich in fiber. Some of the high-fiber fruits are apricots, peaches, prunes, berries, and plums. Dried plums contain an insoluble fiber- cellulose- which increases the amount of water in the stool, thereby, adding bulk.
Apples are an excellent source of fiber. Taking one medium-sized apple with skin (about 182 grams) will provide 4.4 grams of fiber. This is 17% of the daily fiber intake.
Pears are another source of fiber. A medium sized pear (about 178 grams) will provide 5.5 grams of fiber which is 22% of daily fiber intake.
Vegetables: Vegetables are the richest source of fiber. All the parts of vegetable- leaves, root, and stalk- are not only rich in fiber, but also in Vitamin C, Vitamin K, and folate. One cup of cooked spinach is full of 4.3 grams of fiber, which is about 17% of your recommended daily fiber intake.
Similarly, broccoli is super healthy and super rich in fiber. Just one stalk of broccoli contains 3.6 grams of fiber, which is 16% recommended intake of fiber.
Rhubarb is a plant that has been used for its laxative properties since ages. This plant contains sennoside A, a compound that has been used as an herbal laxative. Leaves of rhubarb are inedible, however, stalks can be boiled and eaten.
Beans and legumes: Chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, and lentils are rich in fiber. However, they must be used with caution. Anyone suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is cautioned to remain away from beans and legumes.
Pulses are rich in soluble and insoluble fiber, which gives them the ability to add bulk and soften the stool to facilitate the passage.
Seeds: Seeds can be rich in fiber. Chia and psyllium are some of the most common seeds that have been used in smoothies or sprinkled over yogurt to relieve constipation.
Whole Grains: Oats, quinoa, barley, rye, brown rice, and oats have proven to provide more fiber than white flour and white rice. Using them will relieve constipation within 3 days.
Specific supplements that are best for constipation
Magnesium: Magnesium is responsible for relaxing the tensed muscles and aiding the smooth passage of stools. It is rich in leafy vegetables and dark chocolate.
Glucomannan: Being a soluble fiber, glucomannan positively affects motion. This supplement is equally effective in treating chronic cases of constipation.
Vitamin C: A potent dose of vitamin C will induce a laxative effect and can be used as a natural remedy for constipation. Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, and mandarins.
Black Psyllium: Black psyllium has been proven to be quite effective herbal supplement for treating short-term constipation.
Blond psyllium: Some studies have shown that blond psyllium can be useful for treating constipation and improving stool consistency, if taken separately or with any food.
Alder Buckthorn: Evidence has suggested that alder buckthorn can be used a laxative. It can be as effective as cascara for relieving constipation.
Aloe: Taking aloe orally can relieve constipation and can even cause diarrhea.