Constipation isn’t really something most of us feel comfortable talking about, but it’s something we should be talking about. It can make you feel bloated, uncomfortable and cause painful gas build-up – and these are only a few of the side effects.
This isn’t an issue that only a few of us face. The ugly truth is that it happens to everyone at some point or another and for around 27% of the world’s population, it is chronic.
So the question is – is constipation inevitable? For the average person, the answer is no. Or at least, it doesn’t have to be.
What Causes Constipation?
The causes of constipation range from lack of fibre to medication side effects, but the underlying theme is lack of water within the bowel.
For most people, constipation happens when their bowel soaks up all the water from the food they eat, leaving little left for *ahem* lubrication. This makes it difficult for the food to pass through the colon and it gets stuck – kinda like you would get stuck in a water slide if there was no water.
When the bowel motion gets to the end of the “slide”, it comes out hard and dry, if it comes out at all. If you’ve experienced this, you’ll know that it has knock-on side effects; you feel bloated and uncomfortable, as well as lethargic and even irritable.
If you think this is bad, it’s only the start of your problems. If ignored or if it occurs on a regular basis, it can have even more powerful effects on your general health and wellbeing.
The Long Term Impact
Regular, severe constipation can cause havoc within your bowels, causing faecal and even urinary incontinence. Yes, I just said incontinence. Constipation strains the pelvic floor muscles, which are integral to bladder control, and over time, this makes it more difficult for these muscles to function as they should.
The big question whenever we talk about constipation is what’s normal? There is no one right answer – anywhere between three times a day and three times a week is perfectly normal. Some people might find that they are constipated after a couple of days of not having a bowel movement, while others will find that perfectly normal.
Treating Constipation and Keeping Your Bowels Healthy
There are two different types of constipation – acute and chronic.
Acute constipation is what happens to just about everyone when they are constipated for a short period of time. It’s not a regular occurrence and it’s usually sorted within a few days.
Chronic constipation, on the other hand, is a more severe issue and it can sometimes require medical intervention. This could be a result of a physiological difficulty or long term medication.
Whether you’re dealing with acute or chronic constipation, there are certain changes you can make to your lifestyle and diet that will have an enormous impact on the health of your bowels. The three most important rules for a healthy colon are: drink lots of water, exercise and eat a healthy diet.
You’ve probably already heard these three golden rules a million times over. Don’t be put off by the fact that they sound like huge lifestyle changes – with a few simple tweaks, you can get that water slide functioning like the Typhoon Lagoon at Disney World.
8 Glasses a Day
If water is keeping your bowels from moving, the simplest way to get them moving again is to drink more water? Most people don’t drink enough water simply because they don’t remember to drink water, so prevent this from happening by keeping a bottle of water on you at all times. You’ll find that you automatically begin to reach for it when you are thirsty.
Add Some “Colon – Friendly” Snacks to Your Diet
You don’t need to overhaul your entire diet to start seeing positive benefits – a few, simple changes can make a world of difference.
For example, adding prunes (or prune juice), wholegrain breads and fresh fruit to your diet allows your colon to take advantage of the fibre content and this aids in the movement of bowels. Prunes might not sound all that appealing, but they’re natural laxatives, which make them perfect for chronic or acute constipation.
Just as important as it is to eat the right foods is knowing what is important to stay away from when you’re feeling constipated. Dairy, for example, is thought to “bind” foods, contributing to constipation. Products like cheese and milk are low fibre and high in fat, which are both no-no’s when it comes to ease of passage.
Certain foods, like red meat or potato chips, do not directly contribute to constipation, but they take the place of fibre-rich foods. Bananas are an interesting topic when it comes to constipation because, believe it or not, they can both cause and treat it!
Unripened bananas can cause constipation, while ripe bananas, which are high in fibre, can treat it.
Keeping Yourself Regular
It’s handy to know how to treat constipation, but it is even handier preventing constipation from happening in the first place. Constipation can lead to an assortment of nasty side effects, including haemorrhoids, so keeping yourself regular is the easiest way of making sure you’re never down in the dumps by your lack thereof (get it?).
A few simple ways that you can keep that waterslide running is by limiting how much junk food you eat, going to the toilet whenever you feel that you need it and to ensure you’re taking medication as directed.
Probiotics, which consists of live microorganisms that regulate the bowel, are currently thought to aid in keeping bowel movements regular and preventing constipation. Studies have shown that the probiotic strain B. Lactis is especially helpful in increasing the regularity of bowel movements.
We all know that stress can have an impact on our well being, but did you know that it can also plug you up? Mindfulness, which aids in the reduction of stress, has actually been found to have a positive impact on bowel movement regularity.
Constipation is a problem we all need to face every now and again, but it doesn’t have to get you down.
A few, simply changes and you’ll be feeling your best again in no time.