Combatting the Causes of Constipation

26th October, 2017
Julia Lamberti

Why Am I Constipated?

Millions of people suffer from constipation worldwide, with women being the most frequent sufferers of this condition. Medical experts argue that this could be a result of the effects of female hormones on the GI tract. Pregnant women are also particularly plagued by constipation because of pregnancy hormones that directly impact the digestive system. In addition, older people tend to suffer from constipation more frequently, due to the digestive process slowing as we age, inactivity, increased use of medicine and other age-related physical conditions.

A fast -paced, stressful lifestyle, fuelled by processed meals and caffeine, can also wreak havoc on people’s digestive systems, making constipation a common occurrence for many.

Straining on the loo, lower abdominal pain, bloating, a feeling of not having eliminated properly, rectal bleeding, passing fewer than three stools a week and hard, lumpy stools, are all indications that you are suffering from constipation. Causes of constipation include:

  • Insufficient water or fibre in your diet
  • A change in your diet or activities
  • Inactivity
  • Pregnancy
  • Stress
  • Eating disorders
  • An underactive thyroid
  • Overuse of laxatives
  • Eating too much dairy
  • Colon cancer
  • Overuse of antacid medications containing calcium or aluminium
  • Strong medications
  • Delaying bowel movements
  • Avoiding bowel movements due to haemorrhoids
  • Issues with the nerves and muscles of the digestive system

Getting Things Moving Again

There are a number of dietary and lifestyle changes that can relieve the symptoms of constipation, and help prevent future bouts. Firstly, add more fibre to your diet in order to boost your gut’s immune system, feed the good probiotic bacteria in your stomach with a good quality probiotic like Biogen Pre- and Pro-Biotic, Reuterina Daily or Hydra choice, to help keep you regular. Fibre also keeps the digestive lining healthy and better able to absorb excess cholesterol, fat and toxins, thus preventing toxic build-up in the colon and sluggish digestion.

Be sure to ingest plenty of insoluble fibre (or roughage), which moves through the digestive system and removes the waste, toxins and materials your body doesn’t need. You should also get sufficient soluble fibre, which works to prevent and reduce the body’s absorption of substances that may be harmful. The best way to increase your consumption of both fibre types is by including more whole fruits, vegetables, lentils, nuts, seeds and grains in your diet. Note that Dis-Chemalso stocks a broad range of fibre-rich food products, from quality brands like: FUTURELIFE™, Jungle, Kellogs®, Tia’s, Vital, Nature’s Choice™and Dis-Chem Lifestyle Food.

Or why not try a fibre supplement, like Dis-Chem Lifestyle Nutrition Fibre Supplementto boost your intake? In addition, bulking agents, such as bran and psyllium, are safe to use and work by increasing the volume of stool, making it easier to pass. Try sprinkling Nature’s Choice™ Oat Branor Health Connection Wholefoods™ Psyllium Husksonto your morning cereal or stir into soups or smoothies. Just ensure that you always drink plenty of water when taking bulking agents. Try to also moderate your consumption of high-fat, low-fibre foods, such as meat, dairy and processed goods, as these can lead to constipation.

It is also essential to increase your intake of water, as sufficient H20 helps move the food you eat through the digestive tract and is necessary for digesting soluble fibre, which benefits your bowel health by softening stools.

Aim to consume around two litres of water a day for good digestive health. Also, try sipping on some mint or dandelion tea. This is because peppermint contains menthol, which has an antispasmodic effect and relaxes the muscles of the digestive tract, and dandelion tea is a gentle laxative and detoxifier. Lemon water can also act as a natural constipation remedy because the citric acid in lemon juice stimulates the digestive system, and can help flush toxins from the body.

Enjoying regular exercise is also important because it increases muscle activity in your intestines. Aim to participate in some form of physical activity, for at least thirty minutes, five times a week, to help ease constipation. In addition, avoid delaying going to the toilet when the urge arises because regularly delaying bowel movements can cause you to develop a dysfunction in the muscles used for elimination. This can then lead to constipation and, in more serious cases, a compacted bowel and even more chronic constipation. It is also critical that you set aside a few undisturbed minutes, at a regular time each day, to have a bowel movement.

Medicinal Intervention

Lifestyle and dietary changes that support a healthy digestive system are the most effective ways to ease and avoid constipation. However, a laxative or stool softener may be a good short-term solution when nothing else seems to work. Laxatives containing senna, like Dis-Chem Senna Tablets, are taken with water and work by irritating the lining of the bowel, thus speeding up the passage of stools. Only occasional use is recommended, because these laxative types decrease tone and sensation in the large bowel and can lead to dependence. Bulk laxatives, such as Fybogel® Orange, increase the fibre content in stool and a product such as Movicol®, increases the fluid content of stool, softening it and allowing for a smoother bowel movement. These products, and a broad array of other treatments for constipation, are available at your local Dis-Chem. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about the right option for you and note that laxatives should only be used occasionally and for short periods of time. You should also stop taking a laxative once your constipation eases.

When Its A Constant Battle…

If you are suffering from long-term constipation and nothing seems to help, it is important to consult with your doctor. This is because, if left untreated, constipation can lead to problems like haemorrhoids and tears in the skin around the anus (called fissures). In addition, straining too hard can cause part of your intestines to push out through the anus (called rectal prolapse) and this can require surgery. It is thus essential that you contact your doctor immediately if you suffer from constipation, in conjunction with increased abdominal pain, blood in your stools, unexplained weight loss and an inability to have a bowel movement for more than a week. Other warning signs that require a visit to the doctor include:

  • Rectal pain that develops, increases or lasts longer than one week
  • Increased severity or frequency of symptoms
  • Sudden changes in the size, shape or consistency of stools as this may be an indication of bowel cancer

Bowel issues are never fun but, with the right diet and lifestyle choices, you should feel healthier and more regular in no time. Seeking the right treatment when required will also help you to conquer constipation before it takes a further toll on your body and allow you to enjoy the feeling of well-being that comes with having an optimally functioning digestive system.