How to Relieve Constipation
Constipation is a painful and often quite debilitating feeling. It involves being unable to defecate or pass solids easily through your gut and it can have major impacts on your health.
It can have significant impacts on your daily life and can leave you feeling exceptionally bloated, uncomfortable, and unable to perform other normal daily functions well.
It can, if left unaddressed, be very serious.
Causes of Constipation
A diet low in fiber
Fiber is essential for the regular functioning of your gut and bowels. Without the right levels of fiber, it becomes much harder to pass solids. We get a great deal of our daily fiber requirements from whole grain breads, whole grain wheat cereals, vegetables, seeds, nuts, fruits and other foods high in fiber, such as falafel.
You may also enhance your fiber balance by reducing your intake of foods high in saturated fat, such as cheeses, some red meats, full-fat dairy products and many processed foods.
Avoid foods high in artificial or added sugars or sweeteners too, as these can seriously inhibit the correct functioning of the digestive system.
Insufficient water intake and dehydration
You must remain well-hydrated if you want your bowels and gut to work well. Constipation is related very directly to poor hydration and inadequate drinking habits. Dehydration can directly contribute to constipation, as it can reduce the amount of liquid in your intestines, which then makes it much harder for your stools to form well and move through.
If you are constipated, hydration is among the first things to check. You may find that better hydration addresses any issues you have and alleviates your symptoms. For most adults, good hydration means around 8 or 9 glasses a day, equating to around 1.5 liters or so of good fluids. This is ideally water, but it is also absolutely fine to count herbal teas or light broths as part of that intake.
Do not count coffee or fizzy drinks or alcohol as part of your 1.5 liters. These are drinks that will actually dehydrate you. And if you are dehydrated it is more difficult for the digestive system to work properly and, as a result, it becomes harder for waste to move through your system.
Lack of exercise
Exercise makes a huge difference to the functioning of the digestive system and the regular and easy movement of your bowels. This is because physical activity helps your digestive muscles work optimally to keep things moving through your gut and intestines.
The body does not enjoy being inactive for too long and is not designed to function well if it is too sedentary. It needs movement and for you to be up and about, walking, jogging, or simply taking regular short bursts of activity during the day.
Make sure, therefore, that you add in more activity to your daily routine if you are suffering from constipation, as this will almost certainly have a positive impact on how your body works to digest and then dispose of food.
Medication side effects
Some medication causes constipation and more difficult bowel movements are a known side effect. Some medications, such as those for high blood pressure, contain higher quantities than is usual of ingredients like calcium and iron, and, taken in excess, these minerals can lead to constipation. The painkiller codeine can also lead to a feeling of being constipated and to a digestive system that feels ‘bunged up’.
If you are on medication with constipation as a side effect, then it can be necessary to take a mild laxative to offset the effects. However, it is also just as important to be careful with laxatives, as they may have adverse effects when taken in inappropriate doses.
Talk to your pharmacist and seek advice. It can be quite a difficult balancing act to get it right.
Natural Remedies for Constipation
Increase dietary fiber
This is an absolute must for most people who are constipated and the best way to get the recommended amount of fiber is to include a variety of both soluble and insoluble fibers in your diet.
Soluble fiber works to slow down digestion and aids in softening your stools, therefore making them easier to pass. Insoluble fiber, by contrast, keeps things moving through your intestines, which also ensures your stools pass smoothly and your digestive system functions well.
Eating plenty of whole grain foods, beans, legumes, fruits, and vegetables is a great way to add fiber to your meals. Additionally, there are plenty of fiber-rich supplements available if your diet doesn’t provide enough of what your body needs. Most health stores have an excellent range of options.
Most people run a shortage of fiber in their diet, so it is actually quite hard to overeat fiber-rich foods. Aim for around 30 grams of fiber a day.
Drink plenty of water
Hydration is the central need of your body. Without appropriate amounts, your body will slow down and not work, so make sure your gut and intestines and bowels get the water they need to do their job for you.
8-10 glasses of water a day is about right for most adults.
You do not need to be excessive here, but you do need, as we said earlier, to recognise that the body does not like being static too long. It is designed for movement and exercise.
There is significant evidence to show that regular exercise helps to strengthen your digestive muscles, as well as stimulate peristalsis, which is the grand term for the contractions that move your food through your digestive tract. This makes your bowel movements much easier and constipation less likely.
Increase your intake of magnesium rich foods
Magnesium is an important mineral found in various food sources, such as nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, dark leafy greens, and fish. It helps maintain normal bowel movements and ensures smooth muscle contractions in the digestive tract.
If you enjoy a robust intake of magnesium in your diet, you will make a positive impact on addressing constipation and, over time, make suffering from constipation less likely.
Try snacking on pistachios, almonds, or cashew nuts. For a fuller meal, opt for cooked beans and lentils, quinoa, or some whole-wheat rice or pasta. Adding some spinach or kale to a salad and finishing it with a sprinkle of pumpkin or sunflower seeds will also make a difference. Meals like these, even a few times a week, will make constipation much rarer.
Take probiotic supplements
These are another essential food if you want to avoid or relieve constipation. Probiotics are live bacteria that occur naturally in yogurts, kefirs, and other fermented foods, and adding probiotics to your diet can help to restore the balance of friendly bacteria in your gut.
This is implicit in aiding digestion and alleviating constipation. You can also boost your intake of probiotics by taking supplements, which come in many forms, including capsules, tablets, and powders.
Using herbs and spices
The gut can usefully be relaxed by the use of herbs. One herbal remedy that is particularly effective is chamomile. An infusion of this herb can help stimulate the muscles of your intestines and can aid in restoring balance in your digestive system.
Ginger is another outstandingly useful herb that can help with constipation. It, too, can help relieve inflammation, and it is widely known to improve digestion and relax the muscles of the digestive tract.
If you are cooking, try including cumin, as it is a warming spice that can also be used to support healthy digestion. Like ginger, It contains anti-inflammatory compounds which can help reduce digestive discomfort.
Finally, ground psyllium husk, though less well known, is also great for addressing constipation. It is a herbal remedy that helps to keep stools soft and regular, and it acts as a natural laxative that can help to regulate your bowel movements.
Massage your abdomen
Massaging your abdomen is both pleasant and also useful if you are suffering from constipation. By rubbing the area around your navel and lower stomach, you can help to reduce tension and improve blood flow in this area, which can stimulate the digestive system to work more effectively.
Stick to a regular toilet schedule
In terms of prevention, try to get your body used to a time of day when it expects to have a bowel movement. This might require some care at first, but the body will readily get into a good rhythm if you let it. If you can get used to using the bathroom for a bowel movement around the same time each day, it makes it far less likely you will suffer from constipation.
Couple this to good hydration and a positive diet and you will find it almost impossible to be constipated, because the body will be in good shape internally and will assist you in making sure that it becomes efficient at waste disposal.
Manage stress levels
As we said earlier, stress is not the friend of good bodily functions in the gut. Certainly, one of the best ways to help relieve constipation is by managing your stress levels. Engage in regular physical activity, and try building in some calming activities like yoga or meditation.
These activities can also help you to relax your muscles and improve your digestion. Often, you might find that even just a small adaptation to your stress levels can make a big difference to how your gut and bowels function.
Avoid certain medications
Many people experience constipation as a side effect of certain medications, and it can be extremely painful. Given you have had prescription medicine from your doctor in the first place, talk to him or her again to see if they can prescribe something to counteract the constipation.
Alternatively, discuss with a pharmacist what laxative they might recommend as your body adjusts. Often the constipation will only be temporary, but while it is there it is obviously a deeply unpleasant feeling that you want to alleviate.
Constipation is not a condition you should feel you have to endure. It is treatable, and with the right steps you can get rid of existing constipation and also make subsequent bouts of it extremely unlikely.
If you follow the advice here, it is highly probable that your gut health, and the way your digestive system handles your food, will become much more smooth and effective and much less disruptive.
If, however, you are unable to shift the blockages and your bowels will simply not operate, you must seek medical attention. If you are without a bowel movement after four or five days and are in bodily pain, do not let any further time elapse.
If you ignore this pain and the condition of being chronically constipated you can cause your body a lot of damage and in some very serious cases put yourself at major risk. Do not take such a situation lightly.