The best proof of that is the fast-growing $700 million laxative market! Yet, there’s no need to give them some of your hard earned cash because a few simple changes to your lifestyle could do wonders to help you fight constipation.
Firstly, let’s quickly review what happens to the food you ingest and how constipation occurs:
- Once churned in the stomach, food transits through to the small intestines (where nutrients useful to the body are absorbed through the walls of the intestines) then through to the large intestine (colon) where water is absorbed. What is left is moved by peristaltic movements (rhythmic contractions) through to the anus and is excreted.
- The main role of the colon is to absorb water and mineral salts from the stools. The longer stools stay in the colon, the more water is absorbed.
- Constipation occurs when stools are delayed in the colon.
Consequently, in order to fight off constipation we must speed up that transit.
Action number 1: Do not delay going to the toilet.
This is actually one of the most common causes of constipation – through fear of public toilets, fear of pain or laziness. However, the longer you wait, the more water will be absorbed from the stools, the more difficult it will be to pass them.
The need to go is generally stronger as you awake and after meals. If ignored, the urge to go will return on a regular basis. Listen to your body!
Although it varies from person to person, it is usually normal to have at least one bowel movement per day. The whole transit from the mouth to the anus should not last more than 24 hours, after which matter starts to decay eventually causing auto-intoxication.
Action number 2: Eat more soluble and insoluble fibres
Insoluble Fibres also referred to as ‘roughage’ include the woody or structural parts of plants, such as fruits and vegetables (with their skins – which contain most of the fibres), wheat bran, and whole-grain cereals. The main benefit of insoluble fibre is its ability to soften and expand stool volume, speeding up faecal transit and elimination. By doing so it combats constipation but also diarrhea, IBS, diverticular diseases, haemorroids and cancer of the colon.
Soluble Fibres dissolve and thicken in water to form a gel. Good sources of soluble fibre include beans (green beans), pulses, oatmeal, oat bran, barley, seeds (sesame, sunflower), fruits (apples, citrus, strawberries, bananas, grapes) and vegetables (carrots, squash, potatoes, leafy vegetables -cauliflower, cabbage-). This type of fibre help peristalsis and the removal of toxins.
If you’re not used to taking fibres, you should increase your consumption gradually so as not to encounter problems such as:
- lack of nutrients especially minerals (in a subject not used to taking fibers, transit times could be so quick that essential nutrients do not have the time to be absorbed in the intestines)
- abdominal pain (some fibres are abrasive for the intestine walls especially if they are already irritated)
- bloating / wind (beans and pulses can cause wind)
- more constipation! If the increased intake of fibres is not accompanied by enough water intake, which leads us to our next point
Action number 3: Drink plenty of water
If your body is correctly hydrated, the colon doesn’t need to absorb much water from the stools. This will help keeping your stools moist and easier to expel.
Don’t forget to drink mostly in between meals and not during meals (see our article Cup of tea with your meal?…not such a good idea…).
Action number 4: Exercise
Exercise is believed to help peristaltic movement. It doesn’t have to be strenuous. Regular walks during the day can do the trick.
P.S. If you don’t like exercise, read this: Don’t Like Exercising? Then Just Walk – It’s The Best Form of Exercise Anyway!
With these 4 basic actions you can easily and cheaply keep constipation at bay and get a healthy lifestyle at the same time (water, fresh fruits, vegetables and exercise are all extremely beneficial for your health in many ways).
Don’t change everything at once. You’ll start with good intentions but it probably won’t last. The trick is to make small changes that fit into your lifestyle:
- Have a glass of water when you wake up.
- Add a fruit to your breakfast (see our article about Apples: a wonder food).
- Add vegs or salads or pulses to each meal.
- Fit in one or 2 more glasses of water (for instance when you prepare your meals- it’s easier if you associate them to specific actions – you’re then less likely to forget them).
When you’re happy with your new routine, increase your fibre intake by swapping white bread/pasta/rice for wholemeal versions. Don’t forget to add one or 2 extra glasses of water too.
As for laxatives, it’s better to be careful. If you use them in the wrong dosage or too often, you can easily become dependent on them – making your struggle with constipation worse in the long run.
*** If you suffer from severe constipation, the advice in this article might not be sufficient to help. Do consult your doctor. ***