Constipation can cause significant abdominal pain, bloating, nausea and even vomiting. If you find yourself straining, infrequently passing, or passing small hard stools, review these tips. They can help you prevent and treat this painful problem.
Drinking water is key to having normal bowel movements. Even if you have plenty of fiber in your diet, if you don’t have enough water to soften and bulk the stools, you will remain blocked. Aim to drink the equivalent in ounces of half your body weight. So, someone who weighs 150 pounds would aim to drink 75 ounces of water per day.
Be careful: Caffeinated beverages tend to dehydrate, and milk can be constipating, so stick with pure water until the constipation passes.
Moving your body moves your GI tract, too. Exercise can help wake up your GI tract and get it moving the way it needs to. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. You don’t have to be the next cardio queen to get results—even just walking can be beneficial.
Well-Balanced Diet with Fiber
A well-balanced diet can help prevent and treat constipation. The average person should aim to get at least 25g of fiber in their diet daily. Unfortunately, with our fast-food lifestyle, many Americans are not meeting this goal. Fruits, vegetables, beans, whole-grain cereals (especially bran) can all help you increase your fiber intake.
Remember that fiber is not just important for preventing constipation.It has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers.
We frequently talk about probiotics and their benefits in IBD, but they also are very beneficial in treating and preventing constipation. Probiotics are beneficial to overall gut health. But one strain in particular seems to have added benefits for constipation, which is the biffidus strain. You can find biffidus in the Activia yogurt line or you can purchase it in tablet form. If you do choose to use a tablet, you can increase the absorption by taking the tablet with any yogurt or food.
Remember that probiotics work hand-in-hand with fiber because they feed off of "prebiotics."Prebiotics come from the indigestible fiber in your foods.So, be sure you are eating both fiber and probiotics.
Two glasses of warm water or a hot beverage in the morning (first thing before eating) can help to stimulate a bowel movement. Many people report that a hot cup of coffee will do the same thing. Coffee is fine for occasional issues with constipation, but if you have long-term or chronic problems, the caffeine in coffee can be counterproductive.
Stool softeners will soften stools to make them easier to pass. Unlike laxatives, stool softeners are not stimulants so they don’t have the aggressive nature of a laxative. Talk to your doctor if you think you need a stool softener.
Laxatives can be osmotic or stimulant. Osmotic laxatives, like Miralax, pull water into the stool making it easier to pass. Stimulant laxatives jolt the intestinal lining into moving things through faster. They definitely do the job, but they can come with side effects. These treatments should be used on a temporary basis, as they can become addictive and prevent the body from being able to pass stool without their use. Always speak with your doctor before considering laxatives.
If these tips do not help with your constipation problem, it’s time to have another visit with your physician. Your doctor may want to run some tests to rule out other issues that could be contributing to the problem. Hormonal imbalances, Hirschsprung’s disease or obstructions of the colon can contribute to constipation. These issues are all treated differently than standard constipation treatments.
Jennifer Rackley is a nutritionist and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.