Almost everyone has had trouble producing from time to time, if you know what we're saying. Globally, 1 in 5 people will experience constipation. It’s the most common gastrointestinal complaint, and can be caused by so many different factors. To learn more about constipation and all of its mysteries, keep reading!
Generally speaking, constipation is a condition defined by having uncomfortable or infrequent bowel movements. While there’s no universal guide to constipation, it typically involves passing hard, dry stool, less than three times a week. It may even leave you feeling bloated and unsatisfied after pooping, like you haven’t finished going. Now that’s some crap right there!
The most common symptoms of constipation are:
Constipation has many root causes, most of which are totally vague. Truly, what causes constipation for you could be completely different from the next person. Therefore, one of the best ways to understand what causes constipation is to first understand how it affects our body. So, let’s dive in!
In normal digestion, our food moves through our digestive system, it’s broken down in the stomach before eventually reaching our intestines for absorption and removal of waste (poop). As the broken down food particles move through our intestines, the colon absorbs water, which helps to form our poop. Muscle contractions push the poop toward the rectum, absorbing most of the water along the way, which helps to shape and solidify it. Constipation is typically caused when the colon's muscle contractions are slow or weak. This causes our poop to move through the intestines too slowly. As a result, the colon absorbs too much water, leaving stools hard, dry and difficult to pass.
The most common cause of constipation is as a side-effect of medication. This is very common in muscle-relaxing medications (such as calcium-channel blockers for high blood pressure), as they can also relax the muscles in the gut, causing longer transit time. Some other common causes of constipation are diet, irritable bowel syndrome, dehydration, chronic stress, lack of exercise, hormones (pregnancy, monthly fluctuations), old age, and even ignoring the urge to have a bowel movement.
If constipation is slowing you down, try adding in some exercise to help speed things up! Exercise is essential for regular bowel movements. In fact, a lack of exercise can actually put you at greater risk of constipation.
Exercise helps constipation by decreasing the amount of time it takes for food to move through the colon. Thus limiting the amount of water that your body absorbs from the stool. Exercise can also stimulate the contraction of your muscles in your intestines, which helps pass stools quicker.
Any and all exercise can help, even simply walking for 25 to 30 minutes a day can help with constipation. Truly one of the best ways to get things moving, is to get moving!
By now, you hopefully already know that humans require water for survival. Water is especially important for the gastrointestinal tract, which uses about 10L of fluids per day.
While current research around water drinking and constipation is conflicting, it is irrefutable that dehydration can contribute to constipation. This makes sense, because if we’re dehydrated, the body will essentially be pulling more water from our stools, making them harder and drier.
Therefore, while water might not treat constipation in the average hydrated person, it can relieve constipation in dehydrated individuals.
So, put simply, stay hydrated and you’ll be good. If you’re already keeping hydrated, keep calm and carry on!
Many people don’t know this, but sleep is arguably as important for your health as exercise and healthy eating. Too much or too little sleep can impact your health.
Recent research has uncovered that sleep patterns appear closely linked to constipation. The study, featured in the Digestive Disease Week 2020, uncovered that people with normal sleep patterns have a lower prevalence of constipation compared with those with short and long duration of sleep. In comparison to normal sleepers, people who slept less were at a 38% greater risk of constipation, while those who slept more increased the risk by 61%.
If you suffer from irregular sleep patterns and constipation, it might be worthwhile to work on improving your sleep to help with constipation!
This isn’t just a public service announcement to eat more fruit, although you really should if you aren’t already. Also, this isn’t just another “eat prunes” campaign for constipation, but… they really do help! Many different fruits are quite effective in relieving constipation.
Pears, grapes, and unpeeled apples are all great sources of fiber, and also known to help with constipation.
These fruits are relatively high in soluble fiber, but they are also rich in water, sorbitol, fructose and various phytochemicals which can all help move things along internally.
An unbalanced diet high in sugars and proteins is often associated with lower daily fiber intake, which can increase the risk of constipation.
Many foods that are high in refined sugars are highly caloric and low in fiber. Therefore, these foods can easily fill you up and displace the total amount of fiber consumed in a day. Examples of foods high in refined sugars are white bread, cookies, cake, pastries, candy, etc. Swapping out refined sugar products for higher fiber options, such as white bread for whole-grain bread, is a great place to start!
Similarly, many meats are high in protein, and are also not a good source of fiber. Examples of animal proteins include beef, pork, chicken, fish, etc. Switching out animal protein for a plant-based protein option is another way to increase your daily fiber intake while still ensuring you’re getting enough protein.
It’s important to note that animal protein and refined sugars can fit into a healthy diet when eaten in moderation. The main takeaway is to ensure you’re not overloading your diet with these components, and missing out on fiber in the process.
Probiotics, the “good” bacteria living in your favourite yogurt (and other foods), are back yet again to ease your digestive troubles.
Truly though, probiotics have been shown to improve transit time, increase weekly bowel movements and soften stools in constipated people. Probiotics containing bifidobacterium have shown the greatest results, however more research is needed to recommend a specific probiotic. For now, test it out, it can’t hurt!
Most people can admit to experiencing “coffee poops” at least once in their coffee-drinking careers. You know the feeling, one sip, and oop - you’re on the lookout for the closest bathroom. This response is so strong in some people, that they will actually drink coffee to help them poop, but does it actually work?
Science shows that caffeinated coffee is effective at stimulating “colonic motor activity”, which simply translates to triggering the muscles in your colon. Activating the colonic muscles can help to get food moving along and out of your body.
However, caffeine can be dehydrating, so be sure to drink your coffee in moderation, and with sights on the closest bathroom!
Science shows that changing your poop position to squatting can make pooping easier.
When you are in a squatting position, the weight of the torso presses against the thighs, which naturally compresses the colon. This gentle pressure helps to move things along. It also relaxes some of the lower muscles in the colon, allowing the bowel to empty completely, which is a common complaint of constipation.
What are you waiting for, order a squatty potty, or makeshift your own poop stool to rest your feet on to get those poops moving!
Ah yes, yoga, the cure to almost anything. While yoga cannot cure constipation, many people have reported that yoga has helped them pass gas and get their bowels moving.
Many yoga poses include forward bends, twists, and stretching of the mid-region. These movements help to stimulate and massage the muscles in the body, which can stimulate blood flow in your digestive organs and relieve constipation. While yoga has not been studied extensively in the context of constipation, anecdotally people swear by it. Not to mention, yoga can decrease stress levels, which can help prevent constipation.
For some yoga poses to help relieve constipation, click here.
Adding fiber is one of the best ways to get things moving, it is known to help you poop more frequently and consistently - and who doesn’t love an “on-schedule” poop? For adults, the recommended daily fiber intake is at least 20 to 25g.
For best results, add in fiber gradually, over a period of many days up to a week. This will help to prevent bloating and abdominal pain as you transition to a higher fiber diet.
One of the best sources of fiber to relieve constipation is psyllium fiber, which is primarily made up of soluble fiber. Soluble fibers work by soaking up water as they move through our digestive tract. This creates an almost gel-like consistency, which helps to move things along throughout the colon and soften stools.
Another great source of soluble fiber is chia seeds, which literally transform in front of your eyes when you add liquid. Chia seeds contain 11g of fiber in a single serving.
Don’t believe it? Try Holy Crap cereal, loaded with chia seeds and soluble fiber, and you’ll come to understand why we picked this clever brand name.
One last tip for fiber - be sure to drink a glass of water with your fiber. This will help move things along and keep you hydrated at the same time!
If you are struggling to poop try out some of these suggestions, alongside the counsel of your physician. Drink fluids, eat fiber, sleep and exercise. Poop when the urge comes, and give yourself time and space to (squat) poop. That’s all there is to it, truly.
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