Constipation. It’s not a topic many of us feel comfortable discussing with anyone – even our doctor. But we’ve all suffered from it at one time or another. It’s unpleasant, painful and most of all, downright annoying. However, chronic constipation can even be life-threatening, and increase your risk of bowel cancer.
Thankfully, most people can relieve constipation naturally with a few simple changes to their routine. Here’s everything you need to know about constipation and bowel movements:
How often should we go to the bathroom?
I get asked this question a lot. The truth is the length of time between bowel movements varies widely from person to person. Some people may go two or three times a day, while others may go two or three times a week. The key is to know what is normal for you.
When we’re constipated we have infrequent bowel movements (depending on our normal) or pass hard, dry stools that may cause discomfort and pain. Take a look at the Bristol Stool Chart for guidance.
What causes constipation?
Constipation is usually caused by not eating enough fibre, not drinking enough fluids and/or a lack of exercise. Sometimes medications, illness and pregnancy can also cause constipation so speak to your doctor if these apply to you.
How can we relieve constipation naturally?
- Stay hydrated
Hydration is key in relieving constipation, so it’s important to drink more water during the day. Aim for about eight glasses! My tip is to always keep a bottle of water with you and take small sips regularly to ensure you’re never dehydrated, especially during the warmer months!
- Eat a high-fibre diet
Increasing our fibre intake increases the bulk and consistency of bowel movements. This makes them far easier to pass. A diet rich in leafy-green vegetables, brown rice, whole grains, beans, and certain nuts like almonds, pecans, or walnuts will keep things moving down below. Raspberries, avocados, lentils, kiwi fruit and apples can also offer great results. Research has found that a low intake of dietary fibre (<10 g/day) is associated with an 18 per cent increased risk of colorectal cancer.
- Consume fermented foods or probiotics
A healthy gut depends on a balance of intestinal flora, or bacteria, and so do healthy bowel movements. Eating fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, and kimchi, in addition to eating yogurt with live cultures in it can encourage the diversity and richness of our intestinal flora. If fermented foods make your palate sour, then try taking a daily probiotic supplement. Additionally, the intestinal flora in our gut feed on prebiotics found in fibre, so a diet full of a variety of raw fruits and steamed vegetables will help keep your gut happy.
- Exercise daily
Spending just 30 minutes a day exercising can helpyour digestive system function better and get your stool moving. Go for a light jog, try brisk walking or now that the weather is warming up, jump in the water for a relaxing swim.
- Drink flaxseed tea and/or coffee
“Take 1 to 2 tablespoons of crushed flaxseeds and steep them in 2 cups of water for 10 minutes. Then strain it and drink it throughout the day,” integrative gastroenterologist Marvin Singh told mindbodygreen. “It’s a nice, mild stool softener.” That’s because, after steeping the ground flaxseed in water, it becomes a gel-like substance that can lubricate and soothe your large intestine so you can have a comfortable bowel movement.
For many other people, having their morning coffee is enough to activate their bowel, as it stimulates the muscles in the digestive system. For non-coffee drinkers, you can also try a green tea in the morning to help soften your stool.
- Minimise stress levels
Did you ever think that there could be a hormonal component to your constipation? Reducing stress levels will lower your body’s cortisol levels and release its clench on your digestive system. When stress levels are high, our body perceives danger is near, sending us into a fight-or-flight response. It shuts down unnecessary systems, such as digestive and reproductive systems, and redirects our blood flow to our extremities so that we can fight off danger or run away. Incorporating self-care routines into your day can help you to remain calm. Simple deep breathing exercises can lower cortisol levels and keep your body functioning at optimum levels.
- Take a magnesium supplement
Magnesium is considered an osmotic, meaning it helps pull water into the colon, which in turn helps you poop. Magnesium citrate, in particular, seems to be the most effective form of magnesium for combating constipation.
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