By: Bryee Shepard, MS, Registered Dietitian, Vivante Health
Constipation. Most of us have dealt with it at some time or other, but have you ever actually discussed it with anyone? Probably not. Because of the taboo nature of GI symptoms, most of us tend to keep our bowel health to ourselves. This can make you feel isolated or embarrassed about something that’s actually very common.
The good news is, at Vivante we’re not shy about gut health. Today we’re going to cover the most common reasons for constipation, and then we’ll walk through some possible solutions to get things moving along, nice and smooth.
Causes of Constipation
- Underlying Medical Condition: Let’s start with the most serious (but least likely) cause. Some medical conditions, like a bowel obstruction or diverticulosis, can slow the bowels, which results in constipation. If you suspect an underlying medical condition, schedule an appointment with your provider.
- Medications: It’s quite common for medications to cause constipation as a side effect. If you notice a change in bowel habits after starting a new med, ask your doctor about alternative options, or ask your pharmacist for tips. Sometimes taking a medication at a certain time of day, with or without food, or along with certain types of food or drink can make a huge difference.
- Vitamins: Did you know certain vitamins, like iron and calcium, can have a constipating effect?
- Anatomical changes: Sometimes a narrowing of the colon or other bowel blockage can halt movement and cause constipation.
- Dehydration: Not drinking enough water is a very common reason for constipation. Dehydration slows digestion, and when stool finally reaches the colon, it’s hard, dry and difficult to pass.
- Diet: A diet low in fiber without plenty of fruits and veggies can result in constipation. On the other hand, a diet high in fiber but low in water also causes constipation. Food sensitivities can also slow things down.
Generally, constipation is a sign that something isn’t quite right in the body. If your constipation becomes a consistent challenge in your life, it’s important to discuss it with your physician to get to the bottom of it. For most situations, though, the following tips are enough to provide some relief.
Tips to Relieve Constipation
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! Drinking plenty of water will help provide lubrication and moisture to the stool, allowing for a smoother and easier passage. For healthy individuals, the water recommendation is 8 eight ounce glasses (64 ounces total) of water daily.
- Up the fiber. Shoot for 5-7 servings of fruits and veggies daily. Whole grains like oats are another great way to boost your fiber intake.
- Snack on dried fruit. Dried prunes and apricots work well to draw water into the GI tract and help soften and lubricate the stool to get things moving.
- Don’t skip the exercise. Exercise and regular movement is important for gut health. It stimulates the muscles in the intestines, which speeds up the rate of stool passing through your body.
- Consider going low FODMAP. FODMAPs are short-chain carbohydrates that can cause GI symptoms. Working with a dietitian, you can eliminate high-FODMAP foods from your diet temporarily, and then gradually re-introduce certain foods back in. This helps identify food intolerances and, for many people, relieves constipation.
- Pick a probiotic. Probiotics can help decrease transit time of stool by providing a boost of good bacteria to your gut. Good bacteria help aid digestion and lubricate the GI passage. You can find probiotics in pill, liquid, or powder form, or just get them the old-fashioned way—from your diet. Yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and other fermented foods all contain natural probiotics.
Constipation is a real challenge for many. If you’re backed up, the tips above should get things moving again. If not, it’s probably time to consult your doctor.