The thing about……………..CONSTIPATION
The thing about constipation is that it is extremely common in Western cultures, mainly because many of us eat a diet high in processed and refined foods. Digestion is the cornerstone of good health and problems with the digestive system can manifest in a variety of signs and symptoms besides constipation including fatigue, aches, mental sluggishness, headaches, lowered immunity and susceptibility to food intolerances.
Bowel habits do vary widely from person to person but people are generally considered constipated when they strain to have a bowel movement, have hard stools, infrequent or incomplete bowel movements and experience discomfort when passing stools. Most doctors define constipation on the basis of less than three bowel movements a week, however it has been suggested that it is optimal for us to empty our bowels as much as two to three times a day. Long term constipation can lead to physical blockages and distension of the bowel, possibly with the need for hospitalisation.
Constipation is generally attributable to a diet low in fibre and high in saturated fats and meats. Constipation can also be attributed to sub-optimal liver function, hormonal changes, such as in pregnancy, ageing, the occurrence of diseases such as Parkinson’s which affect muscle movement in the digestive system and even the over-use of laxatives.
Recommendations for Managing Constipation
1. Increase fibre intake to 30g a day
It is generally well accepted that increasing fibre intake is an effective treatment for chronic constipation; increasing both the frequency and quantity of bowel movements; decreasing the transit time of stools and the absorption of toxins.
Fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, beans and lentils are excellent sources of dietary fibre. Fruit and vegetables contain what is known as soluble and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre soaks up water, providing the bulk needed to a healthy stool. The increased bulk stimulates peristalsis and moves the faeces through the intestines.
Soluble fibre helps the body to absorb cholesterol from foods and bile and eliminate this from the body. This type of fibre can combine with sugar molecules and slows the release of sugars into the bloodstream, thereby helping to balance blood sugar levels.
Insoluble fibre, found in the skin and pips of fruit and vegetables and in bran, nuts and flaxseed meal, provides weight to the stool, decreasing transit time and promoting regularity.
Most fruit and vegetables contain fibre just under the skin, so it’s best to avoid peeling them. The husks of grains is also where the fibre is contained, so it is better to eat unrefined rather than refined grains such as bread, rice and pasta. The fibre in vegetables can also be destroyed by over-cooking, so they are best eaten crunchy.
2. Ensure Adequate fluid intake
At least 6-8 glasses of water, juices or herbal teas each day. The water is absorbed by the soluble fibre in foods, providing faecal bulk, as well as keeping the digestive tract moist and smooth for an easier passage through.
Alcoholic beverages, soft drinks and caffeine containing drinks have a dehydrating effect on the body and are best avoided or consumed in moderation.
3. Avoid diets high in saturated fats, refined food, sugar and dairy products
Meats, cheese, eggs, refined grains and wheat are all constipating as they contain little fibre. People with lactose intolerance or sensitivity may often become constipated from too much dairy produce.
4. Make time to exercise and relax
Exercise is important for strengthening and massaging the abdominal muscles and helps improve digestion. It is important to tackle stress as the body diverts energy away from digestion in times of stress and this is especially important at meal times. Take 10-15 minutes to concentrate on eating, chewing and enjoying the food you are eating. Give your body a chance to begin digesting the food you are eating.
5. Improve bowel flora
An imbalance of the “good” and “bad” bacteria can cause the digestive system to move sluggishly. The use of antibiotics, hormones, steroid drugs, high stress levels and a poor diet can contribute to dysbiosis and affect digestion.
The “good bacteria” have a multitude of functions; they provide a front line in our immune defence, manufacture B vitamins, help maintain the pH balance in the gut, protect against the development of allergic conditions, protect us from toxins, break down and rebuild hormones. They aid with digestion by helping provide bulk and regulating peristalsis and regular bowel movements.
Besides taking a good probiotic supplement, prebiotic foods in our diet can help nourish and maintain the “good” bacteria. Live yoghurt is an excellent start and contains strains of “good” bacteria. Jerusalem artichokes, onions, chicory, garlic, leeks, fruit, soybeans, peas, legumes, eggplant, asparagus, whole rye and whole wheat are excellent prebiotic foods.
If you would like more advice on any of the points mentioned in this article or if you are concerned about constipation and would like to find out how nutrition can support your health issues please contact me on 07967 639347 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. I offer one to one consultations from a family friendly clinic in Ealing.