Consult a Dietician for Constipation
If you are suffering from constipation you are not alone. It is one of the most common digestion disorders and affects 15 – 20 % of Indians and affects more number of women than men. Constipation can take many forms. The most common is of course not enough bowel movements. Some may feel bloated and uncomfortable while others may have hard and dry bowel movements that are troublesome and even painful to pass.
For a lot of people who come walking into my office to see me about their constipation problems realise that constipation is disrupting their lives. They haven’t been able to pass a bowel movement in days or even a week and they are frustrated! They just want to get on with their lives. If these symptoms have been going on for more than a month then you can very well assume that you have chronic constipation. Over-the-counter medications rarely help and will not give you long lasting relief. The truth is that Dietary changes can help almost 50% of sufferers.
What Causes Constipation
Before I get to the foods that can relieve symptoms of constipation let us look at some of the causes of constipation.
Less Fluid Intake
We all know about the importance of drinking enough water. When it comes to constipation, those 8 – 10 glasses of water per day are highly important for maintaining a healthy digestive system and to avoid constipation. If you do not ingest enough water, things inside your body just won’t flow! You do not have to restrict yourself to water though. Almost any liquid is good including tea and coffee. Caffeinated drinks such as coffee and tea do a great job of stimulating the bowel which in turn can ease some of the symptoms of constipation.
A healthy thyroid produces hormones that help in the normal processes of your body including heart rate, blood flow and contraction of the muscles in your intestines. All these processes slow down if your thyroid isn’t functioning well with the result that you feel tired and listless both outside and within. A slowed digestive system will then lead to constipation. Your doctor can test and prescribe treatments for thyroid problems.
As a Diabetes Educator, I can vouch for the fact that diabetes has many harmful effects on digestion – chief among them is a slow stomach. This means that the process of moving food and waste along the bowel is slow causing constipation apart from dyspepsia, nausea, vomiting and bloating. Good dietary strategies for diabetes can in turn relieve the symptoms of constipation.
Other causes of constipation include Irritable Bowel Syndrome and medications that one could be taking for illnesses and mental or physical disorders. Basically anything that interferes with the way that your body processes fluid and foods can in turn influence the functioning of your digestive system. Having low levels of potassium and magnesium in your bloodstream may interfere with the way muscles work in the small bowel and the colon.
Foods to Avoid
Anyone looking to cure their constipation problem in the absence of any serious medical condition must look at a one month plan. You are what you eat and your bowel movements will reflect that! Have a look at the following foods and see if your current diet contains an excess of it:
- Rice (especially white rice)
- White bread
Drink More Fluids
If you eat too much of the above and do not eat enough of fruits, grains and vegetables and if you do not consume enough fluids in a given day then you are liable to constipated. The above foods are excellent choices when you have diarrhea and loose motions but on the other hand they can aggravate your constipation. Symptoms of constipation are always aggravated when one does not drink enough water. Have coffee if it relieves some of your symptoms. Try carrying a large water bottle to work and just keep refilling it through the day. The fact is that most people fail to realise how thirsty their body actually is. Make tea and coffee dates if you must only to have more excuse to gulp liquids!
Cures for Constipation
The funny thing about digestive issues is that foods that may be bad for people with one gastrointestinal disorder can be excellent for those with other digestive issues. Many of the foods that worsen diarrhea can help improve symptoms of constipation. These laxative foods can help get your bowels moving in the right way. If you are suffering from constipation, check the below list to see whether you are consuming enough of the food items.
- Fruits – especially peaches, pears, cherries, apples, oranges and apple / orange juice.
- Brassica vegetables – broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, brussel sprouts and cabbage.
- Whole grain breads
The thing to remember is that – overdoing is always wrong. You do not want to swing from one extreme to another. The above laxatives created by nature can help you on your path to a healthier digestive system.
Natural vs. Man Made Laxatives
Chronic constipation can disrupt your life and make you feel highly uncomfortable on a day-to-day basis. You may have been tempted in the past to try out any and every laxative available at the local pharmacist. What a lot of people fail to realise is that these over-the-counter products can actually hinder your efforts of having normal bowel movements! Laxative medications have the power to irritate your bowel and colon in the process of trying to stimulate them. This is not how your body was designed to function. Too much abuse of laxatives can in fact cause lasting damage and can permanently change the way your bowel and colon respond to signals. In the future they will become less sensitive to normal healthy stimulus thus creating a vicious cycle of dependence on laxative medicines. As you continue to use these medicines, their effectiveness will decrease and your digestive system will require higher and higher doses of irritation for it to function.
It always pays to consult a Dietician for Constipation and try natural laxatives before going in for laxative medications. If you are not able to return to normal conditions even after drinking a lot of water and changing your diet then you can consult your doctor who can prescribe stool softeners as well as laxatives. But these medications should never become a long term treatment for chronic constipation.
Sakshi a thirty eight year old woman thought she was doing everything possible for maintaining good health and had also recently joined a gym and was doing an intense exercise program, going to the gym 5 times a week. She was building muscle, improving her stamina and also losing weight.
But there was one major problem – Her lifelong pattern of infrequent bowel movements had gotten worse. When she came to meet me, she was having only a single bowel movement per week for the previous six months. While constipation can have a number of causes, each person will have just a few main causes. In Sakshi’s case, I figured that the first main cause was sweating. Constipation is a problem of too little fluid. She was sweating out oodles of sweat every day during her workouts but was not replacing the los fluids with enough water. In her own words, “I hardly think about it. I do stop by at the water cooler when at work sometimes but then I hardly have time to think about drinking water during a busy day at work. I told her to buy a large 1 litre water bottle and to keep sipping it regularly. The bottle was to be refilled four times a day. She started taking the bottle to her gym and also became a fixture on her work desk. But there was more to Sakshi’s constipation problem than inadequate water. We also discussed her diet and medical history. It turned out that during the last 6 months, she had started two new medications – one an antidepressant and the other for recurrent allergies. Both these medications were known to slow down the bowel. In her diet I did not see enough fruits and vegetables. This is because she was eating more protein because of her heavy workouts. She was eating two protein bars a day with negligible intake of fruits and vegetables.
Fiber containing foods are important for bowel health. I gave a new diet plan to Sakshi. It featured whole grain cereals or toast for breakfast along with a serving of fruit. A salad was to be included along with her protein for lunch and at least one vegetable and a salad with meat or fish for dinner. Also included was one serving of beans or dal. During the day instead of protein bars, she was to munch on apples which are a good source of fiber and nutrients. Throughout the day, she was also advised to drink lots of water especially during and post workouts.
After just a few weeks, Sakshi arrived at my office smiling, “I’m now having bowel movements everyday! I feel lighter and have more energy and even my workouts are better. I thought that my depression was causing my constipation when in fact it was the other way round! I’m feeling so happy and positive about life that I have told my doctor to stop the antidepressants!”
Yes pleasant bowel movements can indeed make you that life is beautiful! If you are a long-standing sufferer of constipation or other digestive issues, come and consult me. And I promise you that your life will soon be rocking!