How to Stop Constipation with a Few Simple Tests and Adjustments to Your Diet
Guest post by Joy Stephenson-Laws, Founder of Proactive Health Labs (pH) and her team
Constipation is one of the most common digestive complaints, affecting around 42 million people in the U.S, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Unsurprisingly, a study in an article published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found an increased number of emergency room visits for constipation between the years 2006-2011. To understand why this problem seems to be on the rise, let’s take a look at what constipation is and what you can do.
What is constipation?
Constipation generally refers to bowel movements that are infrequent and hard to pass. Many times, people compare stool to their own standard. But this may not be enough to find out the optimal number and type of bowel movements. BMs affect quality of life especially when waste accumulates, leading to sensations of fullness, sluggishness, headaches, mood issues, abdominal discomfort and/or even pain. The Bristol stool chart is a useful tool to assess formation of your stools.
Generally, one to two soft BMs per day are ideal. Although doctors may accept two to three days of no BMs as a natural variation, it may be an indicator that something is backing up. The amount of BMs may be related to volume and type of food and water intake. The goal is to have adequate absorption of essential nutrients, and get rid of waste in a timely manner
Causes of constipation vary and may be due to a number of factors, such as the medications you take (opioids, calcium channel blockers, iron supplements and others), being inactive, pregnancy, travel, diet and health conditions that slow digestion (such as disorders and injuries that affect the brain and spinal cord, hypothyroidism and diabetes).
People who are constipated for long periods of time may also experience additional complications like hemorrhoids, anal fissures, rectal prolapse (rectum protrudes out of the anus) or fecal impaction (hardened stool stuck in the rectum).
Luckily, what may help constipation is as simple as paying closer attention to your nutrition intake. And remember, you should always talk to your doctor about any medical issues or concerns you have!
So what are some remedies for constipation?
You may need more fiber! Most Americans don’t get enough dietary fiber.
But what exactly is fiber? Fiber refers to the undigested parts of food. According to the NIDDK, fiber helps make stool soft so it can move smoothly through your intestines.
There are two types of fiber — soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and is found in beans, fruit and oats. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and may be found in whole grains and veggies. Both kinds help prevent constipation, the NIDDK says. (Find more examples of fiber-rich foods here and here).
Most Americans eat 16 grams of fiber a day but should be getting 22-34 grams a day. But it’s not only the amount of fiber that matters, but also the rate at which you increase your fiber. Ramping it up full tilt can cause gas, bloating and cramps. Be sure to add fiber to your diet slowly so your body can adjust.
Also, make sure you are drinking plenty of fluids (water, fruit and veggie juices and clear soups) to help the fiber work better. And make sure you’re not eating foods that are making constipation worse.
What foods should you avoid if you’re constipated?
If you are constipated, foods with little to no fiber may be working against you, the NIDDK says. You may want to try avoiding cheese, chips, fast food, ice cream, meat, prepared frozen meals/snack foods and processed foods like “TV dinners” or hot dogs, and see if your constipation improves.
Still facing digestive issues and feel like nothing works?
- Exercise may help stimulate circulation and intestinal function. And you should also factor in your bacterial balance in your gut. Here’s what you should know:
- Probiotics may help. In a studypublished in The Netherlands Journal of Medicine, certain bacteria patterns were shown not only to be associated with increased health risks and higher weight, but were also associated with higher rates of constipation. Addition of healthy gut bacteria caused improvement in BMs. You can get probiotics in supplement form or in food products such as kefir and kombucha.
- Human microbiome transplantshows promise. Microbiome is a term that refers to the diversity of gut bacteria. Although it sounds very unappealing to transfer bacterial colonies from a healthy person into the colon of an unhealthy person, it has been successfully done and has also improved several gut diseases, including clostridium difficile infections and chronic conditions such as colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Testing that could benefit everyone
- GI effectspanel: This new stool test detects unhealthy bacteria, overall bacterial balance, the degree of inflammation and problems with food absorption.
- Intracellular magnesium:The American diet is frequently associated with certain mineral deficiencies such as magnesium or potassium. Low magnesium intake has been associated with an increase in constipation. Supplementing with magnesium may help with chronic constipation. Note that it’s known to be a laxative, so don’t take more than is recommended. You can test to determine how much you have and how much you need.
- Preventive colonoscopy:Although it is not the most appealing medical exam, it makes total sense to have yourself checked out, especially over the age of 50. This can detect polyps or tumors in the early stages. Severe constipation or alterations of BMs can be an early warning sign for various diseases.
- Thyroid testing:Impaired thyroid function is not only related to weight gain, general sluggishness, leg swelling and low energy but is also related to constipation. Test your thyroid every two to five years, depending on your doctor’s recommendation.
You also may want to consider a nutrition test to see if your body is getting and absorbing the nutrients it needs.
Enjoy Your Healthy Life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, health care attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. To learn more about the pH Health Care Team, click here.
Joy Stephenson-Laws is the founder of Proactive Health Labs (pH), a revolutionary health care company that provides tools needed to achieve optimal health. Her new book, Minerals – The Forgotten Nutrient: Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy [Proactive Health Labs, Inc., 2016] is available through Amazon or wherever books are sold. All proceeds from the book will be donated to The Bili Project Foundation; an organization devoted to reducing the incidents and improving the outcome of Hepatobiliary cancers, which are cancers of the liver, gallbladder or bile ducts. Connect with Proactive Health Labs on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Goodreads, and at www.phlabs.org.