Women are more prone to suffering from constipation than men. It is common around pregnancy, in the days leading up to your period, and also increases in frequency post-menopause. Constipation has a way of timing itself to hit during the most inconvenient of circumstances. Though constipation is not considered a serious health condition, it can increase your risk of developing colon cancer, cause great discomfort, and quite frankly be a pain in the butt (excuse the pun).
With so many attributing factors it can be difficult to determine the cause of an individual's constipation without individual assessment. Today we touch on some of the more common causes of constipation and some ways to help get things moving again.
How do you know you’re constipated?
Constipation can look different for everyone as there is a lot of variance in what is considered a normal frequency that people poop. Generally speaking, if you are going less than 3 times each week it’s time to take action. In an ideal world you want to be aiming for two smooth, easy to pass bowel motions per day. If an attempt to fix constipation with home-remedies does not succeed after 4-6 weeks then it’s worth consulting your doctor.
Common causes of constipation
- Not consuming enough fibre in your diet
- Not drinking enough fluids throughout the day
- Not doing enough physical activity
- Holding on too long
- Medication side effects
- Feeling anxious or depressed
- Change in daily routine (e.g. travel)
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Tips to fix constipation
1. Increase your dietary fibre intake
Fibre has an important part to play in constipation because it absorbs water which then adds volume/bulk to your stool (poo). This helps by making the stool heavier so it stimulates the walls of the large intestine to contract and move it out towards the rectum smoothly.
Ways to increase your fibre intake include:
- Choosing wholegrain bread and cereals
- Adding psyllium husk to your breakfast cereal/yoghurt/smoothies
- Eating 2 pieces of fresh fruit each day - eating the skin where possible (e.g. apples, pears, kiwifruit)
- Adding legumes such as beans, peas and lentils to stews, casseroles and main dishes.
- Snacking on nuts, prunes and dried fruit
- Sprinkling seeds over meals, including flaxseed.
You can track how much fibre you are getting each day with an app on your phone (e.g. Easy Diet Diary). Aim to have at least 30g of fibre each day, it pays to increase this slowly to give your bowels some time to adjust or you may find yourself with bloating, cramps or diarrhoea.
2. Stay hydrated
Staying hydrated is essential for helping treat constipation as fluid helps flush out the waste and make fibre work effectively. The below table shares guidelines on how much fluid you should be aiming for each day. Remember that this doesn’t have to come solely from the water you drink but is included in glasses of milk, juices, soups, tea and coffee, yoghurts etc.
Check your urine colour to measure if you’re drinking enough. You should aim for a clear or light lemon colour.
3. Find ways to increase your physical activity
Exercise helps to reduce the amount of time your stool sits in the large intestine, therefore making it easier to pass through. It is recommended that you aim for 30-60 minutes of light exercise such as walking, yoga, tai chi, swimming, golf or jogging each day.
4. Limit processed foods, caffeine and alcohol
Processed foods such as cakes, biscuits, takeaways, and white bread and rice are generally low in fibre so take the place of where high fibre foods may be more helpful. Caffeine and alcohol are known to cause dehydration and can, therefore, worsen constipation.
If your constipation is medicine induced then the likely scenario is that it will require medical management. Over the counter osmotic laxatives work by drawing water into the large intestine to help soften the stool. Consult with your pharmacist or GP before taking laxatives to manage your constipation.